Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Our friends, the jolly bankers. Now they won't loan anything to anyone. Bloomberg (02.13.08):
"The Federal Reserve's interest-rate cuts last month have failed to lower borrowing costs for many companies and households, increasing the chance of further reductions from the central bank.

Companies are paying more to borrow now than before the Fed reduced its benchmark rate by 1.25 percentage point over nine days in January, based on data compiled by Merrill Lynch & Co."

Bernanke Stymied as Rate Cuts Fail to Lower Borrowing Costs

After throwing money at anything that breathed over the last five years, "(b)anks and investors are [now] demanding greater compensation for offering credit as losses mount on subprime-mortgage securities and concerns grow that ratings of bond insurers will be cut."

Speaking of the bond insurers, Warren's really turning the screws on 'em. NYTimes (02.13.08):

"Warren E. Buffett volunteered on Tuesday to rescue Wall Street from its latest looming crisis.

But Mr. Buffett, the billionaire investor known as the Oracle of Omaha, made clear that his offer would not come cheap. And even then, jittery investors were unsure that his plan would work."

Buffett Offers Aid on Bonds, but at a Price

Warren promised to "stand behind, or reinsure, policies that [MBIA, the Ambac Financial Group and the Financial Guaranty Insurance Company] had written on $800 billion of municipal bonds, a move analysts called a shrewd attempt to take advantage of the companies’ problems. His holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, is willing to commit $5 billion to the task but wants the insurers to pay it a steep premium. Berkshire will refuse to take any risks associated with mortgage-related securities, the riskiest debt that the companies insure."

The insurers don't have the financial wherewithal to even guarantee the safe stuff. WSJ (02.13.08):

"Current upshot: If the rating agencies downgrade the bond insurers, they effectively downgrade thousands of municipal bonds, meaning many holders no longer would be legally eligible to hold them. That's where we are today.

We're not so sure the result would be the financial catastrophe that some forecast. The market might well recognize the value of the downgraded bonds despite any downgrades. But some believe a downgrading of the insurers would beget forced selling, a collapse in muni prices, and insolvency for many institutions and perhaps for towns and cities that couldn't roll over their outstanding debts."

Warren the Munificent

If the alternative doesn't pan out because our jolly bankers are just too freaked, Warren's proposal begins to look very much like an offer they can't refuse.

And what an offer it is! "In a letter dated Feb. 6 to Lazard, the investment bank that is advising MBIA, Ajit B. Jain, president of reinsurance for Berkshire Hathaway, proposed that MBIA pay Mr. Buffett’s company 150 percent of the premium it earns for insuring its municipal bond portfolio. Typically, insurers cede a share of their premiums, not more than they earn."

Warren lays it on the line: "'When I go to St. Peter I will not present this as some act that will entitle me to get in. We're doing this to make money.'"

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