Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The FDIC and You

Well friends it's time to talk about bank failures and wealth preservation. We have talked about insolvent banks on multiple occasions before but the threat of large banks failing is now imminent. Countrywide was saved from such a fate by Bank of America. Now IndyMac is right on the edge. They're not officially dead yet - only mostly dead but there's no Miracle Max in sight.

Their recent letter to stakeholders reads like a death certificate:
  • regulators involved
  • prohibited from getting brokered deposits
  • can't sell stock (no buyers)
  • asset sales would deplete capital (tacit admission of mis-valuation)
  • ===> must stop making loans
The FDIC has been bulking up for months now, anticipating a wave of bank failures. So far it's been a few small banks but now it's the big boy's turn. So how secure are bank deposits and and how much can the insurance fund really cover? For now, it looks like the answers are pretty safe (as long as you're under the $100,000 limit) and a pretty good amount as they have $54.5 billion in the fund as of the March 31 report.

The report contains further indications that they see the problem as serious and imminent. For instance, last March the fund held $3.7 billion in cash, going to $4.0 billion in December and $8.0 billion this March. Clearly they are raising cash in anticipation of something. There is a similar pattern to the provision for losses from negative last March to $95 million in December and $525 million the March. Interestingly, that last number is about 2.5x the estimated losses on ALL failed banks YTD.

$5.6 million - Douglass National
$214 million - ANB Financial
$2.3 million - First Integrity

ANB is almost the entire amount but was not shut down until
May. The FDIC was already anticipating a lot more at the end of March. It will be fascinating to see what kind of provisions they made at the end of June. We should have that report in approximately 2 weeks. The banks that have failed so far have cost the FDIC about 10% of deposits to make the depositors whole. This suggests that the regulators were planning on banks with another $3 billion in deposits going bad as of 4 months ago but IndyMac alone is much larger than that.

So what kind of impact should we expect if the FDIC has to liquidate a large part of their portfolio to make good on their guarantees? Personally, we're expecting a bear steepening of the yield curve but have a look at the composition for yourself:

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There is a big slug of bonds maturing in 2009 so if FDIC is forced to liquidate, the pressure should be strongest on the 2-year and shorter Treasury market. Given the amount of cash, it would take a significant failure to force them to liquidate much before the maturity dates but we want to start thinking about the possibility and the implications of such an event.