Monoline Insurance: There's a New Sheriff in Town...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 | 06:15 AM

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 exposure makes it highly unlikely that anyone is coming along to rescue this group of risk-loving, derivative-misunderestimating, technically-bankrupt insurance managers. As we mentioned saeveral weeks ago, 

While absurd rumors swirled around the unlikely purchase of Ambac (ABK) by Wilbur Ross, various other  forces have been moving to make sure that the bond assurance will continue to exist for various state and city projects. Even though Munis very rarely default, the cost of Bond Assurance ends up paying for itself many times over, as it allows cities and towns to pay significantly less in borrowing costs over the life of the bond issuance.

As we mentioned several weeks ago, that was 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, and so managment embraced riskier, higher yielding derivatives. Over that period, the monoline stocks have lost about 90% of their value. (Ouch!)

The latest rumor making the rounds is that Wilbur Ross will buy Ambac. Reports that Ross will invest in the battered bond insurer Ambac have soothed investors. But as Roddy Boyd argues, the deal makes no sense whatsoever:

"If Ross were to purchase Ambac in an "as-is" arrangement, he would be buying an enterprise with a staggering $67 billion in CDO exposure, of which $29.1 billion consists of asset-backed CDO's of increasingly dubious credit quality. The company also has $8.4 billion in sub-prime mortgage paper in its portfolio. All told, Ambac's financials show that the insurer has $14.5 billion of claims-paying resources to support a $524 billion guarantee portfolio, figures so unbalanced that the company's attempt to raise $1 billion or more in emergency capital via an equity or convertible offering had to be scrapped last week."

Now, with the monolines bouncing on the highly unlikely take out by Wilbur Ross, a new sheriff has come to town: Warren Buffett has "agreed" to expand Berkshire's new bond insurer nationwide -- in exchange for faster licensing -- according to a group of U.S. state regulators.

In order to come into one of the most profitable and mismanaged segments of insurance underwriting, Buffett has coyly struck a deal that fast-tracks the messiest part of the business. Now THAT'S bloody brilliant.

Here's Bloomberg's take on the matter:

"Cathy Weatherford, chief executive officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, on Jan. 10 offered to help speed approvals if Buffett's new company agreed to simultaneously apply to all states with a uniform application, NAIC spokesman Scott Holeman said today. "Berkshire has committed,'' Holeman said in an interview.

Berkshire's bond insurer may help stabilize debt markets, which have been roiled by the prospect that MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc., the industry's biggest guarantors, may lose their top credit rankings. A downgrade may affect $2.4 trillion in assets industrywide, and Fitch has already stripped its AAA rating from Ambac after losses tied to subprime loans.

To induce Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire to submit the application to all states, NAIC proposed a pilot program waiving a requirement that an insurer using a uniform application have a track record in the type of insurance for which it wants new licenses, Holeman said.

I was originally going to title this "Buffett to Wilbur Ross: Up Yours" but I thought that too harsh.  And Ross seems to smart to buy into the Ambacv/MBIA snake oil . . .



Counter-Party Risk
Friday, January 18, 2008 | 07:30 AM

A Regulator Not Stymied by Red Tape
NYT,  January 9, 2008


Has Wilbur Ross lost his mind?
Roddy Boyd
Fortune, January 25 2008: 4:19 PM EST

Buffett's Bond Insurer to Go National, Regulators Say
Josh P. Hamilton
Bloomberg, Jan. 28 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 | 06:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack (1) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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» That Monoline Bailout: The Entity, 2008 Edition from
It’s the new MLEC. And it’s probably not going to work out. Willbur Ross is not about to buy up Ambac. But, hey, everyone can be happy because Warren Buffett is riding to the rescue.... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 29, 2008 2:15:28 PM


One aspect of all this I don't understand: will Berkshire simply start underwriting new applications, or will it also underwrite policies bought by municipalities from AMBAC that have now been downgraded? If it does the latter, will Berkshire then receive a new premium from the municipalities themselves, or will AMBAC have to pay the premium?

The reason I am asking this is that my understanding is that the municipalities are required to be insured by a AAA insurer, or do I have that wrong?

Posted by: OkieLawyer | Jan 29, 2008 7:21:05 AM

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