Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ongoing Credit Implosion

The rate of implosion in the credit markets continues to accelerate. In fact, the process seems to be proceeding very rapidly and the only element missing is mass bond defaults. According to Bloomberg, the asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) market has shrunk by 20% in a mere three weeks and the total CP market is 11% smaller over that period. This type of credit has contracted by $244 billion in a very short time. For those who think the Fed can simply "print money" to revive asset inflation, $244 billion is roughly 4x the $68 billion total of all US currency in circulation today. And of course, the CP market is just one of many credit markets undergoing a buyers' strike.

Private label MBS of any kind is very hard to sell right now, which is why even Countrywide is doing almost nothing but conforming loans.


[Countrywide] says that soon about 90% of its originations will conform to either bank loan or such so-called "Government Sponsored Enterprises" standards.

The corporate junk market is nearly frozen right now. As far as I can tell only one junk deal of any size has been done in eight weeks. Other than debt issued or guaranteed by governments, very little is being sold in the bond markets anywhere right now. Unless you are a "natural" AAA or AA-rated entity, you can only issue debt at punitively high interest rates.

There is complete distrust of credit ratings for any sort of structured debt. Of course that's what happens when BBB-rated "investment grade" structured bonds lose over half their value. More confirmation of just how bogus the ratings were and how badly standards had slipped came recently. S&P cut their rating on some structured investment vehicles (SIVs) from the gold standard AAA to near-default CCC in one fell swoop. As we previously mentioned in Fed Actions and Terrorist Attacks, the ratings agencies got paid three times as much on structured bonds but I'm sure that had nothing to do with the generous ratings. Surely, they are only correcting an inadvertent previous oversight.

Of course, when the ratings are that badly wrong, no one cares what about motives or excuses. All such ratings become suspect. Nothing the Fed can do will restore trust in the ratings agencies. Only the agencies themselves can do that and only with time and hard work. Similarly, much of the credit that was extended should never have happened. Since the creditors have been burned by dumb mistakes, those won't be repeated - regardless of how many unsustainable investment structures depend on the them.

The Fed cannot recreate the naivete, the wild optimism and the frenzy that drove much of structured finance over the last several years. The illusion of permanently lower risk has been broken and cannot be recreated. Much of the recent "financial innovation" was utterly dependent upon this illusion and so those products must simply disappear. The UDB has burst and the Fed just needs to get over it. Efforts by the CBs to halt this process will meet with the same success as King Canute's command to halt the tides.