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.”

Obama Moves Closer to Principal Reduction Mandate

Editor’s note: This is red meat for investors and borrowers seeking restitution for losses caused by improper appraisals, ratings and representations concerning loan and property values, loan viability, securities fraud, deceptive lending practices, TILA violations etc.

Obama Bank Policy Signals $1 Trillion in Writedowns

April 3 (Bloomberg) — U.S. regulators may force Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and at least a dozen of the nation’s biggest financial institutions to write down as much as $1 trillion in loans, twice what they’ve already recorded, based on Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. auction data compiled by Bloomberg.

Banks failing Federal Reserve evaluations of loans this month may be ordered to make sales worth as little as 32 cents on the dollar, according to FDIC data. That would be less than half of the 84 cents on the dollar the Treasury Department suggested was a possible purchase price. Some of the bank- insurance agency’s auctions brought 0.02 cent on the dollar.

Lower valuations would lead to new writedowns and capital injections from the $134.5 billion remaining in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said.

“The only way banks will sell is under duress,” the 66- year-old professor at Columbia University in New York said in a phone interview.

Asset sales are the latest step in President Barack Obama’s effort to restart the U.S. economy through the most costly rescue of the financial system in history. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s Legacy Loan Program and Legacy Securities Program together are targeted to start at $500 billion and may expand to $1 trillion.

Auctioning Assets

Geithner’s plan will purchase loans and be overseen by the FDIC, which will offer debt guarantees while the Treasury invests capital alongside investors.

The FDIC would auction assets after the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Thrift Supervision or the Fed signals that a bank is in danger of failing.

“If we thought that was the right decision to address their situation, we would certainly tell an institution to move in that direction,” said William Ruberry, an OTS spokesman in Washington.

Geithner’s plan to buy loans and securities “can be very useful,” Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan said in a Bloomberg Television interview today. “It’s one more arrow in the quiver to address problems with assets on banks’ balance sheets.”

Treasury spokesman Isaac Baker said in an e-mail that the program is voluntary and the government expects banks will want to sell assets to clean their balance sheets and make it easier to raise capital from investors, he said.

Financing Help

“Past auctions cannot reliably predict asset prices in the Public Private Investment Program, as we are creating a new market that has not previously existed to help value these assets, and offering financing to help investors purchase them,” Baker said.

Setting up a facility to purchase distressed loans will allow the FDIC to put a bank into “a silent resolution,” said Joshua Rosner, a managing director at investment-research firm Graham Fisher & Co. in New York.

“This is a way to functionally wind down a bank as big as Citi without the world realizing that they’re essentially in resolution,” he said. “The real value of this is a tool to resolve a too-big-to-fail institution.”

The FDIC is considering allowing banks to share in future profits on loans sold to public-private partnerships to encourage healthier lenders to participate, according to Jim Wigand, the agency’s deputy director for resolutions and receiverships. The regulator is seeking comments through April 10 on the program, said spokesman David Barr.

Assets sold under the Legacy Loans Program may be worth an average of 56.3 cents on the dollar, based on the results of FDIC auctions at failed banks over the past 15 months.

‘Large Amounts’

Writedowns would total $1 trillion if the program buys $500 billion in loans at 32 cents on the dollar, the average for non- performing commercial loans in the FDIC sales.

Geithner said March 29 that some financial institutions will need “large amounts of assistance.” He’s trying to avoid bank nationalizations by wooing investors to purchase loans with taxpayer-guaranteed financing to protect them against loss. The U.S. move to clear away distressed assets contrasts with Japanese financial authorities’ reluctance to do so in a 1990s financial crisis, which led to a decade of economic stagnation.

“This is going to be our Yucca Mountain right here,” said Joseph Mason, an associate professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and former FDIC visiting scholar, referring to the proposed radioactive-waste storage site in Nevada.

Half-Life

“You can put it in a train car and ship it across the country. The half-life of this stuff is real long, but it has to burn off,” he said.

The FDIC’s average auction value of 56.3 cents on the dollar for residential and commercial loans is based on 312 sales worth $1.1 billion since Jan. 1, 2008, according to the FDIC. The average for 348 commercial loans for which borrowers stopped paying was 32 cents on the dollar. Auction prices ranged from 0.02 cent to 101.2 cents on the dollar, according to the FDIC.

In announcing its loan-sale program last week, the Treasury provided an example of a purchase price of 84 cents on the dollar, with taxpayers putting up 6 cents, investors 6 cents and the FDIC guaranteeing 72 cents in financing.

“Eighty-four cents is just laughable” because the market value for loans is much lower, said Barry Ritholtz, chief executive officer of New York-based FusionIQ, an independent research firm.

The U.S. is structuring the loan purchases to leave the government with most of the risk, while investors stand to gain most of any profit, economist Stiglitz said.

‘Almost No Upside’

“There’s almost no upside for the taxpayer,” he said. “The government is giving a 110 percent bailout.”

How much investors offer for assets is “going to be the key” determinant of Bank of America’s participation in the government’s two asset-purchase programs, CEO Kenneth Lewis said in a Bloomberg Television interview March 27.

“If there’s an issue with the program, it’s going to be trying to get banks to sell assets,” FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said in a speech the same day at the Isenberg School of Management of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

“If I have concern, it’s the pricing may not be where seller and buyer are willing to meet,” she said.

Any standoff between investors and banks over loan prices may scuttle Geithner’s plan to segregate non-performing assets and restart lending, said Bob Eisenbeis, chief monetary economist with Vineland, New Jersey-based Cumberland Advisors and a former Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank research director.

‘Really Bad Stuff’

“It’s hard to believe that the really bad stuff that’s causing all the problems are going to be offered for sale,” Eisenbeis said. “The institutions won’t want to sell them if they get a true price, because their capital would take too much of a hit.”

With preparations for auctions under way, U.S. banks are being put through so-called stress tests, which Geithner said last month are a comprehensive set of standards for the financial system’s most important lenders. The examinations of loans and their collateral and payment histories are scheduled to be completed by April 30.

Banks have almost $4.7 trillion of mortgages and $3 trillion of other loans that aren’t packaged into bonds, according to the Fed. The vast majority are carried at full value because they don’t need to be written down until they default, according to Daniel Alpert, managing director of New York-based investment bank Westwood Capital LLC.

“Just because it’s being held at full value doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Alpert said.

Obama Effort

While regulators don’t intend to publish the details of their stress tests, the results will effectively become known once banks announce how much capital they need to raise. Regulators will then give lenders six months to obtain funds from investors or taxpayers as a last resort.

The tests are designed to mesh with Obama’s effort to remove banks’ distressed mortgage assets that have hampered lending to consumers and businesses. Officials aim to have the first loan purchases by private investors financed by the government within weeks of the conclusion of the stress tests, according to the Treasury.

Including TARP, the U.S. government and the Fed have spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion to combat the financial collapse and a recession that began in December 2007. The amount approaches the $14.2 trillion U.S. gross domestic product last year.

‘Constructive Plan’

Obama met with the CEOs of the nation’s 12 biggest banks on March 27 at the White House to enlist their support to thaw a 20-month freeze in bank lending.

Lenders undergoing stress tests include New York-based Citigroup, which has received three rounds of capital infusions valued at $60 billion, including $45 billion from TARP, according to Bloomberg data.

“The administration has put forth a constructive plan to address the critical issues facing the financial services industry, and we are committed to working together with the industry to help achieve the goals of the plan,” CEO Vikram Pandit said in a statement before meeting with Obama.

Citigroup spokesman Stephen Cohen declined to comment.

The U.S. tests also involve Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, which also received $45 billion from TARP. It bought Merrill Lynch & Co. — the largest underwriter of failed collateralized debt obligations, according to Standard & Poor’s — and home-lender Countrywide Financial Corp.

Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri declined to comment.

Option ARMs

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia Corp., the nation’s biggest provider of option adjustable-rate mortgages, for $15 billion. In doing so, it took responsibility for about $122 billion of option ARMs sold by the Charlotte bank.

Option ARM loans allow borrowers to defer part of their interest payments and add it to their principal. When housing collapsed, many holders of the mortgages were left owing more than the value of their homes.

Wachovia issued more than half its option ARMs in California, according to bank filings. Wells Fargo was already the biggest lender in the state.

“Wells Fargo supports any plan by the Treasury that helps financial institutions efficiently sell troubled assets while still providing an investment return to the U.S. taxpayer,” spokeswoman Janis Smith said in an e-mail.

Web Distribution

The ability to distribute loan information over the Internet will also support prices by expanding the number of buyers and allowing for sales as small as $100,000, said Stephen Emery, a managing director at New York-based Mission Capital Advisors, which brokered $3 billion of real-estate loan sales last year.

Terms offered under the Legacy Loans Program, including government-backed financing, will also help boost demand and selling prices by as much as 20 percent, he said.

“The leverage will allow buyers to bump their price a little bit,” Emery said. “But that still doesn’t mean that something that was worth 30 is now worth 60. What’s going to happen is now it’s worth 35 or 36 cents.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Pittman in New York at mpittman@bloomberg.net;

marcus@foreclosureProSe.com

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