Is Citigroup going under? Is Sheila Bair's erratic behaviour really her trying to save Citi?
Readers will know that I think pretty lowly of the head of the FDIC. Maybe I am wrong.
I have been puzzling this weekend – trying to work out what is going on using the assumption that all is part of a grand and competently executed strategy.
And the result was unsettling. The best hypothesis I came to is that Citigroup is going down and that Sheila Bair is trying to save it.
Sheila Bair – as readers will remember – forced Wachovia to sell itself in three days whilst other parties had not had anything like enough time to complete due diligence. She – unilaterally and incorrectly – told the world that this deal could not be done without government assistance. She unilaterally decided to issue a guarantee that on a pool of $312 billion of Wachovia assets Citigroup could not lose more than $42 billion. She made that decision even though Wells Fargo was telling her that all they required was more time to do due diligence.
Given that Wells Fargo was willing to acquire Wachovia at no-cost to taxpayers that looks like a very bad decision indeed. But this is the post assuming that Sheila Bair is smarter than all of us.
And so we need to understand the significance of that guarantee. The significance is as follows: Once Citi owns $312 billion in assets on which they can only lose $42 billion the remaining pool must be worth $270 billion. That $270 billion is guaranteed by the US Government – as the FDIC is a full faith and credit organisation. Citigroup can put that $270 billion (plus the $42 billion in non-guaranteed assets) in a pool and repo it – and as Treasuries yield very little they will wind up paying well under a percent of interest. The Sheila Bair decision was equivalent to a cash in
jection into Citigroup of 270 billion because the repo-market will turn government guaranteed loans into cash.
That cash in
jection is almost 40 percent of the size of the whole bailout package and it was given to Citigroup by Sheila Bair without congressional oversight. We got all stroppy at giving Paulson that sort of unilateral powers – but – hey – we are prepared to forget that Sheila Bair already has them.
Anyway – Citigroup buying Wachovia reliquefies Citigroup. Big time. Citigroup almost certainly knows this. Sheila Bair – if she is smart – knows this. That is why it is so important for Citigroup to complete the deal.
Now Wells Fargo have come to destroy the party. They are prepared to buy Wachovia without any government guarantee. The FDIC should be cheering as this removes all cost to the taxpayer – but Sheila Bair stands behind the decision to sell Wachovia to Citigroup.
Citigroup isn't looking to sue Wachovia for a break-up fee. They are looking to enforce specific performance on Wachovia. They are not interested in a $20 billion break-up fee – that does not save them. That is
just too small. They are interested – critically interested – in the net $270 billion in guaranteed assets because that is the equivalent of $270 billion in cash – enough to save Citigroup from destruction.
Specific performance is very hard to enforce as numerous blogs have pointed out – here and here for example. But in this case it is necessary.
Sheila Bair is smarter than I thought and she knows it too. So I withdraw my demand that Sheila Bair resign – on the basis that it is probable that Sheila Bair knows more than me and she deemed it necessary to in
ject $270 billion in cash into Citigroup to stop their imminent failure.
Of course if this thesis is wrong Sheila should
just save me the trouble of issuing a correction and resign forthwith.
Friday, November 14, 2008
In the middle of the Citigroup/Wachovia thing I wrote a post which I circulated amongst friends but do not remember posting. It was a little hot.
As speculation that Citigroup is insolvent is now widespread (see Felix for a recent example), I thought I might just post it. Sorry dear readers to not give it you when it was more relevant:
Posted by John Hempton at 6:07 PM
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