28 July 2008

Biggest Fire Sale ever in USA

Nouriel Roubini's Global EconoMonitor

Who is Going to Rescue the Hundreds of Busted U.S. Banks? Don't Count on Suckering Again the Foreign Governments (the Sovereign Wealth Funds). And the Biggest Fire Sale in the History of Humanity…
Jul 25, 2008

Time International (the global version of Time magazine) has recently published an article that Rachel Ziemba and myself have written on sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) and their past and potentially future role in rescuing financial distressed U.S. and foreign banks and other financial institutions.

Here is the text of this articles followed by some additional remarks and observations on why the ability/willingness of SWFs (and the political constraints in the U.S. around their actions) to do another round of recapitalization of U.S. financial institutions – after the losses they bore in the first round – is very limited. So while U.S. banks and other financial institutions will need hundreds of billions of dollar of additional capital in the next year or so that money – for a variety of reasons may not be available to them.

Investing: That Sinking Feeling

Time International

Thursday, Jul. 17, 2008 By Nouriel Roubini and Rachel Ziemba

Early last winter, when the west was suffering the first casualties of the credit crisis, sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) rode to the rescue, providing over $40 billion in capital to some of the largest of the faltering U.S. and European banks. The U.S. government — reluctant to bail out banks directly — welcomed this infusion, even though SWFs are investment arms of foreign governments and American politicians are often suspicious of outsiders acquiring stakes in key domestic assets. So instead of a bailout of financial institutions by American taxpayers, we saw a foreign-funded bailout.

As mortgage losses continued to mount and the credit-crisis snowball rolled on, private equity, with some SWF support, took on the role of recapitalizing regional banks. Yet there's still no end to the crisis in sight. On July 11, U.S. regulators shut down IndyMac Bank, the second-largest largest financial institution to close in U.S. history. If current estimates are right and more losses are coming — Goldman Sachs says U.S. and European banks may need another $200 billion — where's the money going to come from to keep the financial system functioning?

One non-obvious answer is: the central banks of emerging economies. To keep their currencies from appreciating too much against the dollar, emerging nations continue to buy increasingly large amounts of U.S. debt. This provides the U.S. with an indirect funding source to prop up its banks and brokerages, but it's a compromised solution. After all, the willingness of central banks to lend almost without limit to America helped create this mess. Cheap money from abroad suppressed U.S. long-term interest rates, helping to set the stage for the housing bubble and its catastrophic collapse. Continuing such inappropriate monetary and exchange-rate policies feeds more asset bubbles in emerging economies as well as global inflation.

SWFs, on the other hand, control more than $3 trillion, an amount that is growing rapidly. That money needs a home, and the weak U.S. dollar presents foreign investors with opportunities to put it to work by snapping up "bargains" like the Chrysler Building and Citigroup stock. But after turning to SWFs in their hour of need last winter, will U.S. and European officials be willing to do so again?

Possibly — but SWFs may want better deals. In the first round of recapitalization, SWFs took small (less than 10%) stakes in financial giants including UBS and Citigroup by purchasing preferred or convertible shares without voting rights. In return, the funds got fairly high interest payments and the chance to buy into institutions at what they thought were cheap prices. They've since suffered losses on the order of 30-50%. SWFs might be wary of coming back for more unless they get more control, along with greater opportunities for synergies between Western banks and their own domestic financial systems.

It remains to be seen whether U.S. authorities will be comfortable with SWFs taking larger stakes. Consider that while the U.S. is aggressively pushing China to open up its banking system and financial markets to U.S. companies, regulators have been reluctant to issue licenses for Chinese state banks to open branches on American soil. While this impasse may be resolved, Washington's protectionist stance might make Chinese banks and sovereign funds less likely to invest in U.S. firms.

It is difficult for a borrower to set the terms of its lending, though the U.S. has been able to do this for some time. With the balance of economic and financial power shifting, it might be less able to do so in the future. Meanwhile, with so much money to invest and a reluctance to abandon currencies that track the greenback, the SWFs of China and other emerging countries have few other places to go — so mutual interests might allow this grand bargain to continue. Washington has so far skirted the complicated issues deriving from the need for further recapitalization of its financial system. But the wealthiest country in the world may no longer be able to afford to be so picky about who rides to its rescue and on what terms.

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