Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 8-Feb-08
Bond insurer 'bailout' appears near crisis point

Web Log - February, 2008

Bond insurer 'bailout' appears near crisis point

Federal and New York state regulators feud over who'll get credit for "saving the market," according to reporting by CNBC's Charlie Gasparino.

The problem of the "bond insurers" (also called "monolines") has been simmering for months, but because of its complexity I've only mentioned it a time or two, particularly in "The collapse of the bond insurers, ACA, Ambac and MBIA."

The bond insurance firms are part of the alchemy that financial engineers used to transform low-rated, highly risky CDOs and other structured securities into top-rate "risk-free" AAA rated securities. If you're an investment bank issuing questionable bonds, then you buy insurance from an insurer who promises to pay off the bonds if the issuer defaults. That way the bonds are "doubly-protected" -- either the bond will pay off or the insurance will pay off -- thus magically earning an AAA rating.

(For those interested in the math behind bond insurers and other structured finance games, see "A primer on financial engineering and structured finance.")

However, the bond insurers lose a lot of their magic power if their own ratings get lowered, and that's what's being threatened by the ratings agencies, Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.

There's a great fear of a devastating chain reaction if the bond insurers lose their AAA ratings. If so, then all the bonds that they've insured also lose their AAA ratings. There are two main categories of bonds that would be affected:

In both of these cases, the resulting sales and downgrades will have a domino effect on other investment funds and hedge funds, forcing additional selloffs and downgrades.

During the last couple of months, there's been a huge drama being played out in the financial world. Here are the actors:

It wasn't so long ago that all of these actors were well respected organizations, but no more. They've all lied and prevaricated and defrauded the public so many times, that they have almost no respect remaining. As I wrote recently, the moral to the Aesop's Fable "The boy who cried wolf" is "Nobody believes a liar, even when he's telling the truth." Nobody knows when any of these organizations are telling the truth anymore, or are just covering their asses.

So now we come to next scene of this dramatic real-time farce.

On Friday afternoon, CNBC's Charlie Gasparino reported the following:

Well, who knows? Maybe the regulators have something in their bag of tricks that will lead to some agreement. But there's another, much more likely explanation.

It's much more likely that the State and Fed regulators are both convinced that the bailout will be a spectacular failure, and the supposed "fight over credit" is really a disguised "fight over blame." What each side is saying is: "Let's do this my way, or it will fail." That way, each side can blame the other for failure.

How bad will it be if the bond insurers lose their AAA ratings? There have been a wide range of opinions expressed.

According to a Wall Street Journal article,

"The financial crisis plaguing municipal-bond insurers has some people wondering what the world would look like without them. The answer: maybe not as bad as you would think. ... Municipal bonds don't default much. Municipal bonds with a double-B rating from credit-rating services have a cumulative average 10-year default rate of 1.74% since 1970. That is much lower than double-B-rated corporate bonds, which have a 29.93% 10-year cumulative default rate during the same period, according to research compiled by research firm Municipal Market Advisors."

This has led a number of analysts to conclude that municipal bonds don't really need insurance, and that they'll get along fine without insurance, if there's no bond insurer bailout.

But analysts aren't nearly so sanguine for the other part of the market, the structured finance securities like CDOs.

Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank, said that bond insurer downgrades could have a big knock-on effect: "It could be a tsunami-like event comparable to sub-prime."

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, we're overdue for a generational panic and crash, the first since 1929. What's really amazing is how investor attitudes have changed in the last year. A year ago, when the stock market bubble was still growing, the markets would go up almost every day, whether the news was bad or good. Tens of trillions of dollars of interlocking securities were built up on the assumption that the market would keep going up. Now the market has been on a general down trend, ever since December, with the market going down almost every day, whether the news is good or bad. This past week was the worst week for Wall Street since 2003. At some point a "tipping point" will be reached. It will trigger a domino effect that will cause multiple fund failures and forced selling. It's impossible to predict when that will occur, or whether bond insurers' ratings downgrades will have anything to do with it, but if the market continues its steady fall, then it should happen in the near future. (8-Feb-08) Permanent Link
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