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$700 Billion is a lot of Guacamole!

paulsonAn article in today’s  Forbes online entitled Trouble with TARP,  reports a growing concern by the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) about the effectiveness of the $700 billion program.  The COP reports that the effectiveness of the program is difficult to determine due to lack of transparency of how funds were spent.  The COP report also states that the absence of any reporting guidelines for TARP participants impedes effective oversight.

The 145 page report starts with a retelling of the extreme conditions confronting the banking sector as the credit crisis exploded last autumn.  It also outlines the choices confronting regulators, legislators and industry executives as the crisis deepened.  We were led to believe by Treasury and Federal Reserve officials that the global banking system was in imminent  danger of collapse.  Nothing less then immediate and drastic measures taken by sovereign government officials and industry executives would prevent the catastrophic consequences of global economic carnage.  The report makes it clear that these market conditions were so extreme that regulators were navigating through uncharted waters.  Any remediation measures taken had little historical precedence to guide actions.  Hence Paulson was given carte blanche to handle the crisis with unprecedented latitude and executive facility.

As this blog reported earlier this week, the TARP was originally designed to acquire troubled assets from banking institutions.  TARP funds were earmarked to purchase mortgage backed securities and other derivatives whose distressed valuations severely eroded capital ratios and stressed banks balance sheets.  Hank Paulson later shifted the strategy and decided to inject TARP funds into the banks equity base.  This has done wonders for the shareholders of the banks but troubled assets remain on the banks balance sheet.  As the recession continues,  unemployment, home foreclosures, SME bankruptcies and the looming problem with commercial mortgage backed securities  (CMBS) are placing a new round of added strain on the banking system.

The TALF program is designed to draw private money into partnership with the government to acquire troubled assets from banks.  So far the program has received a tepid response.  I suspect that the principal factors inhibiting the expansion of the TALF program are numerous.  Chief among them is the inability of FASB to decide upon valuation guidelines of Level III Assets.  Banks holding distressed securities may also be reluctant to part with these assets because they have tremendous upside potential as the economy improves.

The COP also questioned the effectiveness of TARP because stress tests were only conducted on 19 banks.  The report states that additional  stress tests may be required because the previous tests failed to account for the length and depth and length of the recession.   Community banks are also of concern.  They face a perfect storm in challenging macroeconomic conditions.  Of particular concern is commercial real estate loans.  Many economists are concerned that high rate of loan defaults in commercial loan portfolios pose great threats to the community banking sector.

Though interest rates remain low due to the actions of the Federal Reserve,  lending by banks still remains weak.  SME’s are capital starved and bankruptcy rates are quickly rising.  SME’s are critical to any economic recovery scenario.  A strong SME sector is also crucial for a vibrant and profitable banking system.  Perhaps a second round of TARP funding may be required to get more credit flowing to SME’s.  If banks start failing again it would be devastating.  The Treasury and the Federal Reserve don’t have many bullets left to fire  because of all the previous expenditures and a waning political will of the people to continue to fund a systemically damaged banking system.

Risk: banks, SME, economy, credit, market

You Tube Video Music: Billie Holiday with Lester Young, Pennies from Heaven

August 13, 2009 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, economics, FASB, Paulson, real estate, recession, regulatory, SME, TALF, TARP, Treasury, Uncategorized, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

TALF_MainAccording to a recently published report by a Congressional Oversight Panel reviewing the effectiveness of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP),  many banks  remain vulnerable due to questionable commercial loans  still held on their balance sheets.  This is  a looming problem for community and smaller banking institutions.  Smaller banks are being adversely effected by the the rise of commercial loan defaults.  Many community banks have large loan exposures to shopping malls and other small businesses hard hit by the recession.

The report states,  “Owners of shopping malls, hotels and offices have been defaulting on their loans at an alarming rate, and the commercial real estate market isn’t expected to hit bottom for three more years, industry experts have warned. Delinquency rates on commercial loans have doubled in the past year to 7 percent as more companies downsize and retailers close their doors, according to the Federal Reserve.

The commercial real estate market’s fortunes are tied closely to the economy, especially unemployment, which registered 9.4 percent last month. As people lose their jobs, or have their hours reduced, they cut back on spending, which hurts retailers, and take fewer trips, affecting hotels.”

Defaults in sub prime and other residential mortgages precipitated last years banking and credit crisis. The TARP program succeeded in stabilizing a banking system that was teetering on collapse.  The $700bn infusion into the banking system appears to have buttressed depleted capital ratios and severely stressed balance sheets of large banking institutions.  But many banks are still carrying troubled assets on their balance sheets.  Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) values are tied to the cash flows generated by renters and lessors of the underlying mortgaged properties.  As occupancy rates of commercial properties fall cash flows dissipate.  The market value of these securities plummets creating a distressed condition. This places additional strain on the banks balance sheet driving capital ratios lower and places a banks liquidity and ability to lend at risk.

The TALF (Term Asset Backed Loan Facility) was instituted in March to extend $200bn  in credit to buy side financial institutions to purchase troubled assets and remove them from banks balance sheets.  So far only $30bn has been allocated through the program.  Clearly banks balance sheets remain at risk due to their continued high  exposure to this asset class.

A strong economic recovery will address this problem.  A prolonged recession will resurrect the banking and credit crisis we experienced last autumn.  It would appear that TARP II may be a necessity if more private sector investors don’t step up to the plate and participate in TALF.

You Tube Video: David Byrne, Life During Wartime

Risk: CMBS, commercial real estate, banks, credit risk

August 11, 2009 Posted by | banking, commerce, credit crisis, economics, government, private equity, real estate, recession, risk management, SME, TALF, TARP, Uncategorized, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments