Lending Falls, Bad Loans Haunt Big Banks, Mass Layoffs Surge, Greece vs California

The equity markets dropped on average 1.5% Monday and this morning another 1.5% decline is underway.  I mentioned, in A Review of the RCM Investment Strategy, the defensive posture we at RCM have taken. I said, “We have deployed our assets in a manner we feel most appropriate for the environment we are experiencing.”

The following news items should help illustrate what was meant when I wrote, “…the environment we are experiencing.”….

Lending falls at epic pace – WSJ

WSJ reports U.S. banks posted last year their sharpest decline in lending since 1942, suggesting that the industry’s continued slide is making it harder for the economy to recover. While top-tier banks are recovering at a faster clip, the rest of the industry is still suffering, according to a quarterly report from the FDIC. Banks fighting for survival, especially those plagued by losses on commercial real estate, are less willing to extend loans, siphoning credit from businesses and consumers. Besides registering their biggest full-year decline in total loans outstanding in 67 years, U.S. banks set a number of grim milestones. According to the FDIC, the number of U.S. banks at risk of failing hit a 16-year high at 702. More than 5% of all loans were at least three months past due, the highest level recorded in the 26 years the data have been collected. And the problems are expected to last through 2010. FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said banks are “bumping along the bottom of the credit cycle” and that the number of bank failures in 2010 will likely eclipse the 140 recorded last year.

If “Banks fighting for survival, especially those plagued by losses on commercial real estate, are less willing to extend loans” then what do you think will happen when the following development gains steam?….

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Just when they thought the worst of the mortgage crisis was behind them, billions of dollars in bad loans from the debacle may be rising from the dead and creeping back on the balance sheets of the largest U.S. banks.

Big lenders including Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo may be forced to repurchase troubled home loans from insurers and mortgage-finance giants like Freddie Mac that had agreed to take on risks associated with those assets during the real estate boom.

The banks are setting aside more reserves to cover the potential costs of such repurchases, cutting into earnings….

Read More…

Of course, we can spend all day debating the reasons for banks’ lack of desire to lend, but the real crux of the issue remains the employment picture. The American people, due in large part to the horrible jobs market, are reigning in spending hence needing less credit….

Mass Layoffs Surge In January, Highest Since July 2009

The BLS has reported Mass Layoff Statistics for January 2010 – the result is plain ugly, and kills any hope for sustained improvement in unemployment data. Not seasonally adjusted Mass Layoff Events (defined as at least 50 persons being laid off from a single employer) surged in January to 2,860, from 2,310 in January, from a 12 month low of 1,371 in September 2009. This is the biggest monthly surge since July when the Mass Layoff Events hit a 12 month high of 3,054. In terms of actual workers, January saw 278,679 initially laid off people. The deterioration was mirrored in the much less credible seasonally adjusted data. Obviously companies were waiting for the end of the year to dump as many people as they could.

ECONX Initial Claims Report Suggests a Much Weaker Labor Sector

The initial claims data weakened for the week ending Feb. 20 as the claims figure increased from 474,000 to 496,000. The consensus expected claims to decline to 460,000. Many analysts, including us, believed that inclement weather conditions across the U.S. would prevent many workers from filing new claims. If this scenario is true, then the actual initial claims figure would be much closer to 550,000… Continuing claims rose a modest 6,000 to 4.617 mln for the week ending Feb. 13. The figure for the week ending Feb. 6 was revised up from 4.570 mln, and the consensus expected claims to remain at that previous level… The job creation data looks to be minimal. The unadjusted claims data from Feb. 6 was down by 85,842 claims while the emergency benefits figure declined 317,933 claims. The decline in original claims is mostly due to workers running out of benefits and it seems the weather made it difficult to process extended benefit applications.

Meanwhile, the health of the credit markets remains the number one issue facing the equity markets today.  You may recall my Feb. 18th post Credit Markets Warning Signal, Foreign Demand for US Treasury Falls in which I outlined the very real possibility that European credit constriction was migrating across the pond. Well, the following stories add credibility to that concern…

Greek Treasuries Pancake As Bond Vigilantes Chant Death Chorus

Ah, curve pancaking – better known in bond parlance as the death rattle. The Greek 4 Year GGB just traded wider of the 15 Year at a spread of -4bps (yup, negative). This, to continue the parlance lesson, means the bond vigilantes are now pretty sure how the Greek situation will play out. Oh, and Greece, all the best with that €5 billion10 year bond issuance. The 1 Year spot his exploded from just over 200 bps on January 1, to just under 5%, a rout for all short-term GGB holders. We are anxiously awaiting RBS’ rebuttal.


California postpones bond sale – WSJ

California One Step Closer To Insolvency After State Cancels $2 Billion General Obligation Bond Sale

Five days ago a great white hope appeared for the great bankrupt Golden State (Baa1/A-), in the form of $2 billion in GO bonds, which were supposed to be promptly syndicated via underwriters JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley. This would have been the first bond sale for California since November: a critical milestone as the state creeps ever closer to a full-on default. Unfortunately, the creeping just turned into a casual jog after Jane Wells (@janewells) just tweeted that California has cancelled its bond sale “after legislature fails to approve cash management flexibility bill [the] Treasurer said he needed to attract investors.”And seriously, did California think it would succeed where so many other high yield issuers have recently failed?

Read More…

I will rest my case today with a request to review my post titled ‘Looming Defaults and the Effect on Currencies, US$ vs. Euro’.  In this post I describe the competitive devaluation process unfolding and the similarities between Greece and California.

About Bret Rosenthal

Interpreting the news that moves markets. Principal of RCM, LLC, and founding partner of the Fortune's Favor Family of Funds
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