Monday, March 22, 2021

How big is the Greensill problem at Credit Suisse?

The franchise of Swiss Banks has historically been access to large numbers of seriously high net worth individuals and stuffing them full of "product".

The "product" is both third party and internal, but the internal stuff is where the profits are, but also where the conflicts of interest are.

And it is where the scandals are too. 

But it is a model that Credit Suisse has embraced. Famously Credit Suisse embraced the "One Bank" model on the basis that the private banking clients benefit from expertise over the whole bank. And at its best that is true.

And Credit Suisse have truly embraced it. 

When CS won Risk Magazine's Private Bank of the Year award in Asia last year they highlighted it. To quote:

In bringing value to local markets, Credit Suisse has another advantage, too: its ‘One Bank’ approach, in which the investment banking desk and the wealth management desk collaborate to a far greater extent than many other organisations. 

“Our success is defined by the degree of our collaboration,” says Cavalli. “And if you are a client, you feel this because you have the entire orchestration of the capability of the bank coming around you. This helps us to be early in identifying a client’s needs – when they are just starting their journey as an entrepreneur, and need structures for monetising illiquid assets – to when they are more established, and start having cash and liquid assets to manage.”

Embracing the synergies between the various divisions is what Credit Suisse is all about.

Until now.

Until Greensill.

To quote a Bloomberg article that had me falling off my chair:

Credit Suisse CEO Thomas Gottstein signaled he’d consider further separating the asset-management unit from the rest of the bank after the Greensill Capital collapse, as he steps up efforts to limit the reputational damage from the supply-chain finance scandal.

Making asset management an independent entity is “potentially part of the plan,” Gottstein said in a Bloomberg Television interview, days after the bank replaced the head of the business and removed it from direct oversight of the wealth management unit. “Having a holding company around that could be something we are pursuing,” he said, adding that the Greensill affair for Credit Suisse is primarily an asset-management problem.

Get this: over Greensill, a seemingly irrelevant trade finance firm, Thomas Gottstein will dismantle the classic model of Swiss Private Banking at Credit Suisse.

Like really.

If this were a billion dollar issue it is obvious what Credit Suisse would do. It would sign the check and move on. And blame previous management.

For this to the rational course of action (or even an action that warrants considering) the Greensill problem must be big. Really big. Like huge.

So let's have a proper disclosure. And start provisioning - because at this point Credit Suisse are talking down the issue (telling us Greensill is but a scratch) but simultaneously deciding to destroy their own business model to excise the cancer.

Like wow.


PS. Credit Suisse One Bank strategy is real. There are two problems with One Bank done with the consistency of Credit Suisse and they both apply to Greensill.

a). Every division assumes that the appropriate due diligence on Greensill (or any other client) was done elsewhere, with the effect that proper diligence never happens and

b). Every division of the "One Bank" will be implicated.

Thomas Gottstein, "One Bank" means you own this problem. Now it is time to be straight with us and your clients.


Friday, March 12, 2021

Greensill - who is holding the bag - part two

 Insurance Australia Group reacted to my last  post by stating that they carried no net risk. It was all reinsured to Tokio Marine (the big Japanese insurer).

Here is their statement in full:

In response to market enquiries relating to Greensill exposure, IAG clarifies it has no net insurance exposure to trade credit policies including those sold through BCC to Greensill entities.  

IAG sold its 50% interest in BCC on 9 April 2019 to Tokio Marine Management (Australasia) Pty Ltd with the result of eliminating net exposure to trade credit insurance.

BCC is an underwriting agency that was authorised to underwrite trade credit insurance on IAG’s behalf through Insurance Australia Limited (IAL), one of IAG’s two licensed insurance subsidiaries in Australia. 

As part of a transition arrangement after the April sale of BCC, new policies were underwritten by IAL from the date of sale up to 30 June 2019 and Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. Ltd  (Tokio Marine) retained the risk for these polices, net of reinsurance.

In addition to extensive reinsurance placed by IAG, as part of the sale IAG entered into agreements with Tokio Marine for it to hold any remaining exposure to trade credit insurance written by BCC through IAL.

IAG thus say they have no "net exposure".

The summary of this press release is that Insurance Australia Group were once taking risks (on Greensill) that could kill them but they do not take them any more and any risk they have they have passed off to Tokio.

Teenagers (especially teenage boys) take risks that could kill them. Then usually they stop and they are okay. Sounds familiar. 

The IAG as stupid teenage boy now grown up meme is one that I could get behind. 

And I can't reasonably complain about it either. I was once a teenage boy and am familiar with the process of growing up.

The only problem with this statement is that Tokio Marine say they are not liable. There is an article in the Financial Times where Tokio do not think that these policies will impact them in any meaningful way.

The money quote though is this:

People with direct knowledge of Tokio Marine’s situation said the Greensill issue was dominating the attention of top management. They added that there was a working assumption that many of the questions being asked would ultimately be answered by expected litigation proceedings in Japan, Australia and possibly Germany.

Tokio Marine said it remained “ready to protect its interests in court as required”.

The highlighted section could be very nasty for Insurance Australia Group.

You could see a situation where the primary insurance is determined to be valid and Insurance Australia Group get a ten figure judgement against them. (After all the amount insured is many billions of dollars and the more we find out about Greensill the uglier it looks.)

Insurance Australia has to front the money, and they have a claim against Tokio. It may even be a valid claim, but Tokio may protect their "interests in court as required". That could be very ugly for Insurance Australia as they would be ten figures out of pocket until they win their claim against Tokio.

I am not sure how that would affect their regulatory capital situation. 

Whatever - methinks it is likely that IAG will (eventually) get out of much (probably all) of their BCC liability. I see little reason to doubt their statement that they have no net exposure - although they clearly have large, thinly disclosed gross exposure and some legal risk.

Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse according to the FT is still working on the assumption that the funds are insured. To quote:

A person briefed on Credit Suisse’s stance said the bank was “working under the hypothesis” that the insurance policies would pay out in the event of a default, as they had done in the case of NMC Health, the former FTSE company that collapsed last year. But they added: “This is one of the big questions outstanding.”

We are about a week into the speculation here, and as far as I can tell we still do not know who is holding the bag.

But my working hypothesis is that IAG will face large lawsuits with uncertain outcomes and where disasters are possible. The defining disaster being they are held liable on primary policies but the reinsurance policies somehow fail. The scale of legal risks however are large enough to threaten IAGs solvency.

But at the end of the day IAG will probably skate through, and meanwhile Credit Suisse will have to operate where they do not know whether the funds are insured or not - and will wind up having to take large provisions anyhow. 

So far the stock market thinks that this isn't quite as bad as it appears to me. But that is the difference between a bull market and a bear market. In a bull market nobody is carrying the risk and nobody gets marked down. In a bear market everyone is carrying the risk and everyone is marked down.


Monday, March 8, 2021

Greensill - who is holding the bag?

There has been much fabulous reporting in the lead-up to the collapse of Greensill, the eponymously named Australian domiciled but London headquartered supply chain financier. But if you want guidance start with anything by Duncan Mavin (from the Wall Street Journal) or Robert Smith sometimes with Olaf Storbeck (at the Financial Times).

The excellent work of these journalists is now on the front page above the fold. It is not everyday a globally significant financial institution fails, and it is rarer still that this collapse happens within a couple of percent of all time highs in markets.

There has been remarkably little coverage of where the losses (which will be enormous) will sit.

I do not know either. But I am a short-seller at heart and trying to work this out seems like a core task for me. 

I will start my speculations at home in Australia.

In late November 2020 I wrote a letter to the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) about the credit risk that Insurance Australia Group was taking on Greensill. Here is that letter (which given outcomes looks rather on point). 

This letter is slightly modified, correcting punctuation and having some redactions.

Greensill and Insurance Australia  Group 

First - you need to know what Greensill and Lex Greensill are.

Lex is a controversial and aggressive factoring/supply chain/trade finance financier. Possibly the most controversial one in the world.

He is an Australian - bought up on a farm near Bundaberg in Queensland - and the parent company is Australian domiciled and still has a Bundaberg address.

The enterprise however is vast - and - by far - the biggest company headquartered in Bundaberg. 

The official version piles on the humble origins.

The unofficial versions focus a little on the indulgences, the family jets etc. Though apparently (and according to one of the articles attached) he is selling the fleet of private jets (four of them) as he takes money from Softbank.


Greensill is controversial. They financed the fraudulent NMC Health. 

More publicly they were involved in the collapse of the GAM funds that was widely publicised.

In that case the fund manager Tim Hayward overloaded his fund with Greensill paper at valuations some considered questionable.

Since Hayward's fund collapsed there have needed to be new large-scale sources of finance.

The biggest of these is that Greensill bought control of a tiny (and failing) German bank, recapitalised it, took a huge pile of brokered deposits (by paying about 100-120bps over) and either bought Greensill receivables or pledged bank assets to get letter of credit capacity to support Greensill activities.

The annual report for the bank (alas in German) is attached. The bank assets are largely "insured" but we cannot tell who they are insured by.

What we can see is the Credit Suisse fund that has deep Greensill relations (and is also the subject of this excellent article in the WSJ -

I have attached a letter from the Credit Suisse Supply Chain Finance Fund. A good way to start would be to get EVERY letter and prospectus from this fund and any other Credit Suisse fund with a decent Greensill exposure.

The fund is USD5667 in size - as per this cut-and-paste.

Other than 10 percent US Treasury holding it is diversified as to the countries that the assets are from and the industries that they are in.

But it is not diversified as to the the source of these assets (Greensill, Greensill and Greensill as far as I can tell) or the source of the insurance on these assets.


It is 56.1 percent Insurance Australia Ltd as per the following.

Now that is USD3.18 billion in exposure - just through one fund. That is AUD4.4 billion.

That is just the Insurance Australia exposure I can find.

I am assured the bank assets are also largely insured - but I cannot find who the insurer is.

So you would think that this is a disclosable large exposure to a single controversial financier. But the only statement in the IAG annual report is as follows:

That is it. They say it is in run-off. They feel no need to disclose a multi-billion dollar exposure to a questionable credit/s.

The only problem is that no insurer (other than Tokio Marine) seems to insure for them any more and the amount insured is rising fast.

I think the insurance is written at a broker in Sydney:

This entity used to be owned by IAG and Tokio Marine - but IAG sold their bit to Tokio Marine. However the insured amounts keep going up (at least the bits I can find) even though IAG say the thing is in run-off.


I have some hypotheses. Either

a) An amount - at least 4.4 billion - but possibly much higher - is insured by IAG. Given the size (say 50 plus billion) and controversy of Greensill this is potentially a solvency risk for IAG.

b). Greensill is faking IAG insurance policies - and the amounts are not insured by IAG but Greensill says they are. In which case the German Bank (taking all those insured bonds) is facing solvency risk - and you should be talking to your German counterpart.

c). The Credit Suisse documents are fake. I think this unlikely but cannot dismiss it.

Either way it is one of the uglier situations I have seen lately.


APRA (and to the extent I talked to them the Australian Securities Commission) dealt with me professionally. I was originally not short any company mentioned, but I did not want to restrict my ability to trade. They asked me a few precise questions but gave me no indication as to whether they took these issues seriously or what they were thinking. I wanted no insight to their thoughts and they gave me none.

But Sarah Danckert in the Age has reported (quoting multiple sources) that APRA has been interested in the situation since November. So I  guess my letter had the desired effect although for all I know APRA may have already had the situation in-hand.

Anyway it is clear that IAG had a large and thinly disclosed Greensill risk.

The collapse of Greensill and the role of the insurers

Tom Braithwaite in the Financial Times (and others) have reported that the proximate cause of the collapse of Greensill was that these insurance policies were not renewed. This led to a chain of events whereby Credit Suisse funds stopped accepting Greensill assurances and BaFin (the German regulator) took over Greensill Bank.

The best bits of information however come from an Australian court case.

Late at night and in emergency sitting the Supreme Court of NSW (a first-instance court despite its title) heard an urgent after-hours application for an interlocutory mandatory injunction compelling insurer to issue a trade credit insurance policy. 

This was always a long shot. The policy terms require 180 days notice to terminate or the insurer might be forced to renew. 

The argument Greensill made to the court was that maybe 179 or 178 days of notice was given, not 180 days and that Insurance Australia Group should be forced to renew USD4.6 billion in credit insurance for which it had no reinsurance coverage.

Understandably at a last-ditch 7PM hearing a single judge wasn't prepared to bankrupt a major Australian insurer by forcing renewal.

You can find the judgement here.

Greensill duly collapsed as they told the Judge that it would.

That said, the question of whether Greensill can force renewal of those policies is still open and is still going to court. All the judge decided was that at short notice and on only an "arguable" case he wasn't going to issue a mandatory injunction. 

So there will be a court case to come. And the court case will reveal new details and make important decisions.

The alleged rogue underwriter and what is at stake?

Jenny Wiggins and Hans van Leeuwen in the Australian Financial Review tell a story about a fired underwriter who had exceeded his authority by binding insurers  to contracts insuring Greensill to the tune of about $10 billon. (From the context I read this as 10 billion US dollars rather than Australian dollars). The core quote is:

BCC director Toby Guy wrote to Greensill chief executive Lex Greensill and Greensill Bank director Markus Nunnerich on August 4, telling them that Mr Brereton had exceeded his authority in approving customer limits to Greensill between July 2019 and July 2020 when he signed numerous comprehensive trade credit insurance policies worth about $10 billion. He was dismissed on July 8, 2020.Many insurance policies have terms that require insurance companies to renew and there is complex law around this. I am neither a la

There are several things to observe here.

First BCC is that Sydney based insurance broker I mentioned in the letter to ASIC. It bound insurance policies for both Insurance Australia Group and Tokio Marine. 

Second the 10 billion dollars in policies are substantially larger than the policies disclosed in any  Credit Suisse documents - so I am guessing that they include the policies that purported to protect the assets of Greensill's German  Bank.

Third, and most importantly, the policies were written until July 2020. This is important because most insurance policies cover 12 months, and many credit insurance policies are longer. If BCC was writing  policies until July 2020 some of them are likely still in force.

If that is the case Insurance Australia Group and Tokio Marine are staring down the barrel of some very large losses.

Insurance Australia Group is a minnow. Large losses on this scale could reasonably bankrupt it. Tokio Marine is a relative giant and large losses will hurt but not mortally wound it.

Fortunately for Insurance Australia Group they sold their interest in BCC some time ago to Tokio Marine so their exposure may not be large.

That said  - if they are eventually forced to renew exposures on old policies (as per the argument Greensill put at the late night court case) then IAG may incur some very large losses, especially as they appear not to have renewed their reinsurance (as disclosed in NSW Supreme Court).

You may think I am drawing a long bow here, but Insurance Australia Group recently lost a major case on pandemic caused business interruption insurance and were forced to raise AUD865 million in extra capital to remedy their "mistake". The mistake  was contract wording.

That said it will be up to the courts (and most certainly not me) to work out the extent to which Tokio Marine and AIG are left holding the Greensill bag.

A plea for disclosure

Insurance Australia Group disclosure on Greensill has been appalling. There are exposures potentially large enough to bankrupt them that were undisclosed. Robert Smith, Michael Pooler and Olaf Storbeck in  the Financial Times describe the problem as a "rogue underwriter".  To quote:

One insurer has already laid the blame for the scale of cover it extended to the company at the feet of a rogue underwriter.

“This is similar to what blew up AIG in 2008,” says one person close to the brewing disputes, in reference to the complexity of the contracts involved.

A rogue trader can kill a bank as per Barings, but the situation with insurance is even more stark. Rogue underwriters crashed AIG - previously the largest market cap insurer in the world.

Given the scale of the issue and the fact that key details have been partially disclosed in court I think it is time for a more public airing than this blog post.

I do not know the disclosure rules in Japan (applying to Tokio Marine) but the continuous disclosure rules that apply to ASX rules seem to impose some duties on Insurance Australia Group and potentially its directors.

What if the liabilities for Greensill losses do not fall on insurers?

It is possible that insurers will duck much of the liability to make good Greensill losses. If policies were written as late as July 2020 (as per the above quoted financial review article) it is unlikely insurers will avoid all liability, but depending on what policy was written when, and depending on the wording of those policies they may duck most liability.

So then someone else may be left holding the bag.

I think there is a good chance that someone will be Credit Suisse Financial Group.

Here is the final letter to clients of one of the credit funds

Here is the core client pitch:

The fund seeks to generate stable and uncorrelated returns by investing in notes with a maturity of typically less than one year which are backed by buyer confirmed trade receivables/ buyer payment undertakings, supplier payment undertakings and account receivables (”Receivables”). The underlying credit risk of the notes is insured by highly rated insurance companies. The Fund aims for a target return of 1.50% p.a. above the 3-month USD LIBOR and a short term maturity profile.

The highlighted section is  a doozy. It says that the underlying credit risk of the notes is insured by highly rated insurance companies.

Well it either is or it isn't.

If it is insured Insurance Australia and Tokio are in a world of pain.

If it is not insured then one might expect extensive litigation and potentially large losses at Credit Suisse. 

GAM, who previously had a fund exposed to Greensill and has barely recovered.  Here is a ten year stock chart. The decline from 15 Swiss Franc to under 5 Swiss Franc per share is Greensill related.

So who is holding the bag?

Well, genuinely I do not know. It could be Insurance Australia Group or Tokio Marine. It could be German taxpayers (through the subsidiary bank) and Credit Suisse.

I figure I know the winners though. Lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers.

And maybe a short seller or two if we pick the shorts right. You can presume I have some position in  most of the companies mentioned.


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The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Hempton. You should assume Mr. Hempton and his affiliates have positions in the securities discussed in this blog, and such beneficial ownership can create a conflict of interest regarding the objectivity of this blog. Statements in the blog are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to certain risks, uncertainties and other factors. Certain information in this blog concerning economic trends and performance is based on or derived from information provided by third-party sources. Mr. Hempton does not guarantee the accuracy of such information and has not independently verified the accuracy or completeness of such information or the assumptions on which such information is based. Such information may change after it is posted and Mr. Hempton is not obligated to, and may not, update it. The commentary in this blog in no way constitutes a solicitation of business, an offer of a security or a solicitation to purchase a security, or investment advice. In fact, it should not be relied upon in making investment decisions, ever. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author. In particular this blog is not directed for investment purposes at US Persons.