Q2 2009 Bank Stress Test Results: The Zombie Dance Party Rocks On

Here is the latest issue of The Institutional Risk Analyst for your reading pleasure.   Chris

Q2 2009 Bank Stress Test Results: The Zombie Dance Party Rocks On
The Institutional Risk Analyst
September 1, 2009

“The causes were many: interest rates too low too long, allowing speculation on un-owned assets, a surplus of cash that begged to be invested, etc.; but the bottom line problem was one of perception. I grew up on a farm and a cow pie even if chopped into small pieces, mixed with other like items, painted gold, and doused in perfume is still manure. The market let the small pieces, paint and perfume confuse them. John Deere is a great company, but the one piece of equipment they won’t stand behind is their manure spreader. Those investing in and creating new markets should be so wise.”

A reader of The IRA in TX

The second quarter FDIC data is online for consumer and professional users of The IRA Bank Monitor. The results of our Q2 2009 stress test of the US banking industry are pretty grim. Despite all of the talk and expenditure in Washington, the US banking industry is still sinking steadily and neither the Obama Administration nor the Federal Reserve seem to have any more bullets to fire at the deflation monster.  With the dollar seemingly set for a rebound and the equity and debt markets looking exhausted, one veteran manager told The IRA that the finish of 2009 seems more problematic than is usual and customary for the end of year.

Plain fact is that the Fed and Treasury spent all the available liquidity propping up Wall Street’s toxic asset waste pile and the banks that created it, so now Main Street employers and private investors, and the relatively smaller banks that support them both, must go begging for capital and liquidity in a market where government is the only player left. The notion that the Fed can even contemplate reversing the massive bailout for the OTC markets, this to restore normalcy to the monetary models that supposedly inform the central bank’s deliberations, is ridiculous in view of the capital shortfall in the banking sector and the private sector economy more generally.

As with Q1 2009, the Q2 preliminary Stress Index calculated by IRA jumped to over 6.7 or more than half an order of magnitude above the 1995 base year of 1, but then subsided down to “only” 3.11 vs. 2.8 in Q1 2009. As in the previous period, the preliminary score reflects the tough reality facing smaller community and regional banks, while the final score of 3.11 reflects the huge subsidies flowing through the top institutions. Whereas in past years the inclusion of the larger money center banks would skew the risk profile of the banking industry to a more risky posture, today, as zombie GSEs, the top banks make the industry look more conservative.

IRA Banking Stress Index Distribution — Q2 2009







Preliminary Stress Index 6.77 (7,622 banks)







Final Stress Index 3.11 (8,643 banks)







Source: FDIC/The IRA Bank Monitor

As you can see, the number of “A+” banks is retreating fast from the 6,000 plus at the high tide of the credit bubble in 2006. Our colleague Dick Bove puts the prospective bank dead pool at several hundred. The FDIC now admits to some 400 banks on the troubled list. But we’d tell you that looking at the Q2 results, at least half of the banks now rated “F” in our last stress test survey are ripe for resolution. The reason we predict over 1,000 banks resolved through the cycle, as we predicted a year ago and more, is described in detail by IRA CEO Dennis Santiago in our Picking Nits blog.

Dennis provides tables for the final IRA Bank Stress ratings matrix for Q2 2009 and also a new table showing the distribution of the ratings by assets of the banks. Suffice to say that the proverbial barbell is getting more and more distorted and stretched, with virtually no banks rated “C” or “D,” and over 2,200 rated “F” or about where the US banking industry was at the end of 2008. The final result of financial innovation seems to be bank resolution, and the scope of the train wreck facing US financial institutions is vast, according to our latest stress test.

“The economist Hyman Minsky noted some time ago that economic stability fosters increased risk-taking that eventually can lead to financial instability,” writes our friend Martin Barnes in the Bank Credit Analyst after attending the Jackson Hole conclave. “Policymakers generally paid little attention to that view, but this has recently changed.”

Perhaps there is revisionist thinking at the Fed at long last, but not nearly soon enough to do anything about the impending implosion of the US banking sector in 2010. The significant point to us is not the cost to the FDIC insurance fund implied by the rising Bank Stress Index score, a cost which the banking industry will absorb and repay. But the real point is the permanent diminution of economic activity in local communities caused when good community and regional banks die due to the end-result of bad fiscal and regulatory policies in Washington. In that regard, see our letter in the Financial Times today, “Simplify and focus the Fed’s job and we will progress,” about systemic risk and the debate over giving the Fed more authority to regulate same.

In Q2 2009, the queen of the zombie dance party remains Citigroup (NYSE:C), which was rated “F” in Q2 2009 by the IRA Bank Monitor’s stress test survey, down from “C” in Q1 2009 because of a large jump in the score for ROE and deterioration in the score for loan defaults. As we told subscribers to the IRA Advisory Service on Monday, credit losses at C could require additional injections of capital a la Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even with the flow if subsidies that has increased C revenue greatly from 2008 run rates.

It is interesting to note that the prospective marriage of Fannie and Freddie, some call it Frannie, seems to be on hold now. The lawyers were working furiously up till about two months ago, but now nothing. This is significant because during the recent influx of speculators into the moribund equity of these two insolvent GSEs, we’ve heard vague references to post-merger synergies. It says something of the extreme speculative tenor of the markets today that we sell ourselves the delusions of the GSEs as “investments,” all the while watching as the Treasury writes a check for hundreds of billions per year in subsidies to keep the two GSEs from defaulting on their unsecured debt.

Likewise C is one of the banks rated “F” in our stress test survey and one of the zombie girls still rocking out at the House Bernanke dance party. You have to wonder why serious, smart people we know on the Buy Side see value in what remains of C — even before the resolution process is complete. Keep in mind that unlike your mere TARP bank, C is halfway in the grave via the loss sharing agreement with the FDIC.

The mere fact of loss sharing at C makes us wonder why any manager of the average equity mutual fund would deploy capital in that name. To us, buying C common equity is like investing in a company with a going concern flag from the outside auditor. Whether or not there is value inside C is not the issue; it is just not kosher, to us, for a manager to put investment grade investors into a situation that is basically a restructuring, with the government as the largest, senior creditor – and one in which the ultimate liabilities are as yet to be quantified. As with GM and Chrysler, the private shareholders and even the creditors of C will take what they get from Uncle Sam.

We have a good friend, a former bond trader and Goldman partner now retired, who’s been asking us about C for the past several months. Call buying C equity a punt on the corporate state for consenting adults. Keep in mind that C reported 412bp of default (annualized) in Q2 2009. All of the good people at C and their large bank peers know that we are perhaps a couple of quarters away from the peak in loss experience. Even with Uncle holding 34% of the equity, C remains an organization with 3.8% tangible common equity or “TCE” at the parent level and above-peer loss rates. Click the link below to see a chart of C’s bank charge-off experience from Q2 2009 going back to 1989 from The IRA Bank Monitor:


Notice that the rate of increase in charge-offs slowed in Q2 2009, both for C and for the large bank peers. The only decision we all need to make now is whether the rate of increase in bank defaults grows or continues to fall in 2H 2009 and beyond. Unfortunately, the data and our gut suggests that we will see more rapid increases in loss rates in the next several quarters — even with growing forbearance by regulators regarding charge-offs and real estate owned post foreclosure or “REO.”

The other question that is starting to get attention and on which we are spending a lot of time in the IRA Advisory Service is the duration of the period of peak loss, yet another toggle in the Fed’s SCAP stress test assumptions that we believe ought to be subject to revision. Notice that in the early 1990s, C was above 250bp of default for over two years. If C gets up to say 5.5 to 6% charge-offs in this cycle and then lingers around those levels, all the while dealing with asset valuation issues that such a loan loss rate suggests, then the bank will probably need more capital from the Treasury.

Q: What do you suppose aggregate banking industry loss and recovery rates look like when outliers like C are in the 6% default range? And remember that the rising bank default rate is as much a function of the lack of credit availability as anything else. When no deals, even deals that make sense, are getting done in the private marketplace, then the entire economy must shrink and even good depositories must horde cash.

As one old friend noted recently, many commercial banks have largely withdrawn from the lending market, leaving the housing GSEs the only game in town in that particular asset class. Other GSEs such as Export-Import Bank have, says one insider, “moved to direct loans vs. bank guarantees because our illustrious banks refuse to take ANY risk (which begs the question as to why you need them) and of course you must be prepared for daunting fees.”

But despite the efforts by the GSEs, the reduction in credit available to the US economy is having a negative impact on the overall level of activity, which creates a feedback loop of deflation and displacement that can only negatively impact depositories and their customers. Like the matrix of risk event possibilities we discussed in last week’s comment, “Systemic Risk: Is it Black Swans or Market Innovations?”, the number of failures of banks and private obligors is a moving target that still depends in great measure on the decisions we make in the days and weeks ahead. It’s probably too late for more excuses from the Fed and the Congress, but it is not too late for the Fed and federal other agencies to make a very positive difference in how this story ends. More on that in our next comment.

Questions? Comments? info@institutionalriskanalytics.com

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