Oil in the age of coronavirus: a U.S. shale bust like no other

BUSINESS NEWS
APRIL 15, 2020 / 1:06 AM / UPDATED 7 HOURS AGO

Oil in the age of coronavirus: a U.S. shale bust like no other

Jennifer Hiller, Liz Hampton
7 MIN READ

HOUSTON/DENVER (Reuters) – Texas oilman Mike Shellman has kept his MCA Petroleum Corp going for four decades, drilling wells through booms and busts and always selling his crude to U.S. oil refiners.

FILE PHOTO: The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant/File Photo

But now the second-generation oilman has abandoned drilling any new wells this year and postponed some maintenance amid a sharp drop in global oil prices and brimming storage tanks. He is considering shutting most of his production down, for the first time ever.

Oil fields from Texas and New Mexico to Oklahoma and North Dakota are going quiet as drilling halts and tens of thousands of oil workers lose their livelihood. Fuel demand has plunged by as much as 30 million barrels per day (bpd) – or 30% – as efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic have grounded aircraft, reduced vehicle usage and pushed economies worldwide toward recession.

“What scares me is not even being able to sell the product,” the grizzled oil hand said from his firm’s San Marcos, Texas, headquarters.

Refiners and other buyers are warning they may refuse his oil once contracts expire this month, he said. Or they may offer to buy at a price below his costs, so he is preparing to dip into retirement savings to pay employees, he said.

The governments of global oil producers and consumers are seeking to make unprecedented cuts to overall supply of some 19.5 million bpd. U.S. President Donald Trump heralded the deal to cut supply as one that would save hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

But oil prices fell again this week, dropping as much as 10% on Tuesday, because even those cuts may fail to stem the glut. Prices remain far below production costs for many U.S. producers, including those in the U.S. shale fields – the scene of a revolution in the energy industry over the past decade that made the United States the world’s top producer.

 

Across the United States, up to 240,000 oil-related jobs will be lost this year, about a third of the onshore and offshore oilfield workforce, estimates consultancy Rystad Energy.

The U.S. oil boom died on March 6, the day Saudi Arabia and Russia ended a four-year pact that curbed output and gave shale a price umbrella. Shale firms have accrued hefty debt during the years of expansion, leaving them exposed to the price crash that followed.

In March, U.S. oil futures tumbled to $20 a barrel, a third of the January price and less than half what many require to cover production costs. The March drop led dozens of shale producers to cut spending and several retained debt advisors.

“As soon as the virus hit and oil prices dropped, they sent everybody home,” said Joel Rodriguez, chief administrator of La Salle County, home of Texas’s second-most productive oilfield.

Shale oil producers face well closures and “industry wide financial distress” even after the OPEC cuts, said Artem Abramov, head of shale at consultancy Rystad Energy. In some fields, he expects regional prices will hit single-digits per barrel, he said. (For a graphic, click here)

Spending on oil field services will fall 21% to $211 billion this year, the lowest since 2005, according to researcher Spears & Associates.

 

Unlike the 2014-2016 oil bust, lenders are not making more financing available to producers, said Raoul Nowitz, head of restructuring at SOLIC Capital Advisors. He predicts up to 60 oil producers will seek protection from creditors this year, and many will not emerge under new owners. Some banks are setting up operations to take over and run failed producers.

LAYOFFS AND SHUT-INS

OPEC’s cuts may not be deep enough for oil producer Texland Petroleum, which operates 1,200 wells in the Permian Basin, the top U.S. oilfield. U.S. refiner and pipeline operator Phillips 66 asked President Jim Wilkes to reduce his deliveries by 15%, and another buyer canceled his contract outright.

“We’ve never had a time when we couldn’t sell the oil we produce. And that’s going to happen this time,” said Wilkes.

Average daily U.S. oil production this year will fall 500,000 bpd, to 11.8 million bpd and sink another 700,000 bpd next year, the Energy Information Administration estimated. (For a graphic, click: here)

Production cuts are too late for workers like Jeremy Davis, a 36-year-old who in March lost his business development job at Advanced BioCatalytics, which makes chemicals for hydraulic fracturing.

“They won’t be fracking many wells for the rest of the year,” said Davis, who after 16 years in the oilfield would now consider work outside the oil business. “I can’t wait around for the industry to come back,” he said.

Wall Street investors had already pulled back on the shale sector over the past couple of years because of poor returns, leaving producers with limited options for refinancing, said industry executives and analysts.

“There is no more lifeline,” said Lance Loeffler, the finance chief at top U.S. fracking service provider Halliburton Co.

PayZone Directional Services, a Denver-based driller, threw in the towel last month.

We could have stayed open and run until the money was gone but sometimes you just have to know when to cash in your chips and leave the table,” said Beth Thibodeaux, chief executive officer.

TIME TO MOVE ON

So much unsold oil is sloshing around that some pipeline operators, fearful of having their lines clogged, are insisting that producers halt connecting new wells and prove they have buyers or storage outlets before oil from existing wells can be put into a line.

They have warned “by mid-May storage is full” and will refuse to take any more, said Scott Sheffield, CEO at Permian Basin producer Pioneer Natural Resources.

He and some other executives in Texas and Oklahoma want state regulators to mandate up to 20% output cuts, sparing only the smallest producers. In Texas, energy regulators on Tuesday heard Sheffield call for a state order to halt 1 million bpd from its shale fields to prevent sale at below production cost.

 

MCA Petroleum owner Shellman said he tells friends who lost their jobs that it is time to leave the oil business. “It’s not ever going to be like it was.”

Shellman, who as a youngster got his first taste of the oil business accompanying his parents to their own oil wells, has promised to pay his employees from savings even if they have to shut in wells. But the pain goes well beyond Shellman’s wallet.

“From an emotional standpoint, this is killing me,” he said.

Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston, Liz Hampton in Denver; editing by Gary McWilliams and Edward Tobin

PwC faces 3 major trials that threaten its business

Philip Merrill’s notes:

1) Do Auditors need to be seasoned professionals in the businesses they audit?

2) Or, CPA’s that have to take the customers word for accuracy in financial statement representation including notes.

By Francine McKenna

Published: Aug 15, 2016 12:32 p.m. ET

The Big Four global audit firms go to court all the time but are rarely put on trial.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the U.S. member of the global professional-services giant, is currently facing not one, not two, but three significant trials for allegedly negligent audits. An unfavorable verdict in the trial currently playing out in a Florida state court could inflict a significant monetary wound. That, combined with a possible unfavorable judgment in another trial scheduled for federal court in Alabama in February of 2017, and a third in a Manhattan federal court within the next year, may be fatal.

The case against PwC brought by the Taylor Bean and Whitaker bankruptcy trustee is quite unusual, said Tom Rohback, an attorney with Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider. That’s because it is one of the few cases from the credit crisis seeking to hold auditors responsible for crisis-era losses to actually go to trial.

“Beyond the $5.5 billion sought, the case is unusual because the plaintiff is the trustee of the entity that committed the fraud and is suing not its own audit firm but the audit firm of the institution it defrauded,” he said. “

Settlements preferred

In the U.S. the Big Four audit firms have, in recent history, almost always settled because of the fear that one catastrophic jury verdict could shut them down for good. In addition, trials show the public just how often auditors fail to detect fraud. Settlements prevent the public from hearing that in open court and typically put partners’ pretrial testimony under confidential court seal forever.

‘The trial has the potential to influence public perception of auditors, as well as strategies used by the plaintiff lawyers that try cases against them, regardless of the eventual verdict.’

Tom Rohback, Axinn Veltrop and Harkrider

The bankruptcy trustee for Taylor Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., once the 12th-largest U.S. mortgage lender, sued PwC for $5.5 billion in damages in 2012 after the bank went bankrupt in August 2009. Federal regulators, not the bank’s auditor, Deloitte, uncovered a $3 billion fraud involving fake mortgage assets. The bankruptcy trustee for Taylor, however, alleges that PwC was negligent in not spotting the fraud from its perch as auditor of Colonial Bank, which bought the allegedly fake mortgages that Taylor Bean had originated and that made Taylor Bean’s losses worse.

Beth Tanis, the lead attorney for PwC from the firm King & Spalding, issued a statement at the beginning of the trial: “PricewaterhouseCoopers did not audit or perform any other services for Taylor Bean. With regard to the services performed for Colonial Bancgroup, one of the targets of Taylor Bean’s fraud, PricewaterhouseCoopers did its job,” said Tanis. “As the professional audit standards make clear, even a properly designed and executed audit may not detect fraud, especially in instances when there is collusion, fabrication of documents, and the override of controls, as there was at Colonial Bank. We are confident that a jury will understand the applicable rules and standards in this case and decide accordingly.”

A spokeswoman for PwC declined to provide further comment.

Six Taylor Bean executives went to jail for their roles in the fraud. The bank’s former chairman, Lee Farkas, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Taylor Bean auditor Deloitte settled with the trustee for an undisclosed amount in 2013.

The bankruptcy route

Colonial Bank, a Montgomery, Ala., institution with $25 billion in assets, also filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The Colonial Bank bankruptcy trustee and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. brought a lawsuit in 2012 against PwC for negligence as the auditor of Colonial Bank, claiming $1 billion in damages. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

The FDIC’s suit was its first against an auditor for a financial-crisis-era bank fraud or failure. Crowe Horwath LLP, Colonial’s outsourced internal audit firm, is also named in the Colonial suit. (Remember Arthur Andersen internal and external auditor for Enron?)

Tanis, in her opening statement at the trial on Aug. 9, said that no one at Taylor Bean relied on PwC’s audit of Colonial Bank, even though Colonial was Taylor Bean’s biggest mortgage buyer.

“There will be no document showing you that these directors or anybody else at Taylor Bean ever received these Pricewaterhouse audit reports, actually read these Pricewaterhouse audit reports and relied on them,” she said.

Largest Banking Regulatory Fines (2008 – 2015)

Bank

Date

Fine Amount

Description

Bank of America

August 2014

$16,650,000,000

Settlement to resolve allegations of misselling mortgage-backed securities. The … Show More

Bank of America

February 2012

$11,820

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $8.6bn paid as relief to borrowers, $3 … Show More

Bank of America

January 2013

$11,600

Settlement resolving repurchase requests of faulty mortgage sales. Bank agreed t … Show More

Bank of America

March 2014

$9,330

Settled charges of misleading investors over mortgage backed securities.

Citigroup

July 2014

$7,000,000,000

Settled charges of misleading investors over mortgage backed securities. $4bn pa … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

November 2013

$13,000,000,000

Part of $13bn settlement; $4bn paid as relief to consumers, $2bn paid as civil penalty

Wells Fargo

February 2012

$5,350

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $4.3bn paid as relief to borrowers, $1 … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

February 2012

$5,290

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $4.2bn paid as relief to borrowers and … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

October 2013

$4,000

Part of $13bn settlement; settles federal and state claims by FHFA.

JPMorgan Chase

October 2013

$4,000

Settlement over securities laws violations in connection with mortgage-backed se … Show More

Bank

Date

Fine Amount

Description

Data collected from the Financial Times on May 20, 2015.

See more details ›

Taylor Bean’s employees, customers and creditors, who all lost something when the firm went bankrupt, were relying on Colonial Bank to operate as an honest business partner that was accurately reflecting its financial obligations to Taylor Bean, a point emphasized by Steve Thomas, the attorney for the Taylor Bean trustee, in his opening statement on Tuesday.

Thomas told the jury that PricewaterhouseCooper’s failure mattered, because many people were counting on it to do its job. “PwC was lending credibility to Colonial’s financial statements. PwC’s failure mattered because Taylor Bean and Whitaker, and others, relied on PwC to do its job,” he said.

‘PwC was lending credibility to Colonial’s financial statements. PwC’s failure mattered because Taylor Bean and Whitaker, and others, relied on PwC to do its job.’

Steve Thomas, attorney for Taylor Bean trustee

PwC and the other Big Four accounting firms all had major clients that failed, were bailed out or were effectively nationalized during the crisis. None of those cases went to trial. Ernst & Young LLP paid $99 million to investors and $10 million to the New York attorney general’s office for its role as auditor of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. KPMG settled its exposures early, and within a week of each other in 2010 settled for an undisclosed amount for its audit of New Century, another big mortgage originator, and paid $24 million for its audits of Countrywide Bank, which was distressed when it was sold to Bank of America BAC, +0.74% .

Deloitte settled its exposure as auditor of Bear Stearns for $19.9 million. Bear Stearns was bought for a relative pittance by J.P. Morgan JPM, +0.61%  during the crisis. Deloitte was also the auditor of Washington Mutual and contributed $18.5 million to a settlement with investors for its negligent audits. Deloitte went on to earn hundreds of millions of dollars reviewing J.P. Morgan’s exposure to foreclosure fraud claims for Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual mortgages it inherited as part of those purchases.

The litigation hit

Those settlements pale in comparison to the total of $6.5 billion that Taylor Bean and Colonial Bank trustees are looking for from PwC. On Aug. 5 U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan rejected PwC’s request to dismiss MF Global’s lawsuit alleging professional malpractice that contributed to the October 2011 bankruptcy of the brokerage firm once run by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. That suit is seeking $1 billion in damages, bringing the total potential claims PwC is facing over a very short period to $7.5 billion.

Jim Peterson, a former in-house attorney for Arthur Andersen and the author of the book “Count Down: The Past, Present and Uncertain Future of the Big Four Accounting Firms,” has periodically asked the question on his blog: “How big is the ‘worst case’ litigation hit that would disintegrate one of the surviving Big Four?”

Back in September 2006, a report by the consulting firm London Economics to the EU markets commissioner modeled the collapse of a Big Four partnership in the U.K. That model quantified the level, according to Peterson, “of personal sacrifice, beyond which the owner-partners would lose confidence, withdraw their loyalty and their capital, and vote with their feet.”

Peterson’s analysis concluded that critical numbers of partners would defect and put a firm into a death spiral, if they faced a partner-income-distribution reduction of 15% to 20% that extended over three or four years. Peterson extended the figures to the global level to calculate breakup figures for the Big Four. That brought the number down from an optimistic maximum of about $7 billion to about $3 billion.

However, global numbers assume that a Big Four network under deadly financial threat could hold it together and count on the support of its member firms and partners around the world. But that’s not what happened to Arthur Andersen after the bankruptcy of client Enron and an indictment for obstruction of justice in 2001. Instead, Andersen’s non-U.S. member firms flew the coop in 2002, and the firm itself was forced to fold.

Based on the experience of Arthur Andersen, it is unlikely, Peterson told MarketWatch, that PwC’s non-U.S. member firms would pitch in to pay a U.S.-based catastrophic court judgment or a series of them. Peterson’s most recent update of his tipping-point calculation, completed in early 2015, assumes the U.S. firm is left to pay its own way out, as was Andersen’s U.S. firm. The worst-case tipping points for the U.S. practices shrinks from the $3 billion global number down to $900 million for the most financially vulnerable of the four firms.

These numbers matter, according to Peterson, because the loss of another Big Four firm would throw the entire system into chaos.“There is no contingency plan or readiness among the three survivors to stay in an even more risky business or take on the failed firm’s risky clients or outstanding litigation claims,” he said.

The Petrobras angle

The three lawsuits against PwC that are on trial or going to trial in the next year all name only the U.S. firm as a defendant. Another large case names PwC’s Brazil member firm for its allegedly negligent audits and failure to detect a multibillion-dollar bribery and corruption fraud at the state-sponsored oil company Petrobras.

Those plaintiffs, which include the Bill Gates Foundation, could decide to name PwC U.S. as a defendant or eventually require the U.S. firm to ante up to pay a verdict that would otherwise knock out the Brazilian firm, a key cog in its service network for multinational clients.

MarketWatch asked Rohback why PwC would choose to go to trial given the stakes. “Oh, they probably didn’t choose to try the case. They just haven’t hit on a settlement number they can stomach yet,” he said.

PwC has few options at this point, Rohback said. “There’s still time to settle, and they could win it. If they lose, they can ask the judge for a stay in enforcing any judgment until an appeal can be heard.”

Florida law prohibits judgments that would bankrupt a defendant. PwC would probably be reluctant to go to court and open its books to prove it was too poor to pay a judgment. However, in a previous case against an audit firm in Florida tried by Taylor Bean trustee attorney Thomas, the court allowed audit-firm partners to be paid “profits” each year before considering claims of any parties damaged by the firm’s frauds or gross negligence.

Audit firms have no duty to reserve for or disclose serious legal contingencies, since they are partnerships. Thomas had to file a motion to force discovery because he suspected that while the case was under appeal “assets have been or are being dissipated or diverted while such a stay is in place.”

Francine McKenna

Francine McKenna is a MarketWatch reporter based in Washington.

Email Francine at fmckenna@marketwatch.com

New From Credit Suisse: Bonds for Self-Inflicted Catastrophes

Sagacious LLC will help customize a similar program to save op risk regulatory capital at your institution. 

By ANUPREETA DAS and LESLIE SCISM
May 16, 2016 1:21 p.m. ET WSJ

Credit Suisse Group AG is going to give it a try in the bond market. The bank plans as early as this week to launch unusual new securities that would pay investors relatively high interest rates. The catch is Credit Suisse could take their principal if incidents like rogue trading, information-technology breakdowns or even accounting errors lead to massive losses for the bank, people familiar with the offering said.

The deal is a first-of-its-kind twist on the “catastrophe bonds” that insurers have used for years to lay off the risk of natural disasters like hurricanes. Credit Suisse’s offering covers self-inflicted disasters as well as external events and has been marketed to hedge funds and other big investors.

The insurance feature of the bonds would be triggered if Credit Suisse’s annual operational risk-related losses cross $3.5 billion. Buyers have a level of comfort, however, because it’s a “second-event” bond. The most any single event could contribute to the trigger is $3 billion, meaning it would take more than one event to cross the threshold. The odds of that are remote: Credit Suisse has put them at roughly 1 in 500, the people said.

A Credit Suisse spokeswoman declined to comment.
The appetite for such offerings in the capital markets, as persistently low interest rates send investors searching for higher yields, is encouraging Wall Street companies to test new uses for the structure.

MORE

Heard on the Street: Credit Suisse Takes Out Insurance on Itself
Insurance-industry executives said that they haven’t previously seen a bank attempting to tap capital markets to cover this type of risk. The move has its roots in regulation. Under European bank rules, banks must calculate operational risk and may use insurance products as part of meeting their capital requirements, according to industry participants.

In general, operational risk is the possibility of losses resulting from insufficient internal controls, errant systems or rogue employees. The Credit Suisse offering doesn’t cover market losses from trading that is authorized by the bank, some of the people familiar with the matter said.

Paul Schultz, chief executive of the Aon Securities unit of global insurance brokerage Aon PLC, said an offering like Credit Suisse’s reflects “growing investor sophistication on the underwriting side and a general view that to continue to grow the asset class, investors are going to have to expand from simply writing property risk.”

Zurich-based Credit Suisse, via a Bermuda company called Operational Re, plans to issue a five-year bond of up to 630 million Swiss francs ($646 million) to qualified institutional buyers such as hedge funds, asset managers and firms that pool together capital from pension funds. The bonds are part of a planned package that includes an insurance policy of up to 700 million francs issued by Zurich Insurance Group. Most of the cost of any claim would be paid for by the bonds. The size of the bond offering and the policy limits ultimately will be determined by investor interest, the people said. A spokeswoman for Zurich said the company’s policy is not to comment on current or potential commercial relationships.

The coupon is expected to be in the “mid-single digits,” one of the people said—higher than what Credit Suisse was initially planning, in order to entice investors to buy the novel security.

Credit Suisse last week reported a first-quarter net loss of 302 million francs, compared with a profit of 1.05 billion francs in the same period last year. The bank’s new chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, has been retooling the bank away from its investment-banking business toward its more stable wealth-management unit.

European banks have long used insurance products to meet capital requirements set by regulators or to unload risk from their balance sheets. Before the financial crisis, giant insurer American International Group Inc. sold financial derivatives known as credit-default swaps to major European banks as insurance against losses in their holdings of subprime mortgage assets. AIG’s near collapse in 2008 in the wake of the housing-bubble burst was tied to the massive volume of credit-default swaps it had sold.

As for Credit Suisse’s new bond, the bank can’t call on the money to cover regulatory liabilities or government fines, the people said. Losses from rogue trading, which have hobbled large banks such as Société Générale and UBS Group AG in recent years, could be covered by the insurance provided by the bond, but any fines stemming from it wouldn’t be, they said.

Write to Anupreeta Das at anupreeta.das@wsj.com and Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com

Sagacious LLC can customize a disaster bond for your institution.

What is the amount of Operational Risk Capital at Your Bank?

Civil Antitrust Lawsuits Reinstated Against 16 Banks in Libor Case
May 23, 2016 By Nicole Hong, WSJ
Appeals court restores private suits against Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and others
The lawsuits accuse 16 major banks—including Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America—of collusion in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, to the detriment of the banks’ consumers.

In a setback for some of the world’s largest financial institutions, a U.S. appeals court on Monday reinstated the private antitrust lawsuits filed against 16 banks for allegedly rigging Libor interest rates.

The ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reverses a lower court decision from 2013, in which U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed the claims because she said the banks’ alleged conduct did not violate federal antitrust laws.

The lawsuits accuse 16 major banks—including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.—of collusion in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, to the detriment of the banks’ consumers.

The plaintiffs, who owned various financial instruments that were affected by Libor, claim the returns on their investments were depressed by the banks’ collusion. The lawsuits were filed by several groups of plaintiffs, including the local governments of cities like Baltimore, San Diego and Houston.

Judge Buchwald had dismissed the antitrust claims, saying the plaintiffs failed to show they were injured by the alleged rate manipulation. She said that because setting Libor was a “cooperative endeavor,” there could be no anticompetitive harm to consumers.

But the appeals court Monday disagreed and kicked the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. A three-judge panel found that the plaintiffs did show an antitrust injury “by alleging that they paid artificially fixed higher prices.”

Judge Buchwald in 2013 had allowed other claims by the plaintiffs to proceed, including allegations that the banks breached commodities laws, but the antitrust claims were a central part of the litigation, as violations can require a defendant to pay triple damages.

The appellate judges noted that the plaintiffs will still have to prove at a later stage whether the allegedly corrupt Libor rate did have an influence on the prices of their financial investments.

If this litigation is ultimately successful, the potential total bill to banks could be in the billions, analysts have estimated.

A lawyer representing the banks declined to comment, while a lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Libor, a widely used benchmark that helps set interest rates for everything from mortgages to corporate loans, is calculated daily for different currencies based on estimated borrowing rates submitted by banks on panels. The lawsuits are targeting banks on the panel that sets U.S. dollar rates under Libor.

These private lawsuits are separate from the sprawling criminal and civil probes around Libor rigging, which began in 2008 and have implicated traders around the world. Regulators have accused big banks of letting their traders and executives raise Libor rates up or down to benefit their trading positions.

About a dozen financial firms have settled charges of manipulating Libor, and many have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The largest penalty imposed was the $2.5 billion paid by Deutsche Bank AG last year.

In total, U.K. and U.S. authorities have imposed sanctions of more than $6 billion in the Libor cases. A series of global investigations are still ongoing, but The Wall Street Journal reported in February that regulators in the U.S. and U.K. are preparing to bring a final round of civil charges against several banks in the probe.

Write to Nicole Hong at nicole.hong@wsj.com

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Violent Moves in Treasuries Are Possible – Bloomberg Business

Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase CEO says the Treasury market is one thing he worries about

Comments aren’t a prediction, just a possibility, Dimon says

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Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer, said the bank will be prepared for the possibility that Treasury prices move violently when interest rates rise.
“The one thing I do worry a little bit about, by the way, is Treasuries,” Dimon said Friday at a conference in New York sponsored by Barclays Plc. “Interest rates have been so low, for so long,” he said, adding that some traders and their managers have never experienced a rising interest-rate environment.
The U.S. banking system is much safer now because of higher capital and business diversification, said Dimon, 59, responding to a question about whether the next U.S. credit downturn would come from banks or non-banks. In April, he called volatility in the Treasury market in late 2014 a “warning shot” to investors.
“So I wouldn’t be shocked to see 10-year Treasuries, when rates are going up, people change their mind, they change direction, that they will be violently volatile and go up much faster than people think,” Dimon said. “I’m not predicting that. I’m simply saying in the back of my mind, I think that’s a possibility.”
His comments followed the biggest single-day rally in six years for two-year Treasuries. After the Federal Reserve announced Thursday it would keep interest rates near zero, yields on the policy-sensitive note dropped by 13 basis points, the steepest decline since the central bank announced it would expand its bond-buying program in March 2009. The rate on 10-year notes fell 10 basis points to 2.19 percent.
JPMorgan has “about the same” third-quarter trading-revenue trends as other banks that have disclosed expectations at the conference, Dimon said. Executives from Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. have said they probably will report a 5 percent drop in third-quarter trading revenue.
“September is still to go, so who knows,” Dimon said. “I think people are massively over-focused on those numbers.”
Markets

James Dimon

JPMorgan Chase & Co

Interest Rates

New York

Barclays PLC

Flash Move Haunts Bond Traders Heeding Dimon’s Warning of Crisis

Flash Move Haunts Bond Traders Heeding Dimon’s Warning of Crisis

Jamie Dimon, Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Six months after an unexplained flash rally in Treasuries sent markets reeling, bond investors are bracing for it to happen again.

Prudential Investment Management is trading more futures because they’re both liquid and anonymous. State Street Corp. is making smaller bets. And Pioneer Investments is looking for returns in higher-quality securities that are easier to sell.

On Oct. 15, benchmark Treasury yields swung the most relative to overall yields since at least 2000, scarring debt investors who say they’re still trying to figure out why it happened. JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief Jamie Dimon called the move a “warning shot” last week, blaming it on central-bank hoarding of bonds along with regulations that have led dealers to retreat from making markets. Others say the rise of electronic trading is at fault.

Whatever the reason, those trends aren’t changing as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006. Bets on market swings suggest traders expect prices to fluctuate the most of any year since 2011, raising the risk of another flash move.

“There’s potential for extreme conditions in the marketplace when volatility really goes up,” said Steven Meier, head of cash, currency and fixed-income at Boston-based State Street’s money-management unit. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about what happened,” and no “clear explanation of what the drivers were.”

Yield Swings

Bond trading has been turbulent this year, driven by uneven economic data, currency moves and Fed changes to its interest-rate forecasts. Yields on 10-year Treasuries have swung from 1.64 percent to 2.26 percent.

Treasuries are the world’s haven asset during turmoil because the securities are supposed to be the most liquid. A market that’s more prone to gyrations has the potential to boost borrowing costs for taxpayers, consumers and companies — in addition to making it harder for the Fed to exit from its record stimulus.

Dimon isn’t the only one warning episodes such as the one on Oct. 15 may happen again. The Treasury Markets Practices Group — an advisory committee on bond-market integrity backed by the Fed Bank of New York — echoed the idea at its February meeting.

Electronic Trading

“There is an increased potential for further episodes of volatility and impaired liquidity in the Treasury markets,” the meeting minutes said. The committee concluded that the move was exacerbated by the dealers’ pullback from the market and growth in electronic trading.

Last year, 48 percent of U.S. Treasury trading happened electronically, according to a survey from Greenwich Associates, up from 33 percent a decade ago. The TMPG said in a paper last week that the trend has improved liquidity, while creating added risks, too.

“In some cases, malfunctioning algorithms have interfered with market functioning, inundating trading venues with message traffic or creating sharp, short-lived spikes in prices,” the group said in an April 9 paper.

Calvert Investments money manager Matthew Duch said the mystery of the flash rally leaves him in a tough spot. He wants to buy more high-yield bonds, but said he’s worried about the possibility that a Treasury-market swing could spark broader volatility, making it tough to trade the speculative-grade debt.

Yield Starved

“Are you getting compensated for the risk? Uh, maybe not,” Duch, whose firm manages $13 billion, said in a telephone interview from his Bethesda, Maryland, office. “But in this yield-starved environment, it’s difficult to find other places to put your money.”

Part of the reason trading has gotten bumpier is that banks are stepping back from market-making, according to Jeffrey Snider, chief investment strategist at West Palm Beach, Florida-based Alhambra Investment Partners LLC.

That’s shown up in the market for short-term financing, known as repurchase agreements or repos, which help grease the wheels for bond trading. The amount of securities financed through a part of the market known as tri-party repo is down 15 percent since December 2012, and more than 41 percent from its 2008 high.

“Funding has just fallen off a cliff,” Snider said. “The system is searching for a stable state, but it hasn’t been able to find one yet.”

BlackRock View

Not everyone is worried that it’s too hard to trade debt these days.

“We feel pretty comfortable with the liquidity,” Michael Fredericks, head of retail multi-asset client solutions for New York-based BlackRock Inc., said by telephone. Fredericks, who manages the $11.5 billion BlackRock Multi-Asset Income Fund, said he’s more worried that investors have gotten complacent about long-term rates staying low.

State Street’s Meier said he is concerned about being able to efficiently trade his holdings, and is making smaller bond trades as a result. Last year, his company recommended clients build up their cash positions and consider derivatives bets, such as swaps and futures.

Interest-rate futures — which are essentially an agreement to buy or sell rates at a later date — have been getting more popular in part because they trade through a clearinghouse, reducing counterparty risk. Trading was up 12 percent in the first three months of the year from the same period in 2014, according to CME Group Inc.

Liquidity Drop

Erik Schiller, a money manager for Prudential’s $533 billion fixed-income unit, said he’s been using futures more because they offer fast and anonymous trade execution during big market swings.

“There’s the potential for these types of moves to happen,” he said. “The liquidity providers in the bond market are less now than they’ve ever been.”

One measure of Treasury dealers’ trading activity has fallen closer to its financial-crisis levels. Deutsche Bank AG’s index that gauges liquidity by comparing the three-month average size of dealer trades against moves in the 10-year note’s yield fell to about 25 in February. It was above 500 in 2005, and reached as low as 19 in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis.

“If liquidity is as bad as it is now, what’s going to happen when things really get adverse?” said Richard Schlanger, who co-manages about $30 billion in bonds as vice president at Pioneer Investments in Boston. “That’s why we’re trying to get in front of this and buy really good, liquid names.”

More articles on Markets

Greek euro exit would be ‘Lehman Brothers squared’: economist

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — A decision by a new Greek government to leave the eurozone would set off devastating turmoil in financial markets even worse than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, a leading international economist warned Saturday.

A Greek exit would likely spark runs on Greek banks and the country’s stock market and end with the imposition of severe capital controls, said Barry Eichengreen, an economic historian at the University of California at Berkeley. He spoke as part of a panel discussion on the euro crisis at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting.

The exit would also spill into other countries as investors speculate about which might be next to leave the currency union, he said.

“In the short run, it would be Lehman Brothers squared,” Eichengreen warned.

He predicted that European politicians would “swallow hard once again” and make the compromises necessary to keep Greece in the currency union.

“While holding the eurozone together will be costly and difficult and painful for the politicians, breaking it up will be even more costly and more difficult,” he said.

In general, the panel, consisting of four prominent American economists, was pessimistic about the outlook for the single-currency project.

Jeffrey Frankel, an economics professor at Harvard University, said that global investors “have piled back into” European markets over the last years as the crisis ebbed.

Now, there will likely be a repeat of the periods of market turmoil in the region and spreads between sovereign European bonds could widen sharply.

Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a Harvard professor, said the euro “is a historic disaster.”

“It doesn’t mean it is easy to break up,” he said.

Martin Feldstein, a longtime critic of the euro project, said all the attempts to return Europe to healthy growth have failed.

“I think there may be no way to end to euro crisis,” Feldstein said.

The options being discussed to stem the crisis, including launch of full scale quantitative easing by the European Central Bank, “are in my judgment not likely to be any more successful,” Feldstein said.

The best way to ensure the euro’s survival would be for each individual eurozone member state to enact its own tax policies to spur demand, including cutting the value-added tax for the next five years to increase consumer spending, Feldstein said.

The Russian Currency Crisis Just Got Even Worse DECEMBER 12, 2014 AT 3:56 AM Business Insider / Tomas Hirst

The Russian Currency Crisis Just Got Even Worse
DECEMBER 12, 2014 AT 3:56 AM
Business Insider / Tomas Hirst

The Russian rouble has fallen over 3% against the dollar in early trading, shrugging off the central bank’s attempt to halt the slide by raising interest rates.

The country’s central bank increased interest rates by 1% on Thursday to 10.5% in an effort to slow the pace of rouble falls. However, the currency has continued to track the oil price downwards as WTI crude dropped below $60 a barrel, down from $107 a barrel in June, and Brent slid to $63.12 on Friday.

At the time of writing $1 would buy you over 57 roubles, a new record level.

While the country still has around $416 billion in reserves and low government debt equal to only 9.2% of GDP, concerns have been focused on Russia’s corporate sector. In particular a number of Russian businesses borrowed heavily in dollars over the past few years, and repaying those loans is quickly becoming a much more expensive prospect.

Russia debt

Russian corporates are scheduled to pay around $35 billion on this debt in December and over $100 billion in 2015. These firms, and especially Russia’s banks, face major challenges funding this bill with Western sanctions freezing them out of global capital markets on the one hand and a weakening domestic economy putting pressure on profits on the other.

This problem is being compounded by concerns that the country’s financial sector may be running low on collateral that banks can use to access dollar reserves at the central bank. Usually it is the job of the central bank to provide emergency funding for a country’s financial institutions. In Russia this is typically done through what are known as “currency repo auctions,” in which banks offer collateral (like high-quality bonds) in exchange for access to currency, especially dollars, that they need to meet foreign-currency obligations.

Last week the Russian central bank cut the foreign exchange repo rate, the interest rate it charges on the currency it gives to banks. The rate fell from 1.5% above the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) — the benchmark interest rate at which banks lend to one another — to 0.5% above Libor. A lower interest rate should make it less expensive for banks to borrow from the central bank and therefore more appealing.

The rate cut illustrates that the central bank is growing concerned about the ability of Russian banks to meet their debt repayments. Underlining the point, in her statement following the interest rate hike on Thursday Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Russian central bank, announced that “the Bank of Russia plans to consider the introduction of foreign currency lending on the security of non-marketable assets”.

That suggests the central bank is considering expanding the types of assets that it will accept as collateral, by which it likely means accepting lower quality, less easily traded loans or financial securities. In other words, the state is having to take on more risk as the private sector struggles.

5 U.S. Banks Each Have More Than 40 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives

5 U.S. Banks Each Have More Than 40 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives
SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 AT 9:11 PM
Zero Hedge / Tyler Durden
Submitted by Michael Snyder of The Economic Collapse blog,

When is the U.S. banking system going to crash? I can sum it up in three words. Watch the derivatives. It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives. Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about 17.7 trillion dollars, so when we are talking about 40 trillion dollars we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable. And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything. They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future. The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games. Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet. When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe.

If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it?

The answer to that question comes down to just one thing.

Greed.

The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading. According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…

American banks have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books, and they earn some of their biggest profits from trading in them. But the 2008 crisis revealed how flaws in the market had allowed for dangerous buildups of risk at large Wall Street firms and worsened the run on the banking system.

The big banks have sophisticated computer models which are supposed to keep the system stable and help them manage these risks.

But all computer models are based on assumptions.

And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.

When a “black swan event” comes along such as a war, a major pandemic, an apocalyptic natural disaster or a collapse of a very large financial institution, these models can often break down very rapidly.

For example, the following is a brief excerpt from a Forbes article that describes what happened to the derivatives market when Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008…

Fast forward to the financial meltdown of 2008 and what do we see? America again was celebrating. The economy was booming. Everyone seemed to be getting wealthier, even though the warning signs were everywhere: too much borrowing, foolish investments, greedy banks, regulators asleep at the wheel, politicians eager to promote home-ownership for those who couldn’t afford it, and distinguished analysts openly predicting this could only end badly. And then, when Lehman Bros fell, the financial system froze and world economy almost collapsed. Why?

The root cause wasn’t just the reckless lending and the excessive risk taking. The problem at the core was a lack of transparency. After Lehman’s collapse, no one could understand any particular bank’s risks from derivative trading and so no bank wanted to lend to or trade with any other bank. Because all the big banks’ had been involved to an unknown degree in risky derivative trading, no one could tell whether any particular financial institution might suddenly implode.

After the last financial crisis, we were promised that this would be fixed.

But instead the problem has become much larger.

When the housing bubble burst back in 2007, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world had risen to about 500 trillion dollars.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, today the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to a staggering 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).

And of course the heart of this derivatives bubble can be found on Wall Street.

What I am about to share with you is very troubling information.

I have shared similar numbers in the past, but for this article I went and got the very latest numbers from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report. As I mentioned above, there are now five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,476,986,000,000 (about 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $67,951,190,000,000 (more than 67 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,894,736,000,000 (almost 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,944,502,000,000 (nearly 60 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $915,705,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,564,516,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,152,533,000,000 (a bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,457,605,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $831,381,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,946,153,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

And it isn’t just U.S. banks that are engaged in this type of behavior.

As Zero Hedge recently detailed, German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more exposure to derivatives than any of the American banks listed above…

Deutsche has a total derivative exposure that amounts to €55 trillion or just about $75 trillion. That’s a trillion with a T, and is about 100 times greater than the €522 billion in deposits the bank has. It is also 5x greater than the GDP of Europe and more or less the same as the GDP of… the world.

For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.

At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.

It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.

Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.

The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks. If they fail, so do the rest of us.

We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.

In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.

At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.

But as you have just read about in this article, they are being more reckless than ever before.

We are steamrolling toward the greatest financial disaster in world history, and nobody is doing much of anything to stop it.

Things could have turned out very differently, but now we will reap the consequences for the very foolish decisions that we have made.