The Fed Goes Underwater

Link: https://www.city-journal.org/fed-goes-underwater

Excerpt:

Before new trillion-dollar federal spending bonanzas became a regular occurrence, the Federal Reserve’s announcement that it lost over $700 billion might have garnered a few headlines. Yet the loss met with silence. Few Americans have noticed the huge increase in both the scale and the scope of the central bank or the dangers that it poses to the American economy. As Fed-driven inflation becomes the Number One political issue in America, that will change.

The Fed’s losses owe to a shift in the way it does business. Before the 2008 financial meltdown, the central bank tried to control interest rates by buying and selling U.S. bonds. A few billion in purchases or sales could move the whole economy, and this meant that the Fed, which operates much like a normal bank, could keep a relatively small balance sheet of under $1 trillion.

Since the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve, like other developed-world central banks, has used a different playbook. It provides enough funds to satiate the entire banking world, and it seeks to adjust the economy by paying banks more or less interest to hold those funds. These payments keep private-sector interest rates from dropping too low. When it first undertook this “floor” experiment, the Fed’s balance sheet exploded to more than $4 trillion. After the Covid pandemic, it approached $9 trillion.

A larger balance sheet means greater risks. And the Fed has added to that risk by purchasing longer-duration assets. Pre–financial crisis, the Fed bought mainly short-term federal debt. Only about 10 percent of all the U.S. bonds owned by the central bank lasted longer than ten years. Now, that figure has risen to 25 percent.

Author(s): Judge Glock

Publication Date: Winter 2023

Publication Site: City Journal

The Currency Swaps Time Bomb in Global Finance – Rob Johnson

Link: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2023/01/the-currency-swaps-time-bomb-in-global-finance-rob-johnson.html

Excerpt:

Yves here. While this post gives an introduction to the problem of the magnitude of currency swaps, I suspect readers will find it a bit frustrating because it raises more questions than it answers. I feel I should provide far more than I do in this intro, but it is a big topic to address properly, so I hope to keep chipping away at it over time.

Some initial observations:

First, the size of the dollar-related swaps market belies the idea that the dollar is going to be displaced all that soon.

Second, and not to sound Pollyannish, but there was a lot of currency volatility last year, yet nothing blew up. That may be due to dumb luck. But also recall that the Bank of International Settlements has been a Cassandra. It first flagged rapidly rising housing prices and related increases in lending as a risk…in 2003.

Third, interviewer Paul Jay keeps pushing on the idea that shouldn’t this activity be regulated? Wellie, it never has been and I don’t see how you can put that genie in the bottle. Foreign exchange trading has always been over the counter.

And non-US banks are regulated not by the US but by their home country under what is called the “home host” practice. So it is France’s job to see that French banks fly right, even when they are trading dollars and other non-Eurozone currencies. If a French bank gets in trouble, even on its dollar exposures, it is France that has to bail them out or put it down. That is why, during the financial crisis, when French and even much more so German banks bought a lot of bad US subprime debt and CDOs and then had a lot of losses, they needed dollar funding to cover the holes in their dollar book (as in no one would provide them with short-term dollar funding to keep funding these dollar assets and no one would buy them at any reasonable price if they had tried to sell them). But the ECB could only lend dollars to these Eurobanks, which would not solve this funding problem. So the Fed opened up big currency swap lines with the major central banks. These central banks then swapped to get dollars so they could provide emergency dollar funding to their banks.

Author(s): Yves Smith, Rob Johnson, Paul Jay

Publication Date: 3 Jan 2023

Publication Site: Naked Capitalism, theAnalysis.news

Cultural stereotypes of multinational banks

Link: https://cepr.org/voxeu/columns/cultural-stereotypes-multinational-banks

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Previous studies (e.g. Guiso et al. 2006, 2009) have used aggregate survey data from Eurobarometer to show that the volume of flows between pairs of countries is importantly affected by bilateral trust. A limitation of such country-level evidence is that average levels of trust are almost certainly correlated with unobserved characteristics of country pairs. To rule out confounding factors, we therefore develop a bank-specific measure of trust.

For this purpose, we model banks as hierarchies (as illustrated by Figure 1). Strategic decisions such as whether or not a bank should invest in a country are generally taken at bank headquarters. Portfolio managers working in the headquarters country or elsewhere are then responsible for implementing those decisions. Because we are concerned with investment decisions undertaken by headquarters, we focus our analysis on the extensive margin of sovereign exposures – whether or not a bank invests in the bonds of a country, as opposed to exactly how much it invests.

Given this framework, cultural stereotypes in subsidiaries can shape the soft information that subordinates transmit up the hierarchy to headquarters, where the broad parameters guiding portfolio investment decisions are set. They can affect how that soft information is received by directors, because the latter share the same stereotypes, reflecting the extent to which banks hire and promote internally across borders, such that the composition of bank boards and officers reflects the geography of the bank’s branch network. We provide empirical support for this framework by showing that multinational branch networks help predict the national composition of high-level managerial teams at bank headquarters.

Author(s): Orkun Saka, Barry Eichengreen

Publication Date: 23 Dec 2022

Publication Site: VoxEU

Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago Dives into Private Debt

Link: https://www.marketsgroup.org/news/Chicago-MEABF-Private-Debt

Excerpt:

The Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (MEABF) has added private debt to its portfolio.


The MEABF board voted to work with three managers in the sector, allocating up to $100 million. It approved up to $40 million to both Partners Group Credit Strategy and Angelo Gordon Direct Lending Fund and up to $20 million to Brightwood Capital Fund, Stephen Wolff, MEABF’s investment officer, tells Markets Group.

….

Wolff said that the MEABF board approved a dedicated allocation to private debt of 4% in early 2021 and that this search fulfilled the allocation. MEABF had $3.4 billion in assets as of July 31. He said MEABF has in the past had mezzanine investments but has not had a dedicated allocation to private debt.

….

As of Dec. 31, MEABF had a fixed income target allocation of 25% and an actual asset allocation of 21%. Its real estate target was 10%, just above its actual asset allocation of 9%. Domestic equities are its largest segment with a 26% target and a 26% allocation. International equities were at 18%, just above its 17% target. Hedged equities, meanwhile, were at 12%, above its 10% target, while private equity was at 3%, below its 5% target.

Author(s): David G. Barry

Publication Date: 21 August 2022

Publication Site: Markets Group

Upgrade will help Chicago navigate a thornier bond market

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202210251432SM______BNDBUYER_00000184-0fdf-d34d-a3d7-5fff818a0000_110.1&utm_source=Wirepoints+Newsletter&utm_campaign=845146e7cd-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_895ee9abf9-845146e7cd-30506353#new_tab

Excerpt:

Last week’s Fitch Ratings upgrade of Chicago offers dual benefits for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration as it pursues passage of a proposed 2023 budget and preps a general obligation issue.

Fitch’s Friday upgrade to BBB from BBB-minus, the city’s first from Fitch in 12 years, and the potential for more good rating news could help sell the City Council on supplemental pension contributions and other pieces of the budget plan viewed favorably by analysts.

The Fitch action and an overall rosier view of the city’s fiscal condition should also broaden the investor appeal of an upcoming $757 million general obligation issue in a more fickle and tumultuous market than prevailed in the city’s last GO offering in late 2021.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 25 Oct 2022

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

Why Bond Liquidity May Be Headed for Trouble

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/why-bond-liquidity-may-be-headed-for-trouble/

Excerpt:

Reduced liquidity for bonds is getting to be a problem, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

At a speech before the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association annual meeting Tuesday, she reiterated an earlier observation that diminished ability to sell bonds is worrisome. Still, at SIFMA, she sought to temper her concern by adding that traders aren’t facing snags executing orders, with the biggest negative impact of lessened liquidity confined to higher transaction costs.

…..

The gauge for bond volatility, the Merrill Lynch Option Volatility Estimate, aka MOVE index, has jumped some 40% since mid-August. Other than a spike in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, the index (it launched in 2019) has been fairly placid—until 2022 and the beginning of big rate hikes. This all is reminiscent of the stock market’s fast-paced volatility lately.

Another related difficulty for bonds:  the imbroglio resulting from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases and the resulting strong dollar risk worldwide. That has promoted a rush by other central banks to match the Fed and jack up rates. To Richard Farr, chief market strategist at Merion Capital, one risk of this trend is that Treasury bonds will end up hurt.

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 26 Oct 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

So Are ESG Investments Lousy, or Not?

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/in-focus/market-drilldown/so-are-esg-investments-lousy-or-not/?oly_enc_id=2359H8978023B3G

Excerpt:

One criticism of ESG investing is that, when it shows good returns, this might be because of temporary factors that have an outsize impact. Such superior returns are  often driven by climate-news “shocks,” declared Robert Stambaugh, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and two other academics, in a recent paper. The reference is apparently to a spell of severe drought or destructive hurricanes. The professors expressed uncertainty as to whether any future ESG outperformance can be assumed.

Of course, with climate-oriented investing now a partisan issue, a welter of claims and counter-claims has appeared. To pro-ESG folks, science is on their side, hence the opposition is just blowing smoke to confuse people.

Anti-ESG politicians appear to be convincing the public that a “false equivalence” exists between their stance and the sustainability advocates, contended Witold Henisz, director of Wharton’s ESG Initiative, in a recent article in the Knowledge Wharton periodical. He wrote that “ideological opposition [is] cynically seeking a wedge issue for upcoming political campaigns — and, so far, it appears to be working.”

Whatever the outcome of the current debate over ESG-related bans and the like, the climate change question is not going away. Says CalSTRS’s Ailman, “It will be with us for the next 50 years.”

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 8 Sept 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

The Lending Hole at the Bottom of the Homeownership Market

Link: https://www.newamerica.org/future-land-housing/reports/the-lending-hole-at-the-bottom-of-the-homeownership-market/

Graphic:

Abstract:

While conventional wisdom maintains that high home prices are to blame for declining homeownership rates, there is another elusive barrier stopping millions of would-be homeowners: banks are increasingly unwilling to write small dollar mortgages. One fifth of owner-occupied homes in the United States cost less than $100,000, but due to unintended consequences of the Dodd-Frank Act, among other factors, banks are opting out of writing small dollar loans. Instead, more than three quarters of small dollar homes are purchased in cash, often by investors or well-off individuals. This lending gap locks millions of low-and-moderate income families out of homeownership, and exacerbates the racial homeownership gap as these small dollar homes are a critical source of homeownership for many first-time buyers in Black and Hispanic communities.

In this report, the Future of Land and Housing program at New America and the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) focus on three dimensions of this problem: 1) the unavailability of financing for small dollar loans; 2) the catch-22 of “mortgage standards”; and 3) competition with all-cash buyers at a national level and through a local case study of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, North Carolina.

Author(s): Sabiha Zainulbhai, Zachary D. Blizard, Craig J. Richardson, Yuliya Panfil

Publication Date: 9 Nov 2021

Publication Site: New America

Introduction to Credit Risk Exposure of Life Insurers

Link: https://www.soa.org/sections/joint-risk-mgmt/joint-risk-mgmt-newsletter/2022/september/rm-2022-09-fritz/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Under the old regime, the impairment was the incurred credit losses, in determining which only past events and current conditions are used. Credit losses were booked after a credit event had taken place, thus the name “incurred.” ECL and CECL require the incorporation of forward-looking information in addition to the past/current info in the calculation of impairment. There will be an allowance for credit losses since initial recognition regardless of the creditworthiness of the investment asset. The allowance can be perceived as the reserve or capital for credit risks. In practice, the allowance could be zero if there are no expected default losses for the instrument, US Treasury bonds, US Agency MBS, just to name a few.

ECL under IFRS 9 is typically calculated as a probability weighted estimate of the present value of cash shortfalls over the expected life of the financial instrument. It Is an unbiased best estimate with all cash shortfalls taking into consideration the collaterals or other credit enhancement. Four typical parameters underlying its calculation are: Probability of default (PD), loss given default (LGD, i.e., 1-Recovery Rate), exposure at default (EAD) and discounting factor (DF). Prepayments, usage given default (UGD) and other parameters can also play a role in the calculations. In the general approach the loss allowance for a financial instrument is 12-month ECL regardless of credit risk at the reporting date, unless there has been a significant increase in credit risk since initial recognition: The PD is only considered for the next 12 months while the cash shortfalls are predicted over the full lifetime; as the creditworthiness deteriorates significantly, the loss allowance is increased to full lifetime ECL in Stage 2, which should always precede stage 3 (credit impairment). Even without change of stages, any credit condition changes should be flowing into the credit loss allowance via updates in some of the underlying parameters. Exhibit 1 has an illustrative comparison between ECL, CECL, and incurred loss model.

CECL is similar to ECL except FASBs doesn’t have so-called staging as IFRS 9, which requires that only 12-month ECL is calculated in stage 1 (in the general model). In other words, CECL requires a full lifetime ECL from Day 1. There are also other differences: IFRS 9 requires certain consideration of time value of money, multiple scenarios, etc., in measurement of ECL while US GAAP CECL doesn’t.

Under US GAAP, different from CECL, currently the impairment for AFS assets, while also recorded as an allowance (with a couple exceptions), is only needed for those whose fair value is less than the amortized cost. Once it is triggered, the credit losses are then measured as the excess of the amortized cost basis over the probability weighted estimate of the present value of cash flows expected to be collected. Only the fair value change related to credit is considered in the calculation of AFS impairment. The quantitative calculation behind the probability weighted best estimate is like CECL/ECL. Both can use discounted cash flow methods with parameters such as PD although one is calculating expected cash shortfalls directly in CECL and the other is calculating the expected collectible cash payments and then is used to back out the impairment.

Author(s): Jing Fritz

Publication Date: September 2022

Publication Site: Risk Management newsletter, SOA

S&P Global’s Proposed Capital Model Changes and its Implication to U.S. Life Insurance Companies

Link: https://www.soa.org/sections/financial-reporting/financial-reporting-newsletter/2022/september/fr-2022-09-sun/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Life technical risks measure the possible losses from deviations from the best estimate assumptions relating to life expectancy, policyholder behavior, and expenses. The life technical risks are captured through mortality, longevity, morbidity, and other risks. The methodology for calculating the capital adequacy for these four risk categories remains unchanged under the proposed method, apart from the recalibration of capital charges or the consolidation of defining categories within each risk. Comparing to the current GAAP based model, charges have materially increased across all categories partly due to higher confidence intervals, with notable exceptions of longevity risk, with reduced charges across all stress levels (changes applicable to U.S. life insurers are illustrated in Tables A2 to A5 in the Appendix linked at the end of this article). Please note that S&P’s current capital model under U.S. statutory basis does not have an explicit longevity risk charge. However, this article focuses on comparison to current GAAP capital model[1] that is closer to the new capital methodology framework.

For mortality risk, lower rates are charged for smaller exposures (net amount at risk (NAR) $5 billion or less) with the consolidation of size categories, but higher rates are charged for NAR between $5 billion and $250 billion, with an average increase of 49 percent for businesses under $400 billion NAR. A new pandemic risk charge (Table A3 in the Appendix linked at the end of this article) will further increase mortality related risk charges to be 109 percent higher than original mortality charges under confidence level for company rating of AA, and 93 percent higher for confidence level for company rating of A, respectively, on average (Figure 1). The disability risk charge rates increased moderately for most products, across all eight product types such that the increase of disability premium risk charges is 6 percent under confidence level for AA, and 2 percent for A, respectively. In addition, the proposed model introduced a new charge on disability claims reserve, ranging from 13.7 percent of total disability claims reserves for AAA, to 9.6 percent for BBB. However, the proposed model provides lower capital charge rates in longevity risk and lapse risk.

Author(s): Yiru (Eve) Sun, John Choi, and Seong-Weon Park

Publication Date: September 2022

Publication Site: Financial Reporting newsletter of the SOA