Sunday, April 19, 2009

Strange NYTimes article

This New York Times article is certainly strange. Apparently the Obama administration is floating the idea that they have more ammo for recapitalizing the banks than everyone thinks.

Oh,really? What is the latest shennanegans? Well, remember that $350B in TARP money that Paulson put into the 8 largest banks. Well, that was preferred equity shares. That is sort of like a loan that never needs to be paid back (except on liquidation) where the company must pay a fixed dividend to these shareholders before paying the dividend to common shareholders. The yield (annual dividend over the price) was a measly 5%. What a great deal for the banks! But if times gets tight, it can stop paying both dividends without there being an event of default. The shares are non-cumulative so missed dividends never need to be paid back.

Because not paying the preferred dividend is not an act of default, this is considered equity not debt. Preferred equity is not counted any differently than common equity in the three capital ratios that are used by bank regulators although there are guidelines on how high the preferred portion can be - more than half is frowned upon.

These rules are well established in banking. Until now that is. Now the Fed wants to redefine what equity means. Now they want to pretend that all that matters is tangible common equity, bank regulation tradition be damned. So now you can increase the tangible common equity by converting the preferred equity to common equity. Presto, the banks have more capital!

Huh? This does not increase the total equity by one bit. It does nothing to change ASSETS-LIABILITIES which is the definition of equity. They have just shuffled the form of the equity. Really, they have just lowered the standard of acceptable capital levels and made it so that the banks fit the lowered standard.

While they are at it, maybe they can change the definition of liabilities as well. They can redefine it as all debts except those to the federal government. There you go again, instant improvements in capitalization! Just ignore those liabilities when calculating capital ratios.

Honestly, what a joke! Do they really think the market is going to buy this nonsense. The market knows what capital means and they know these banks ain't got it.