Counter-Party Risk

Friday, January 18, 2008 | 07:30 AM

Get used to hearing that phrase: Counter-Party Risk.

You will be hearing a lot of it in the coming year. Its one of the reasons I disagree with my friend Doug Kass about any bottom in Financials.

Consider this small concern: Given the enormous amount of hedging that was done by Investment Banks (Merrill, Morgan Stanley, JPM, Citi, etc.) if the  monoline insurers fail, well, then you are no longer hedged. So while some people are arguing that the write downs are now over, I am not quite so sure.

And that's before we get to the issues of defaults which have yet to occur. These are problems in the near future, and they are likely to cause an ongoing set of dislocations. Hence, why I expect the financial sector bottom will be a long tedious   process.

But I digress. Back to the monolines and counter-party risk.

Cds_wsj_20080117The AMBACs (ABK), MBIAs (MBI),  and FGICs (a GE/Blackrock company) of the world used to have a nice little business going. They wrote insurance on bonds that cities, states and municipalities issued. It was "the vig" on getting a triple AAA rating, and the premium more than paid for itself in reduced borrowing costs. A lovely, low risk business, with little defaults and a steady revenue stream. At one point in time, AMBAC had the highest revenue per employee on the planet.

That situation was obviously intolerable. So they brought in the financial engineers. Hey, we should be issuing insurance on Credit Default Swaps (CDS) -- the premiums are much much bigger than boring old munis!

Any time you hear words to that effect, you know you are dealing with an idiot of the highest magnitude. Those are the equivalent to "Give me a match, I want to see if there is any gas in the tank."

The monolines are not in trouble because Municipalities are defaulting on bond payments. (That's waaaay in the future). The problem is they wrote insurance -- taking in that fat premiums -- without properly understanding the risk.

Greater reward requires greater risk. This is such a simple formula, yet I find myself repeating it again and again. How anyone fails to understand it, quite frankly, is beyond my comprehension. These were once great businesses, and now, there is the increasing chance --perhaps likelihood -- they will be zeros.

Can you imagine Warren Buffet destroying such a delightfully simple, profitable business? Me neither. That's why Berkshire is going to own this space in a few short years . . .


I've said it before, and I'll repeat it again: To err is human, but it requires an MBA to create total clusterfuck . . .


Disclosure: A relative used to work at AMBAK, and now works at FGIC. We don't really discuss work, and they were NOT consulted on anything in the commentary. 


Default Fears Unnerve Markets
Partners in Credit Deals Face Big Write-Downs As Bond Insurer Teeters
WSJ, January 18, 2008; Page A1

The next banking crisis on the way 
Jim Jubak
MSN, Jubak's Journal, 1/18/2008 12:01 AM ET

Under Review: Ripple Effects Of Much Harsher Debt Ratings
WSJ, January 18, 2008; Page C1

Friday, January 18, 2008 | 07:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack (2) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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» Read it here first: CDO Lust Undercut AAA Success from The Big Picture
Last week, we discussed the foolish shift among the monolines from staid Bond insurers to derivative dab blers in Counter-Party Risk. Now Bloomberg has picked up the same meme:Municipal bond insurers such as MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. had... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 23, 2008 3:32:05 PM

» Monoline Insurance: There's a New Sheriff in Town... from The Big Picture
The monoline insurers -- the firms that issued default insurance on muni bonds that never default -- have been buried by more than a trillion dollars worth of derivative bets, more than 10% of which have gone bad. That $130 Billion worth of CDO/CDS exp... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 29, 2008 6:16:19 AM


My guess, at this time, is that bond insurer defaults will cause the next big dip ... probably in June or thereabout. Until then, the stock market recovery will begin.

It's contrary to human nature to clean out all the crap when it is most efficient. People put bad news and anything requiring deep thought or significant effort off as long as possible. Think of the pending insurer collapse as money in the bank for an astute trader.

I'm wondering if there will be ginormous short covering today, making this one of the legendary recovery days that people will talk about for years?

Posted by: cinefoz | Jan 18, 2008 8:27:20 AM

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