So now we have almost every aspect of the original sub-prime credit crunch reproduced by the same people who did it the first time and were never punished or even rebuked but instead were allowed to reward themselves with millions in bonuses.
So to summarize, MF Global invested in sub prime. Only this time sub prime bonds not mortgages. It leveraged them hideously, pretended it had off-loaded the risk when it hadn’t and then got caught when the value of the bonds went down and counldn’t pay the debts it had taken on using the bonds as collateral. Sorry to belabour the point but I want you to see how this really is subrpime all over again.
And like the original sub prime it means when one bank goes down it leaves all those to whom it owes money, with their own losses.
So now let’s move on from MF Global, because as some wag commented, you never find just one cockroach in a dirty kitchen. Which logic nearly killed a second brokerage, Jeffries. Its stock collapsed on the rumour that it too had bought up lots of European bonds. Jeffries had to take the amazing step of publishing every single position in bonds that it had. Only then did its stock recover.
Since then other banks have been less forthcoming about their exposure, namely Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Only they are not so much suspected of having lots of European bonds themselves as having perhaps provided the one part of the whole sub prime crisis we have not so far mentioned, CDS insurance. Goldman and JP Morgan are among the world’s largest derivatives traders. And they revealed that between them they have sold ‘protection’ on over $5 trillion globally. No one knows how much of this is on dodgy European debt and neither Goldman nor JP Morgan is saying.
In sub prime credit crunch 1 it was AIG that provided much of the short term funding and much of the CDS protection. This time who knows who are the main providers. But one thing you can be sure of, there will have been a great deal of it sold. Because it would have been sold using the same logic which inspired MF Global to buy the debt. The logic which said, these are countries too big to fail so in the end they will be bailed out even if democracy has to be suspended to ensure it. If you believed that logic then you wold have sold CDS protection and pocketed the premium.
So that, I believe is all aspects of sub prime accounted for. You can now see that while sovereign bonds and debts may be the fissile material the bomb itself and its explosive potential was constructed by the banks just as they did last time following the same blue-print and same greed.
And how soon might it go off. For that we end with UniCredit. Last quarter the trillion euro bank suddenly posted a ‘surprise’ 10.6 billion euro loss in just this last quarter! It’s bonds are now trading as junk while it faces having to raise another 51 billion euros to re-finance its debt in just the next year. That, to me spells BOOOOM! It is only the first. It certainly won’t be the last. There will be others and they may be along fairly soon.
Why did UniCredit suddenly make such a loss? What was happening during the last quarter? Well Spanish and Italian bonds have lost a lot of value. what do you think, might UniCredit have been holding a lot of them? Surely not I hear you cry. Who would be so stupid. UniCredit blames the loss on its Kazakhstan and Ukraine units. What would those units have been doing to wrack up such monumental losses? UniCredit is now trying desperately to sell bits of itself.
The banks know what is going on. They each know the risks and losses they are hiding and know if they have them then so do the others. Exactly as in Credit crunch1 interbank lending is frozen with both libor and repo markets in disarray.
I suggest these are the real reasons the banks are in an absolute panic and are shrieking about how the ECB MUST print and print now and why elections and voting of any kind at all must NOT be allowed to upset the smooth imposition of the bank’s required plan. There is contagion but it is bank contagion, its sub prime greed and failure all over again.