A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I
I've had this research on MBIA sitting on my desktop for some time now, too busy to convert it into a post for the blog. The macro situation stemming from the real estate bust is unfolding just as I have surmised, albeit a bit quicker and more far reaching than I originally thought. It is scary, for nobody wants to see bad things happen to other people, and I don't want to get caught in a financial downturn regardless of how well prepared I try to make myself. On the other hand, these situations create significant opportunity for gain, primarily from those who refuse to acknowledge the fact that the wave is not only coming, but has reached us quite a while back. I have learned unequivocally what many probably new for some time now. What is that you ask? You really just can't trust government data. Now, I don't want to get into politics and conspiracy theories, but the data as of late has been so far removed from the obvious reality for many that it is almost signaling that the government doesn't even want you to heed the data and is giving you the requisite warning signals. Examples of which are employment data and inflation. Alas, and as usual, I digress, as such is the mind of insane idiot savant that my kids call Dad.
Now, back to the title - What so special about the number 104? It is the number that will probably scare the pants off of anyone who is in equity investors, or potentially anyone who is a customer, of MBIA's insurance and guarantee products. It is the number that when reached, will leave the equity investor with shareholder certificates worth nothing. It is the number where MBIA's equity is wiped clean. Why are you being so damn cryptic Reggie, you ask? Because, I need for you to go through this history of how we came to this point before I explain in detail, so as to get a clear and comprehensive understanding of the situation. That is part of it; the other part is just because I feel like it. Now, let me give you a little cartoon of what the number is, then a background of how we got in this mess to begin with, then an analysis that shows how I got to this number. As usual, you can click on any graph to enlarge it.
Some time ago I came across this report on the MBIA and ABK by Pershing Square and found it absolutely intriguing. I posted it on this blog on September 3rd, when these companies were trading in the 60's and 70's roughly, and respectively (sometimes it actually pays to read this blog:-). I was actually impressed enough to take a small short position of my own without doing my own forensic analysis. This is something that I regret. Why? Because I am willing to assume significant risk once I convince myself of the strength of a position. Using third party research, I dabble at best - and rarely do I use third party research. So, I dabbled when I should have looked harder and took a significant position. After the fact, I looked further into the industry on an anecdotal basis, then all of a sudden, Bam! The proverbial feces hit the fan blades. The stocks fell so far, so fast, I was taken aback. So, I asked part of my analytical team to take a look at these guys, for I knew that a major problem the monolines, the banks, and the builders all had was a lack of understanding and respect for the rate of decline in value and default of instruments linked to bubble real estate - combined with excessive leverage. So they took a cursory look for me, and they pretty much confirmed my suspicions, but it is not straightforward. There conflicts of interest issues that goes far and wide. So much so, that I will most assuredly not be making anymore friends with this blog. Many of the financial professionals know this, but the layman may not.
What's wrong with the ratings agencies?
What's wrong with the ratings agencies? All of the major rating agencies feel MBIA is in good standing to weather the storm. Coincidentally, they all receive significant fees from the monolines and their customers. Hmmm! Now, there is this song by Kanye West, the rapper. A verse goes, "I'm not saying she's a gold digger..." Well, to make a long story short, any analysis born from compensation received from the entity you are analyzing will always be suspect, at least in my eyes. Conflicts of interest and financially incestuous relationships appear rampant to the paranoid conspiracy type (like me). If you remember my analysis of Ryland, I looked at data as far back as 1993. That gave a succinct, but barely acceptable snapshot of what to expect in turbulent times from a historical perspective. You would need much more data to analyze the more complex topic of MBS. It is believed by the naysayers, that the major ratings agencies have sampled data from only the good times, thus that is why their worst case scenarios still smell like roses. Their predictive prowess over the last few years doesn't look very impressive either. Massive swath of investment grade securities (that they, themselves, labeled investment grade - and were paid by the securities' issuers to do so) are being downgraded straight to junk. I know if I invested in AAA bonds that are losing principal and downgraded to junk in a year or two by the same rating that gave it an investment grade rating in the first place, I would be pissed. But, that is what happens without the proper due diligence, I guess. At least that is what the ratings agencies are bound to say. When looking at data gathered from the real estate boom, and not the busts, you get: