US and European debt markets flash new warning signals

The debt markets in the US and Europe have begun to flash warning signals yet again, raising fears that the global credit crisis could be entering another turbulent phase.

The cost of insuring against default on the bonds of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and other big banks and brokerages has surged over the last two weeks, threatening to reach the stress levels seen before the Bear Stearns debacle. Spreads on inter-bank Libor and Euribor rates in Europe are back near record levels.

Credit default swaps (CDS) on Lehman debt have risen from around 130 in late April to 247, while Merrill debt has spiked to 196. Most analysts had thought the coast was clear for such broker dealers after the US Federal Reserve invoked an emergency clause in March to let them borrow directly from its lending window.

But there are now concerns that the Fed itself may be exhausting its $800bn (£399bn) stock of assets. It has swapped almost $300bn of 10-year Treasuries for questionable mortgage debt, and provided Term Auction Credit of $130bn.

“The steep rise in swap spreads this week is ominous,” said John Hussman, head of the Hussman Funds. “The deterioration is in stark contrast to what investors have come to hope since March.”

Lehman Brothers took writedowns of just $200m on its $6.5bn portfolio of sub-prime debt in the first quarter even though a quarter of the securities had “junk” ratings, typically worth a fraction of face value.

Willem Sels, a credit analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort, said the banks are beginning to face waves of defaults on credit cards, car loans, and now corporate loans. “We believe we’re entering Phase II. The liquidity crisis has eased a little, but the real credit losses are accelerating. The worst is yet to come,” he said.

Read moreUS and European debt markets flash new warning signals

Airbus at `Less Than Zero’ Value Still Loses Altitude

May 23 (Bloomberg) — Airbus SAS, the world’s largest commercial aircraft maker, is valued at “less than zero” after this year’s 32 percent drop in the shares of parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., according to Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. analyst Joe Campbell.

“The market is viewing Airbus as a liability, rather than an asset,” said Campbell, 62, who is based in New York and has ranked among the top five aerospace analysts for six consecutive years in an Institutional Investor magazine poll.

EADS, based in Paris and Munich, on May 13 reported an additional three-month delay in deliveries of the A380 superjumbo jetliner, which was already two years behind schedule. Before the latest setback, the company had cut its profit forecast by $6 billion through 2010.

Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, is also six months to a year late on the A400M military transport. It has a 20 billion- euro ($31.4 billion) contract with six European governments and Turkey for 180 of the planes. Additional cost overruns and penalty payments may drain cash needed for the $16 billion expense of developing the Airbus A350, a long-range jet competing with Boeing Co.‘s 787 and 777.

A February 2007 recovery plan meant to help Airbus cope with a weakening dollar as it competes with Chicago-based Boeing for dominance of the $60 billion-a-year airliner market has stumbled. The planemaker sought in part to shift investment for new planes to subcontractors who would buy Airbus plants. It chose local companies in France and Germany that lacked the capital to shoulder the risk and the plan fell apart.

Read moreAirbus at `Less Than Zero’ Value Still Loses Altitude

Fed `Rogue Operation’ Spurs Further Bailout Calls


Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, arrives at the Federal Reserve building for a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, April 29, 2008. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg News

May 2 (Bloomberg) — A month after the Federal Reserve rescued Bear Stearns Cos. from bankruptcy, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke got an S.O.S. from Congress.

There is “a potential crisis in the student-loan market” requiring “similar bold action,” Chairman Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and six other Democrats wrote Bernanke. They want the Fed to swap Treasury notes for bonds backed by student loans. In a separate letter, Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Paul Kanjorski and 31 House members said they want Bernanke to channel money directly to education-finance firms.

Student loans are just the start. Former Fed officials and other Fed-watchers say that Bernanke’s actions in saving Bear Stearns will expose the central bank to continuing pressure to use its $889 billion balance sheet to prop up companies or entire industries deemed important by politicians. The Fed satisfied Dodd’s request today, expanding the swaps to include securities backed by student debt.

“It is appalling where we are right now,” former St. Louis Fed President William Poole, who retired in March, said in an interview. The Fed has introduced “a backstop for the entire financial system.”

Critics argue that the result will be to foster greater risk-taking among investors emboldened by the belief that the government will bail them out of bad decisions.

The Fed’s loans to Bear Stearns were “a rogue operation,” said Anna Schwartz, who co-wrote “A Monetary History of the United States” with the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.

`No Business’

“To me, it is an open and shut case,” she said in an interview from her office in New York. “The Fed had no business intervening there.”

Read moreFed `Rogue Operation’ Spurs Further Bailout Calls

U.S. Foreclosures Jump 57% as Homeowners Walk Away

April 15 (Bloomberg) — U.S. foreclosure filings jumped 57 percent and bank repossessions more than doubled in March from a year earlier as adjustable mortgages increased and more owners lost their homes to lenders.

More than 234,000 properties were in some stage of foreclosure, or one in every 538 U.S. households, Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc., a seller of default data, said today in a statement. Nevada, California and Florida had the highest foreclosure rates. Filings rose 5 percent from February.

About $460 billion of adjustable-rate loans are scheduled to reset this year, according to New York-based analysts at Citigroup Inc. Auction notices rose 32 percent from a year ago, a sign that more defaulting homeowners are “simply walking away and deeding their properties back to the foreclosing lender” rather than letting the home be auctioned, RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James Saccacio said in the statement.

Read moreU.S. Foreclosures Jump 57% as Homeowners Walk Away

Federal Reserve staff move into offices of investment banks to monitor activities

The US Federal Reserve has sent staff into some of Wall Street’s biggest firms and its New York branch is gathering evidence on key traders’ activities as America’s central bank raises its scrutiny of risk to an unprecedented level.

Fed staff have set up shop in Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns to monitor their financial condition just days after Henry Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary, proposed that the Fed become the financial industry’s “risk czar”.

This is the first time in more than a decade that the Fed has put staff in securities firms and is a response, in part, to its decision to extend to investment banks the “discount window” of cheap loans traditionally offered only to the commercial banks. The Fed argues that if it is to act as lender of last resort to the securities firms, it should keep a closer eye on their activities.

The move comes as the central bank’s New York branch separately compiles a list of names and numbers of key traders in specific, esoteric securities such as auction rate preferred securities. These obscure instruments can be traded only at auctions and demand for them has virtually evaporated in recent weeks.

A senior US mutual fund executive, whom the Fed has approached, said: “They are looking in every corner to understand every esoteric financial product – who its traders are, who holds the most, whether its market is liquid and how great the losses could be. They are approaching people like me to find the key players in particular securities and then contacting them to find out the details. I have never heard of that being done before.”

Read moreFederal Reserve staff move into offices of investment banks to monitor activities

Big Traders Dive Into Dark Pools

The alternative trading systems are luring big institutional customers by offering greater privacy and lower costs. Their growth could affect big exchanges.It’s not easy being a big player in the stock market. Trading huge quantities of stock on traditional exchanges has become ever more challenging, costly, and potentially disruptive. And if other players see your moves, they can disrupt your trades. That’s led to the emergence in recent years of alternative trading systems known as dark pools. And their growth could have significant implications for big stock exchanges-and individual investors.

Read moreBig Traders Dive Into Dark Pools

Nasdaq Gives High Rollers A Market Free Of Regulation

Nasdaq is set to launch tomorrow what its executives are calling one of the most significant developments on Wall Street in decades — a private stock market for super-wealthy investors.Minimum requirement for traders: $100 million in assets.

Any private firm can list on Nasdaq’s new platform, which is called the Portal Market, and raise money by selling stock to an elite group of shareholders. These companies would remain private and not have to make public their financial statements or submit to federal regulation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accountability law.

Read moreNasdaq Gives High Rollers A Market Free Of Regulation

Investment banks are borrowing from Fed

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investment banks Goldman Sachs Group Inc , Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc and Morgan Stanley are testing a new program that allows investment banks to borrow directly from the Federal Reserve, according to people at the banks.In a bid to stabilize jittery markets, the Fed said on Sunday that it would allow investment banks to borrow from its discount window using a wide range of investment-grade securities as collateral.

(Hey, hey lets spend all our money and then just ask Uncle Bernanke for a few more billions.
Come on guys lets do that. Uncle Bernanke can print a few billions for us if we are broke.
Good to have him around. Life is so good. – The Infinite Unknown
)

Read moreInvestment banks are borrowing from Fed

Banks face “new world order,” consolidation: report

bear-sterns-wwwreuterscom.jpeg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Financial firms face a “new world order” after a weekend fire sale of Bear Stearns and the Federal Reserve’s first emergency weekend meeting since 1979, research firm CreditSights said in a report on Monday.

More industry consolidation and acquisitions may follow after JPMorgan Chase & Co on Sunday said it was buying Bear Stearns for $236 million, or $2 a share, a deep discount from the $30 price on Friday and record share price of about $172 last year.

“Last evening the Bear Stearns situation reached a crescendo, as JPMorgan agreed to acquire the wounded broker for a token amount of $2 per share,” CreditSights said. “The reality check is that there are many challenged major banks, brokers, thrifts, finance/mortgage companies, and only a handful of bona fide strong U.S. banks.”

Read moreBanks face “new world order,” consolidation: report