In its biggest disclosure of the securities accepted to stabilize capital markets, the Fed said yesterday it had unrealized losses of $9.6 billion on the assets as of Dec. 31. The bonds, swaps and notes were taken in from Bear Stearns, once the fifth-biggest Wall Street firm by capitalization, and AIG, which had been the world’s largest insurer.
The losses on securities backed by assets such as home loans in Florida and California signal that U.S. taxpayers may be forced to reimburse the central bank through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to Christopher Whalen, managing director of Torrance, California-based Institutional Risk Analytics.
“The numbers basically confirm that Treasury is going to have to take some TARP money and reimburse the Fed,” said Whalen, whose financial-services research company analyzes banks for investors. “It is essentially up to the Treasury to get the Fed out of this.”
The central bank lent $2 trillion to financial institutions and hasn’t disclosed information about most of the collateral backing those loans.
Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams declined to comment.
Pressure to Disclose
The Fed report follows requests from lawmakers to identify the collateral and a lawsuit by Bloomberg News. Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke pledged to expand disclosure, assigning Vice Chairman Donald Kohn to lead the effort.
The central bank has refused to name the borrowers, the amounts of loans or the assets banks put up as collateral under most of its programs, arguing that doing so might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders. That would be less of a concern for New York-based AIG, now 80 percent owned by the federal government, and Bear Stearns, taken over by New York- based JPMorgan Chase & Co. a year ago.
Bloomberg, the New York-based company majority-owned by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued Nov. 7 under the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of its Bloomberg News unit. The public is an “involuntary investor” in the nation’s banks, according to an April 15 court filing by Bloomberg.
In the report, the Fed detailed its assets in three limited liability corporations, all called Maiden Lane, after a street in Lower Manhattan that runs past the New York Fed.
The $9.6 billion in losses are unrealized because they represent the difference between the fair value of the security under accounting rules and the amount outstanding. The losses become real if the principal isn’t returned.
Maiden Lane I is a $25.7 billion portfolio of Bear Stearns securities related to commercial and residential mortgages. JPMorgan refused to buy them when it acquired Bear Stearns to avert the firm’s bankruptcy.
The Fed’s losses included writing down the value of commercial-mortgage holdings by 28 percent to $5.6 billion and residential loans by 38 percent to $937 million as of Dec. 31, the central bank said. Properties in California and Florida accounted for 45 percent of outstanding principal of the residential mortgages.
Maiden Lane II contains almost $11 billion of outstanding subprime mortgage-backed securities from the AIG transaction that the Fed said lost $180 million so far. The fund also contains $6.2 billion of Alt/A adjustable-rate mortgage-backed securities that the report said has $936 million of unrealized losses. The Fed values $11.4 billion of assets in Maiden Lane II with mathematical modeling, the same methods used by banks and AIG itself.
About 19 percent of the mortgage-backed securities are rated speculative grade, or BB+ at Standard & Poor’s, according to the Fed. About 40 percent are given the top rating of AAA.
Maiden Lane III has lost $2.6 billion after being created Oct. 31 to buy collateralized debt obligations from AIG counterparties, according to the Fed. CDOs in this unit include three parts of a high-grade asset-backed security known as TRIAX 2006-2A, totaling about $3.2 billion. Maiden Lane III also has two parts of a commercial mortgage-backed CDO called MAX 2007-1 A-1 with a face value totaling $7.5 billion. The fair value of those two is less than half that much, or $3.3 billion, according to the central bank.
A third of the amount outstanding in the Maiden Lane III CDOs are speculative grade, or deemed by ratings companies as having a greater chance of default. Another 27 percent are rated AA+ to AA-, the second-highest tier of S&P’s scale, the Fed said in its report. All but $155 million of the $26.8 billion in CDOs are classified as Level 3 assets, or those valued with mathematical models instead of market prices.
The case is Bloomberg LP v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 08-CV-9595, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).