Today’s Wall Street Journal highlights the fact that the nation’s legendary Central Bank President, Henrique Meirelles, is seriously considering re-entering elective politics. He is postulating a run for either the Governorship or Senate from his home state of Goias. He has also been mentioned as a Vice Presidential candidate on the Labor Party ticket with the strong support of President “Lula” da Silva. While Mr Meirelles prior work as a banker may make him less popular with other Labor politicians, it would be a smart move to garner support from centrists and pro business types in Brazil who respect Mr. Meirelles superior abilities, honesty and world reknown. In particular, he has been the Labor Party’s antidote to the charge that they would destroy Brazil’s currency, banks and free market systems.
The bad news is that he will have to resign as Central Bank President to pursue any office. This can’t be a positive for the Brazilian economy. His firm hand and solid judgment have made the Brazilian economy and financial system a model for the developing world as well as developed nations. It will be virtually impossible to replace him. It will be important to watch who Lula chooses to replace him. An inappropriate choice could have significant adverse implications to the prices of Brazilian securities and the value of the Real. The hope, of course, is that Mr. Meirelles eventually rises to an even more important position than his current job. A President Meirelles would really make Brazilian equities jump!
Will return in September with more posts. Right now I need to work on my tan, reading and golf handicap (which is bad)
On April 14 we posted a discussion entitled “How Deficits Are Financed Does Matter”
(see link below). We pointed out that the government was missing an opportunity to finance its deficits and stimulus measures at once in a lifetime 30 year long term rates in favor of cheaper short term levels. We suggested that that rate rises were inevitable, could come quickly and that waiting would have significant incremental costs to the US taxpayers as well as US corporate debt issuers whose bonds are priced at a spread to US Treasuries. The analogy of Americans who are using ARMs rather than financing long today is an apt comparison that most Americans can readily comprehend. They would not do what the Treasury is doing!!
At the time of our April post, 30 year Treasuries were trading at approximately 3.6%. Today 10 year treasuries are at 3.93% and 30 year Treasuries are now at 4.69%! A 100 basis point or 30% rise in six weeks is bad news. Worse yet, the 10 years are only at that level due to intervention by the Fed and treasury to keep yields below 4%.
That 100 basis point swing alone would result in an annual financing cost of an incremental annual cost of $10billion on $1trillion of debt. Even if we were to just finance for 10 years rather than the previously suggested 30 years, the cost would be $3billion more annually than had we financed for 30 years 7 weeks ago. To make matters worse, Brazil and Russia are making serious noises about dumping upwards of $10billion in treasuries in favor of new IMF bonds. This could be a leading example for other foreign governments to diversify their foreign reserves away from US Govt. obligations. India and China frequently follow in tandem with the actions of Brazil and its Central Bank wizard, Henrique Meirelles. The cost to taxpayers and US corporates would be huge and could significantly impair prospects for economic recovery.
I find it tragic that a socialist nation like Brazil is exhibiting far more economic discipline in financing its deficits and managing its reserves that the United States.
They are not confused between acting in their economic best interests vs. using the Treasury or Central Bank as an instrument of social policy. Likewise, they are very careful to evidence a strong respect for lender rights and the rule of law as it impacts their access to the capital markets.(
Add to these problems is the fact that investors at home and abroad are increasingly worried about the US Government’s lack of respect for the rule of law regarding lender rights in bankruptcy (e.g. GM and Chrysler). America won’t go the way of Weimar Germany but stagflation (inflation without growth) is a real possibility. Savings will be diminished and businesses will become less and less competitive globally. As an investor, government policy leads me to buy mostly foreign securities and inflation hedged companies with assets like oil and iron ore. As a card carrying Democrat, I am troubled for my country’s economic future. We can and must do better.
Follow the links below for copies of prior posts on financing the Treasury and Brazil’ Central Bank President
Greg Mankew, former economic adviser to President George W Bush and currently an economics professor at Harvard, had an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “That Freshman (economics) Course Won’t be Quite the Same.” In it he suggests that recent economic events necessitate the inclusion of four new topics into an introductory college economics course:
1) The Role of Financial Institutions-
“The current crisis has found financial institutions at the center of the action. They will have to become more prominent in the classroom as well.”
2) The Effects of Leverage-
“If housing prices (and other leveraged assets) have fallen only 20%, why did the banks lose almost 100% of their money? The answer is leverage, the use of borrowed money to amplify gains and, in this case, losses…there is no doubt that its effects have played a central role in the crisis and will need a more prominent place in the economic curriculum.”
3) The Limits of Monetary Policy-
“When the economy suffers from high unemployment and reduced capacity utilization, the central bank can cut interest rates and stimulate demand…what would happen if the central bank cut interest rates all the way to zero and it still was not enough to get the economy going again? …The Fed is acting with the conviction that it has other tools to put the economy back on track. These include buying a much broader range of financial assets than it typically includes in its portfolio. Students will need to know about these other tools on monetary policy.”
4) The Challenge of Forecasting-
“Students should understand that a good course in economics will not equip them with a crystal ball. Instead, it will allow them to assess the risks and be ready for surprises.”
While a terrific list and spot on in its insights, one may argue that it is not sufficiently inclusive. This author and sometimes finance professor would add four incremental topics for consideration:
1) The Globalization of Credit Markets and Economies-
Globalization has changed the game significantly and reduced the power of any one nation or region’s central bank to solve a crisis by itself. Today, America’s largest creditors include investors from around the world. Similarly, economic demand is global. When America reduces consumption of Chinese goods, both nations have a problem. It is exacerbated globally when the Chinese then reduce their purchases of Brazilian iron ore, Middle Eastern oil and products from other parts of the world. The impact of this ever increasing economic interdependency must be studied by even an introductory economics student.
2) The Impact of Debt Instruments on Every Day Life-
Forty years ago, few Americans carried credit cards, had variable rate mortgages or leased automobiles. There were minimal securitizations of debt instruments and, as Greg Mankew points out, leverage was substantially less a factor in the US or other economies. Today such financing vehicles are ubiquitous. The internet and saturation advertising by entities like Di-Tech.Com and others have encouraged even the least credit worthy consumers to become part of the game. Investors from around the globe, from Atlanta to Reykjavik to Beijing have become part of the global investment community directly or through mutual funds, hedge funds, their employer’s pension funds and even money market funds. Unlike the past, when primarily the “investor class” and marginal workers were those at risk, now almost everyone is exposed and has suffered. Issues of regulation and general investment risk/appropriateness are now important to most Americans. Education about these investments becomes essential to one’s economic well being.
3) Deleveraging -What it Means-
Just as Greg Mankew is correct in his point that we need to understand the impact of leverage, students will need to know a great deal about the methods and the impact of deleveraging. A simple explanation is that, if not done carefully, it can be as painful as drug withdrawal for a heroin addict! Deleveraging in its simplest form means reducing debt. While easy to comprehend in concept, the implications of how it is done can vary significantly. Today we are witnessing the ramifications of lenders demanding repayment and foreclosing on mortgage loans. Similarly, when banks seek to reduce leverage by not renewing credit lines, this can strangle a business’ operations and potentially lead to bankruptcy, investor losses, job losses, negative growth etc. Raising equity to reduce debt may be a possible solution; however, it is easier said than done. It requires available capital and a positive investor view toward risk. Recently we have seen the US government play an important role as a “last resort” source of capital for deleveraging to stabilize our financial institutions. Arguably the actions of TARP, including direct equity infusions, have restored investor confidence and facilitated over $50 billion in new equity offerings in the month of May. Learning from these lessons and understanding the successes and the failures should benefit our understanding of how to deal with 21st century economic crises.
Unlike any time in the last seventy years, bankruptcy has become a major risk factor in the US and global economies. While US laws are seemingly well established, and based on legal precedent, the rules of the road are now changing dramatically. US government intervention in the bankruptcy of Chrysler and the possible fall of General Motors is changing everything. Heretofore senior secured lenders had priority claims over junior creditors. Now, in part as a result of its equity ownership and capital support of US banks through TARP, the government is negating or minimizing such claims in favor of less senior lenders and unions. The ramifications of this activist approach raise many issues which may help or hurt the restoration of a major American industry, economic order and the vibrancy of the American capital markets. Regardless of one’s views, the actions and impacts must be studied carefully to provide a basis for prudent investing and to understand economic forces in our changing world.
It has been suggested by some that “education is wasted on the young.” In the case of the study of economics, this is hardly the case. Just as our parents learned economic lessons from the Depression, tomorrow’s leaders must learn from the new issues and actions of today. For Boomers, regardless of educational background or age, a refresher course based on current economic events would also be a welcome development!
Liberty University recently announced that it is banning the College Democratic Club from its campus. As has been reported, Liberty’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Mark Hine, advised the student group that the Democratic Party violated the University’s principles because it supports abortion, socialism and the agenda of gay, bisexual and transgender people. The basis for the ban is the non-binding Democratic Party Platform from the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Many registered Democrats and elected Democratic officials would dispute the decision on the basis of fact. For proof of this assertion, one only needs to examine the views of pro-life Senator Bob Casey or gay groups who are angry at President Obama for his failure to invalidate “Don’t ask don’t tell” in the US Military. They know first hand that the Democratic Platform is neither enforceable nor something that is universally supported by leading elected Democrats.
This action represents a dangerous step for an educational institution. Depending on one’s perspective, issues can range from the denial of free speech to jeopardizing the University’s not for profit status by directly engaging in partisan politics as opposed to taking positions on individual issues. Unlike a recent decision by Brigham Young University-Idaho to ban both the Democratic and Republican clubs in order to protect its tax exempt status and eliminate any potential charge of the institution supporting one or another political party, Liberty is singling out the Democrats as a group and taking no action against the Republican College Club.
The loss of tax exempt status could have a material adverse impact on Liberty’s economic condition. Loss of not for profit status would jeopardize funding from public and private programs for research, scholarships and other essentials. It could also hurt fundraising from contributors who would no longer be able to claim a tax deduction for their gifts.
As a self proclaimed “conservative” institution with strong supporters in segments of the Christian community, they should question whether a significant potential economic loss is worth any perceived benefit in denying the rights to free speech for what is likely to be an insignificant number of students at the school. Such an action to deny a liberty by a school named Liberty raises the specter of both losing moral standing and making its name synonymous with something new; hypocrisy.
Libertarians (as opposed to Liberty alumni) and civil libertarians alike should come to the defense of the Democratic Club at Liberty University. Likewise, the federal government should take action to revoke Liberty’s tax exempt status if it does not withdraw this edict. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, defense of freedom of expression is critical to the American way of life. It is what separates us from the radical theocratic thinking of our enemies in Al Queda.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the demise of Ford and the major homebuilders is greatly exaggerated. While GM, Chrysler and a number of private builders are in or near bankruptcy, some of their larger public competitors are evidencing something even more significant than rising stock prices. They are raising significant amounts of capital!!
New capital is significant in many ways. It can allow companies to refinance maturing debt, reduce leverage and facilitate growth. Most important, it requires investor confidence. Raising new capital can only be accomplished when large groups of investors simultaneously commit to buy a company’s debt or equity securities. It is axiomatic that this is a formidable task if a company’s viability is in doubt. We are increasingly starting to see new capital commitments becoming the new “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”. They can signal that investors believe that a good company in a troubled industry should survive. The capital commitments often assure this inevitability and lead to post financing price increases from the abyss.
In the last few weeks we have seen the following financings for Ford and a group of large Builders:
Issuer Amount Security
Ford $1.6 bil equity
Toll $400mil bonds
Ryland $230mil bonds
Lennar $400mil bonds
Horton $450mil converts
Lennar $275mil equity
In the wake of these financings, including those who issued equity or converts that diluted existing shareholders, the newly issued debt and equity securities are trading at generally higher levels. While not necessarily a guarantee of long term success for the issuers, it has to be construed as a near term positive for both equity and debt investors. All have already registered gains in companies which the market sees as improved risks.
In a larger sense, the ability of companies in weaker industries to access the capital markets is a very positive indicator for a broad based recovery and further market advances. Six months ago Ford was a supplicant at TARP’s table. Today it is viewed as the long term winner in the US auto industry. As recently as three months ago, few would have made any bets on even one US homebuilder being able to access the capital markets for the foreseeable future. The foreseeable future is NOW!! Four builders have successfully financed and the securities issued are all trading at premiums.
Virtually all experts agree that the opening of the capital markets is essential to the end of the recession. The ability of Ford and the larger builders is a clear and significant harbinger of a major market opening. Like Mark Twain, the demise of the markets and the dire prospects for Ford and the large public builders was greatly exaggerated!
PS It is also very interesting to note that Citibank sole lead managed all of the builder financings. Their ability to execute such transactions also suggests that their demise as an underwriter may also be overstated.
Larry Johnson has a funny look at the premium seating situation at Yankee stadium. Last night the author attended a game in MLB seats on the third base side (almost premium seats). This was the first time in over 35 years of attending Red Sox/ Yankee games at the stadium that I can remember that the majority of the empty seats were at field level (and it was not due to rain, which only started in the 6th inning)
Centex just announced a $352 million impairment charge for the quarter ended March 31, 2009. This reduces Centex’s book value from $1.32 billion to $918million. Based on an equity value at offer of $1.305 billion, the purchase multiple of book value rose from 1.0x to 1.4x. This represents a very full price in the current market. That said, as long as the reduction in net worth does not adversely impact Pulte’s debt covenants, and it should not because the merger dramatically reduces the Centex/Pulte banks’ combined exposure, it helps to improve future Pulte margins by reducing land costs. Regardless of the charge offs, it is not likely that another homebuilding transaction will have a similar multiple any time soon.
Less you think that my posts about the Steinbrenners’ ticket pricing errors are “small beer”, please reflect on the following math. If the Yankees’ pricing policy results in an average of 3,000 premium seats going unsold at every game, that represents a year long total of 246,000 unsold tickets over a full season. Depending on your assumptions as to the price needed to sell all of those seats, here are the amounts of foregone income:
Mrkt Clrng Price Foregone Income
$250 per ticket $61.5 million
$300 per ticket $73.8 million
$350 per ticket $86.1 million
$400 per ticket $98.4 million
$450 per ticket $110.7 million
$500 per ticket $123.0 million
If the number of unsold seats is higher, the foregone income is even more. Not included in this total are incremental income from souvenirs etc. Of equal import, such revenue drops to the pre-tax line with very limited incremental expense as operating a stadium is largely a fixed cost endeavor. Regardless how rich you are, this is an extraordinary amount of money to forego because you do not want to admit a mistake!
Harvard Law School Professor Mark Roe made some extremely thoughtful observations in a Friday “Op Ed” piece in the Wall Street Journal (“A Chrysler Bankruptcy Won’t Be Quick”). Central to his discussion are the following key questions:
• Are Chrysler’s secured lenders receiving fair value for their claims as is their legal right in bankruptcy?
• Was the 70% lender vote to accept $.32 on the dollar valid or was it coercively tainted by government influence on banks who had received TARP funds? The law requires a 2/3 vote of secured creditors to accept a settlement. TARP banks make up the vast preponderance of the lenders who accepted the govenment’s proposal. Non-TARP lenders can reasonably ask if TARP lenders would have voted to accept if the government did not have an ability to influence their operations.
Professor Roe makes it clear that there is a reasonable basis for lenders to resist the settlement “mandated” by the Obama Administration. If so, creditor claims may make the final outcome less than clear and the process long and contentious.
What is not said but also must be considered is the generally heavy hand of the government to obviate the contractual rights of secure lenders. This does not begin to address the issue of unions gaining majority control of the Company.
The overall process raises significant and pernicious issues for our national economic future. If lenders rights are not protected, the appetite for U.S. corporate debt will diminish significantly. This will have severe adverse implications on economic growth, employment and our national standard of living. We have already seen how unilateral government interference has caused a significant measure of investor reluctance to play in TALF programs to buy “Toxic Loans”. The Chrysler bankruptcy could make matters worse. Fears of government intervention against indenture terms will not necessarily be reduced by higher interest rates, though higher rates will be one possible outcome. They will more than likely result in reduced lending until fears abate. The government will find that it has a hard time forcing lending by any institution that it does not control (ie foreign banks etc). If the over arching goal of Treasury policy is to get credit flowing, the government’s role in Chrysler is a major step backward.
Just as the American government was wrong in condoning torture against the laws of the nation and the civilized world, so too are actions which disregard freely negotiated loan terms which are critical to financing American industry. If we learned anything from the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, we need to understand and believe that our laws can’t be selectively followed or enforced.