You have two weeks until the end of the quarter – which, for many companies, is also the end of the financial year. Instead of developing strategy, or working on long-term plans – let alone buying gifts or dressing the Christmas tree – you’re locked in a windowless office. Your sole objective: to hit your targets for 2012. Read more
Bob Benmosche, the amiably loud-mouthed chief executive of AIG, took his victory tour to London this week. “We are free at last,” he rejoiced to his fellow bosses as the US Treasury sold the last of its AIG stake. Read more
The $2.6bn in fines levied against HSBC and Standard Chartered indicates that what used to be regarded as these banks’ biggest virtues – their exposure to emerging markets and new growth economies – are also weaknesses.
Foreign banks have been having a tough time at the hands of US bank regulators recently, and these fines have a hint of protectionism. There is clearly a feeling that foreign banks have destabilised the US financial system and systematically breached laws.
One indication of the mood in Washington is a proposal by Daniel Tarullo, a senior Federal Reserve regulatory official, to top up capital requirements on foreign banks to ensure they are in line with domestic banks. Read more
The Deutsche Bank case, in which three whistleblowers have accused the bank of hiding up to $12bn in derivatives losses during the financial crisis, is complex, confusing and opaque. But the underlying principle is simple and important.
Banks used to have a lot of leeway in how to treat bad loans at the bottom of the cycle. That allowed groups to avoid taking losses immediately, and instead to wait for the assets to rise in value again.
But the rules for recognising bad loans have tightened over the past three decades, while a lot of credit instruments are now carried on a mark-to-market basis instead of on the loan book. Their old freedom of manoeuvre has largely gone. Read more
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Image by Getty
On the day of the US presidential election, we are witnessing a perfect antithesis of those who believe in intuition and those who trust in data. That has implications not only for political observers but for finance.
Nate Silver, the New York Times’ polling guru, who crunches the state and national polls and feeds them into a unified model that spits out a probability of who will be elected president, has Barack Obama as the 91.6 per cent favourite to win.
Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, feels something in the air: Read more
Standard and Poor's HQ. Image by Getty
The Australian court judgment against Standard & Poor’s for misleading investors in a complex, structured derivative is a worrying development for rating agencies that face growing legal risks.
The judge found S&P negligent in having accepted a false estimate of volatility given to it by ABN Amro, the issuing bank, and thus assigned the securities a triple-A rating in 2006. In practice, these securities collapsed in value within two years.
As Jayne Jagot, the judge in the case, ruled:
“S&P believed ABN Amro’s assertions that the actual average volatility of the Globoxx since inception was 15 per cent. S&P did not calculate the volatility for itself although it could easily have done so and, in my view, was required to do so as a reasonably competent ratings agency . . . This assumption as to volatility was unreasonably and unjustifiably low.”
Having become accustomed over the years to the calm, soothing, “don’t panic” talk of financial regulators, it was a shock to read Andrew Bailey, the senior UK banking supervisor, bluntly describe banks’ risk models for commercial real estate as “bogus”.
Mr Bailey clearly has very little, if any, time for banks’ internal risk models, which calculate how much they might lose in stressed market conditions, and therefore how much they need to put aside in capital.
As Brooke Masters reports:
After two decades of working with failed and failing institutions including Barings, HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland, he was openly sceptical of bankers’ ability to police themselves.
Their commercial real estate risk models are “bogus”, he said, and their internal stress tests “are not stress at all, they’re mild, it’s a failure of imagination”. As a result, banks “never should have been allowed” to use their own models to determine capital requirements as currently permitted under the Basel rules.
It is somehow apt that the explanations for the sudden departure of Vikram Pandit from Citigroup this week were utterly baffling. “No strategic, regulatory or operating issue precipitated the resignation,” said Michael O’Neill, the bank’s chairman. “I had a very good conversation with Mike O’Neill,” insisted Mr Pandit.
Yeah, right. Read more