The Rain in Spain May Start Falling Here

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Editor’s Comment:

It is typical politics. You know the problem and the cause but you do nothing about the cause. You don’t fix it because you view your job in government as justifying the perks you get from private companies rather than reason the government even exists — to provide for the protection and welfare of the citizens of that society. It seems that the government of each country has become an entity itself with an allegiance but to itself leaving the people with no government at all.

And the average man in the streets of Boston or Barcelona cannot be fooled or confused any longer. Hollande in France was elected precisely because the people wanted a change that would align the government with the people, by the people and for the people. The point is not whether the people are right or wrong. The point is that we would rather make our own mistakes than let politicians make them for us in order to line their own pockets with gold.

Understating foreclosures and evictions, over stating recovery of the housing Market, lying about economic prospects is simply not covering it any more. The fact is that housing prices have dropped to all time lows and are continuing to drop. The fact is that we would rather kick people out of their homes on fraudulent pretenses and pay for homeless sheltering than keep people in their homes. We have a government that is more concerned with the profits of banks than the feeding and housing of its population. 

When will it end? Maybe never. But if it changes it will be the result of an outraged populace and like so many times before in history, the new aristocracy will have learned nothing from history. The cycle repeats.

Spain Underplaying Bank Losses Faces Ireland Fate

By Yalman Onaran

Spain is underestimating potential losses by its banks, ignoring the cost of souring residential mortgages, as it seeks to avoid an international rescue like the one Ireland needed to shore up its financial system.

The government has asked lenders to increase provisions for bad debt by 54 billion euros ($70 billion) to 166 billion euros. That’s enough to cover losses of about 50 percent on loans to property developers and construction firms, according to the Bank of Spain. There wouldn’t be anything left for defaults on more than 1.4 trillion euros of home loans and corporate debt. Taking those into account, banks would need to increase provisions by as much as five times what the government says, or 270 billion euros, according to estimates by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels-based research group. Plugging that hole would increase Spain’s public debt by almost 50 percent or force it to seek a bailout, following in the footsteps of Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

“How can you only talk about one type of real estate lending when more and more loans are going bad everywhere in the economy?” said Patrick Lee, a London-based analyst covering Spanish banks for Royal Bank of Canada. “Ireland managed to turn its situation around after recognizing losses much more aggressively and thus needed a bailout. I don’t see how Spain can do it without outside support.”

Double-Dip Recession

Spain, which yesterday took over Bankia SA, the nation’s third-largest lender, is mired in a double-dip recession that has driven unemployment above 24 percent and government borrowing costs to the highest level since the country adopted the euro. Investors are concerned that the Mediterranean nation, Europe’s fifth-largest economy with a banking system six times bigger than Ireland’s, may be too big to save.

In both countries, loans to real estate developers proved most toxic. Ireland funded a so-called bad bank to take much of that debt off lenders’ books, forcing writedowns of 58 percent. The government also required banks to raise capital to cover what was left behind, assuming expected losses of 7 percent for residential mortgages, 15 percent on the debt of small companies and 4 percent on that of larger corporations.

Spain’s banks face bigger risks than the government has acknowledged, even with lower default rates than Ireland experienced. If losses reach 5 percent of mortgages held by Spanish lenders, 8 percent of loans to small companies, 1.5 percent of those to larger firms and half the debt to developers, the cost will be about 250 billion euros. That’s three times the 86 billion euros Irish domestic banks bailed out by their government have lost as real estate prices tumbled.

Bankia Loans

Moody’s Investors Service, a credit-ratings firm, said it expects Spanish bank losses of as much as 306 billion euros. The Centre for European Policy Studies said the figure could be as high as 380 billion euros.

At the Bankia group, the lender formed in 2010 from a merger of seven savings banks, about half the 38 billion euros of real estate development loans held at the end of last year were classified as “doubtful” or at risk of becoming so, according to the company’s annual report. Bad loans across the Valencia-based group, which has the biggest Spanish asset base, reached 8.7 percent in December, and the firm renegotiated almost 10 billion euros of assets in 2011, about 5 percent of its loan book, to prevent them from defaulting.

The government, which came to power in December, announced yesterday that it will take control of Bankia with a 45 percent stake by converting 4.5 billion euros of preferred shares into ordinary stock. The central bank said the lender needs to present a stronger cleanup plan and “consider the contribution of public funds” to help with that.

Rajoy Measures

The Bank of Spain has lost its prestige for failing to supervise banks sufficiently, said Josep Duran i Lleida, leader of Catalan party Convergencia i Unio, which often backs Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government. Governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez doesn’t need to resign at this point because his term expires in July, Duran said.

Rajoy has shied away from using public funds to shore up the banks, after his predecessor injected 15 billion euros into the financial system. He softened his position earlier this week following a report by the International Monetary Fund that said the country needs to clean up the balance sheets of “weak institutions quickly and adequately” and may need to use government funds to do so.

“The last thing I want to do is lend public money, as has been done in the past, but if it were necessary to get the credit to save the Spanish banking system, I wouldn’t renounce that,” Rajoy told radio station Onda Cero on May 7.

Santander, BBVA

Rajoy said he would announce new measures to bolster confidence in the banking system tomorrow, without giving details. He might ask banks to boost provisions by 30 billion euros, said a person with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified because the decision hadn’t been announced.

Spain’s two largest lenders, Banco Santander SA (SAN) and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA), earn most of their income outside the country and have assets in Latin America they can sell to raise cash if they need to bolster capital. In addition to Bankia, there are more than a dozen regional banks that are almost exclusively domestic and have few assets outside the country to sell to help plug losses.

In investor presentations, the Bank of Spain has said provisions for bad debt would cover losses of between 53 percent and 80 percent on loans for land, housing under construction and finished developments. An additional 30 billion euros would increase coverage to 56 percent of such loans, leaving nothing to absorb losses on 650 billion euros of home mortgages held by Spanish banks or 800 billion euros of company loans.

Housing Bubble

“Spain is constantly playing catch-up, so it’s always several steps behind,” said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a consulting firm in London specializing in sovereign-credit risk. “They should have gone down the Irish route, bit the bullet and taken on the losses. Every time they announce a small new measure, the goal posts have already moved because of deterioration in the economy.”

Without aggressive writedowns, Spanish banks can’t access market funding and the government can’t convince investors its lenders can survive a contracting economy, said Benjamin Hesse, who manages five financial-stock funds at Fidelity Investments in Boston, which has $1.6 trillion under management.

Spanish banks have “a 1.7 trillion-euro loan book, one of the world’s largest, and they haven’t even started marking it,” Hesse said. “The housing bubble was twice the size of the U.S. in terms of peak prices versus 1990 prices. It’s huge. And there’s no way out for Spain.”

Irish Losses

House prices in Spain more than doubled in a decade and have dropped 30 percent since the first quarter of 2008. U.S. homes, which also doubled in value, have lost 35 percent. Ireland’s have fallen 49 percent after quadrupling.

Ireland injected 63 billion euros into its banks to recapitalize them after shifting property-development loans to the National Asset Management Agency, or NAMA, and requiring other writedowns. That forced the country to seek 68 billion euros in financial aid from the European Union and the IMF.

The losses of bailed-out domestic banks in Ireland have reached 21 percent of their total loans. Spanish banks have reserved for 6 percent of their lending books.

“The upfront loss recognition Ireland forced on the banks helped build confidence,” said Edward Parker, London-based head of European sovereign-credit analysis at Fitch Ratings. “In contrast, Spain has had a constant trickle of bad news about its banks, which doesn’t instill confidence.”

Mortgage Defaults

Spain’s home-loan defaults were 2.7 percent in December, according to the Spanish mortgage association. Home prices are propped up and default rates underreported because banks don’t want to recognize losses, according to Borja Mateo, author of “The Truth About the Spanish Real Estate Market.” Developers are still building new houses around the country, even with 2 million vacant homes.

Ireland’s mortgage-default rate was about 7 percent in 2010, before the government pushed for writedowns, with an additional 5 percent being restructured, according to the Central Bank of Ireland. A year later, overdue and restructured home loans reached 18 percent. At the typical 40 percent recovery rate, Irish banks stand to lose 11 percent of their mortgage portfolios, more than the 7 percent assumed by the central bank in its stress tests. That has led to concern the government may need to inject more capital into the lenders.

‘The New Ireland’

Spain, like Ireland, can’t simply let its financial firms fail. Ireland tried to stick banks’ creditors with losses and was overruled by the EU, which said defaulting on senior debt would raise the specter of contagion and spook investors away from all European banks. Ireland did force subordinated bondholders to take about 15 billion euros of losses.

The EU was protecting German and French banks, among the biggest creditors to Irish lenders, said Marshall Auerback, global portfolio strategist for Madison Street Partners LLC, a Denver-based hedge fund.

“Spain will be the new Ireland,” Auerback said. “Germany is forcing once again the socialization of its banks’ losses in a periphery country and creating sovereign risk, just like it did with Ireland.”

Spanish government officials and bank executives have downplayed potential losses on home loans by pointing to the difference between U.S. and Spanish housing markets. In the U.S., a lender’s only option when a borrower defaults is to seize the house and settle for whatever it can get from a sale. The borrower owes nothing more in this system, called non- recourse lending.

‘More Pressure’

In Spain, a bank can go after other assets of the borrower, who remains on the hook for the debt no matter what the price of the house when sold. Still, the same extended liability didn’t stop the Irish from defaulting on home loans as the economy contracted, incomes fell and unemployment rose to 14 percent.

“As the economy deteriorates, the quality of assets is going to get worse,” said Daragh Quinn, an analyst at Nomura International in Madrid. “Corporate loans are probably going to be a bigger worry than mortgages, but losses will keep rising. Some of the larger banks, in particular BBVA and Santander, will be able to generate enough profits to absorb this deterioration, but other purely domestic ones could come under more pressure.”

Spain’s government has said it wants to find private-sector solutions. Among those being considered are plans to let lenders set up bad banks and to sell toxic assets to outside investors.

Correlation Risk

Those proposals won’t work because third-party investors would require bigger discounts on real estate assets than banks will be willing to offer, RBC’s Lee said.

Spanish banks face another risk, beyond souring loans: They have been buying government bonds in recent months. Holdings of Spanish sovereign debt by lenders based in the country jumped 32 percent to 231 billion euros in the four months ended in February, data from Spain’s treasury show.

That increases the correlation of risk between banks and the government. If Spain rescues its lenders, the public debt increases, threatening the sovereign’s solvency. When Greece restructured its debt, swapping bonds at a 50 percent discount, Greek banks lost billions of euros and had to be recapitalized by the state, which had to borrow more from the EU to do so.

In a scenario where Spain is forced to restructure its debt, even a 20 percent discount could spell almost 50 billion euros of additional losses for the country’s banks.

“Spain will have to turn to the EU for funds to solve its banking problem,” said Madison Street’s Auerback. “But there’s little money left after the other bailouts, so what will Spain get? That’s what worries everybody.”

Mortgage Meltdown and Foreclosure Defense: Bank Failures Expected to Soar

While you might be thinking it couldn’t happen to better people, bank failures are not good for you or anyone else in the economy, as a general rule. But, on the other hand, it is quite possible that in the crush of failures expected in 2008-2011, that loan you have on your house, car, boat or anything else might fall through the cracks. It HAS happened. Be alert.

WEEKEND EDITION

Bank failures to surge in coming years

IndyMac, Corus, UCBH under pressure as credit crunch slows economy

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — By April, Gary Holloway was almost three years into retirement.
He’d built a new home by a lake in Texas, bought a boat and was working on his golf game. While taking on some part-time work, Holloway also traveled for months across the U.S. with his wife, from Seattle to Washington D.C., catching up with old friends and family.
That life of leisure abruptly changed about six weeks ago when Holloway got a phone call from his former employer, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., or FDIC, which regulates U.S. banks and insures deposits.
Holloway, a 30-year FDIC veteran, had worked extensively with failed lenders in Houston during the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when thousands of thrifts collapsed.
Earlier this year, the FDIC began trying to lure roughly 25 retirees like Holloway back to prepare for an increase in bank failures. It’s also hiring about 75 new staff.
Holloway quickly went back to work. ANB Financial N.A., a bank in Bentonville, Ark. with $2.1 billion in assets and $1.8 billion in customer deposits, was failing and an expert like Holloway was needed to value the assets and find a stronger institution to take them on.
“I was very excited about coming back,” Holloway said in an interview. “I’m now 57. There’s still a lot of life left and the juices are flowing again.”
On May 9, life for ANB ended when the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, another bank regulator, announced that the lender was closing. See full story.
Only three banks have failed so far in 2008. But that number is set to surge as the credit crunch slows economic growth and hammers some lenders that grew too fast during the recent real-estate boom, experts say.
The roots of today’s banking crisis grew out of the boom and bust in the real estate market. Lenders originated more and more mortgages, while other banks, particularly smaller and medium-sized institutions, ploughed money into construction and development loans.
‘You don’t avoid the problem. It’s too late to wait and hope that things get better.’
— Joseph Mason, Drexel University
While loan growth soared in 2004 and 2005, most regulators failed to scrutinize many banks or restrain this heady expansion of credit. Now that the loans have been made and delinquencies are climbing, some banks may already be doomed.
Marriages and managing
“At this point in the crisis, you can’t stop bank failures,” said Joseph Mason, associate professor of finance at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, who has studied past financial crises.
“At this point you manage through failures and arrange marriages where another stronger bank takes on the assets and deposits,” he said. “You move through the problem. You don’t avoid the problem. It’s too late to wait and hope that things get better.”
Things may get worse before they get better.
At least 150 banks will fail in the U.S. during the next two to three years, according to a projection by Gerard Cassidy and his colleagues at RBC Capital Markets.
‘There has been excessive loan growth and some banks won’t be able to access capital markets to replace the money that will disappear as credit losses rise.’
— Gerard Cassidy, RBC Capital Markets
If the current economic slowdown deteriorates into a recession on the scale of those from the 1980s and early 1990’s, the number of failures will be much higher this time around — probably as high as 300 of them, by RBC’s reckoning.
That’s a massive surge compared to the recent boom years of the credit and real estate markets. From the second half of 2004 through end of 2006 there were 10 consecutive quarters without a bank failure in the U.S. — a record length of time, Cassidy notes.
“This downturn will trigger a significant amount of bank failures relative to the past five years,” he said. “There has been excessive loan growth and some banks won’t be able to access capital markets to replace the money that will disappear as credit losses rise.”
Texas Ratio Cassidy and his colleagues have developed an early-warning system for spotting future trouble at banks called the Texas Ratio. The ratio is calculated by dividing a bank’s non-performing loans, including those 90 days delinquent, by the company’s tangible equity capital plus money set aside for future loan losses. The number basically measures credit problems as a percentage of the capital a lender has available to deal with them.
Cassidy came up with the idea after covering Texas banks in the 1980s. Until the recession hit that decade, many banks in the state were considered some of the best in the country. But as problem assets climbed, that view was cruelly challenged, Cassidy recalls.
The analyst noticed that when problem assets grew to more than 100% of capital, most of the Texas banks in that precarious position ended up going under. A similar pattern occurred in the New England banking sector during the recession of the early 1990s, Cassidy said.
Along with his colleagues, Cassidy applied the same ratio to commercial banks at the end of this year’s first quarter and found some disturbing trends.
UCBH Holdings Inc. (UCBH, a San Francisco-based bank, saw its Texas Ratio jump to 31% at the end of the first quarter from 4.7% in 2006, according to RBC.
The Texas Ratio of Colonial BancGroup (CNB, based in Montgomery, Ala., jumped from 1.5% in 2006 to 25% at the end of March.
Sterling Financial Corp. (STSA) , headquartered in Spokane, Wash., had a Texas ratio of 1.9% in 2006. It was nearly 24% at the end of the first quarter, RBC data show.
These banks are no where near RBC’s 100% critical threshold, and several lenders have raised new capital since the first quarter. For instance, National City Corp. (NCCtopped RBC’s list with a Texas Ratio of 40% at the end of March, though the bank did raise $7 billion in new capital in April.
“But these ratios have skyrocketed in recent years,” Cassidy warned. “If that trend continues, some of these banks may be in trouble.”
CD signs of stress
Other lenders are already in more dire straits.
IndyMac Bancorp (IMBa large savings and loan institution and a leading mortgage lender, is one of Cassidy’s biggest concerns, with a whopping Texas Ratio around 140%.
IndyMac is finding it much tougher to package up and sell the mortgages it originates in securitizations. That used to be a major source of new money for the company to turn around and use in further lending.
When lenders need to raise new capital, they can try to boost deposits by offering attractive interest rates on certificates of deposits, or CDs.
IndyMac is currently offering the highest rates on one-year CDs, according to Bankrate.com. Others in the top 10 include Corus Bankshares (CORS, Imperial Capital Bancorp (IMPand GMAC bank. When Countrywide Financial (CFCwas struggling last year, its federal savings bank unit began offering some of the highest CD rates in the U.S. to build deposits. Bank of America (BAChas since agreed to acquire Countrywide and it didn’t make it onto Bankrate.com’s list of top 10 CD rates this week. “These banks that are challenged for liquidity are having to go out and pay up in the market for CDs,” Joe Morford, a colleague of Cassidy’s at RBC, said. Imperial Capital stopped paying dividends earlier this year. GMAC, owned by leveraged buyout giant Cerberus Capital Management and General Motors (GM, is struggling to keep its Residential Capital mortgage business afloat.
Corus, offering the fifth-highest rates on one-year CDs, had a Texas Ratio of nearly 70% at the end of the first quarter, up from 9.1% in 2006, according to Morford.
Construction loan destruction
Corus is also highly exposed to types of loans that some experts worry will be the next major source of losses for banks after the mortgage meltdown.
Construction and development, or C&D, loans made up 83% of the Chicago-based bank’s total loans at the end of 2007, according to RiskMetrics Group.
This type of loans helps to pay for things like the building of real-estate development projects and the construction of office buildings.
Small and medium-sized banks found it difficult to compete with large lenders in the national markets for mortgages and other consumer loans. So many focused on C&D loans because this type of financing relies more on local, personal connections, said Zach Gast, financial sector analyst at RiskMetrics.
As the real estate market boomed, C&D loans did too. A decade ago, bank holding companies had $60 billion of these loans. That number is now $480 billion, according to Gast, who also notes that C&D loans are almost never securitized, so they’re held on banks’ balance sheets.
Such rapid loan growth usually creates trouble later. Indeed, delinquencies represented 7.1% of total C&D loans at the end of the first quarter, up from 0.9% at the end of 2005, Gast said.
“It’s a huge increase. Most of the deterioration seems to be coming from residential construction projects, but certainly there’s deterioration in commercial projects too,” the analyst said. “The rate of deterioration is still accelerating.”
Colonial BancGroup had 37% of its loans in C&D loans at the end of last year, while Sterling Financial had 33% and UCBH had 20%. East West Bancorp (EWBC, a rival to UCBH, is also exposed, with 25% of total loans in C&D assets at the end of 2007, RiskMetrics data show.
Regulators
Where were regulators when these banks built up such large exposures?
That’s a question RBC’s Cassidy has been asking himself, noting that “they dropped the ball in a big way.” Officials at the FDIC declined to comment. Efforts by the Securities and Exchange Commission to make sure banks report accurate earnings may have made the situation worse, Cassidy says. Bank regulators try to encourage institutions to build reserves in good times, so they’re ready for downturns. But the SEC has been worried that banks might use reserves to smooth reported earnings, so it advised some lenders that they couldn’t set aside reserves if they weren’t experiencing commensurate credit losses, Cassidy explained.
That left reserves relatively low at the end of 2007, as the credit crunch was building momentum, Gast said.
Still, regulators have responded strongly so far this year. In addition to the FDIC’s efforts to bolster its staff, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has been telling banks to boost reserves even if accountants worry that such steps will stray from SEC guidance, Gast explained.
Crisis redux?
The FDIC had highlighted 76 banks that it considered troubled at the end of 2007. That’s up from 50 at the end of 2006, which was the lowest level for at least 25 years.
Once identified by regulators, troubled banks are often required to limit or halt loan growth and shrink their balance sheets by selling some assets, Cassidy said.
Resolution and receivership specialists at the FDIC, like Gary Holloway, value troubled banks’ assets as quickly as possible and try to find a stronger bank to absorb the weaker entity through an acquisition.
The current crisis hasn’t reached the scale of the savings and loan crisis. In 1990, more than 1,500 banks were on the FDIC’s troubled watch list, out of a total of roughly 15,000. More than 1,000 banks failed in 1988 and 1989, FDIC data show.
But it’s possible for such comparisons to understate the scope of the coming wave of insolvencies.
During the late 1980s, banks in Texas couldn’t open a new branch in another county without forming a new commercial bank. That meant there were lots more lenders in the state when the S&L crisis struck.
So when a bank failed, “40 of its other banks failed on the same day,” Cassidy recalls.
Today, no states have such requirements, so there will be fewer bank failures this time, but those that do fail may be larger.
That means each bank failure may have a larger effect on the U.S. economy, withdrawing a bigger chunk of capital from the financial system each time.
“Bank failures don’t cause recessions, they lengthen them,” Mason, the Drexel professor, explained. “We could get a mild recession that could linger for a while longer because of the inability to recharge capital in the banking and financial system.” End of Story
Alistair Barr is a reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco.
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