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Monday, November 26, 2007

SIV Accounting

by Calculated Risk on 11/26/2007 12:10:00 PM

What does it mean that HSBC is moving their SIVs to their balance sheet?

Let's start with the structure of an SIV (Structured Investment Vehicle). First an SIV has investors - like hedge funds or wealthy individuals - who invest say $1 Billion in the SIV (the equity). Then the SIV issues commercial paper (CP) and medium-term notes (MTN) that pay slightly higher rates than similar duration paper. The typical SIV, according to Fitch, uses 14 times leverage, so in our example the SIV would sell CP and MTN for $14 Billion.

Now the SIV invests this $15 Billion ($1 Billion equity and $14 Billion borrowed) in longer term notes. The idea is simple: borrow short, lend long, hedge the interest rate and credit risks - and the profits flow to the investors in the SIV.

So what does a bank like HSBC have to do with this? Usually the bank sets up the SIV, attracts the investors, manages the SIV for a fee - and there was always the appearance that the SIV CP was backed by the bank - perhaps allowing the CP and MTN to pay lower interest rates.

So what is the problem? Some SIVs invested in asset backed paper, backed by home mortgages. Even though the SIVs almost always invested in the highest tranches (with no losses to date), the market value of these assets has fallen recently (not a news flash). This means that the investors in the SIV (the equity) have taken paper losses on their $1 Billion investment.

UPDATE: Note the following NAVs are for the equity portion. A NAV of 71% means the $1 Billion equity in the example is now worth $710 million.

In fact many of the SIV NAVs have fallen substantially. From Moody's: Moody's says some SIV NAVs have fallen below 50%

Moody's [on Nov 8th] said that the average NAV across the SIV sector has fallen from 101% at the beginning of July to 71% at the beginning of November, and the shut-down of the CP market has led to realised losses in some cases.

However, the rating agency pointed out that there was significant variation between the NAVs of different SIVs, with some declining only to 90% and others falling below 50%.
Once the value of the equity falls enough (usually 50%) there is usually a trigger event forcing the SIV to liquidate the longer term investments. A forced liquidation might not only wipe out all the remaining SIV equity, but the holders of the CP and MTN might take some losses too.

This has made potential investors in CP and MTN (not to be confused with the investors in the equity of the SIV) to refuse to buy any more CP. Since there is a duration mismatch - the investments are in longer term notes, CP is less than 9 months - the SIV is stuck with a liquidity problem when the CP comes due.

To solve this problem, a bank like HSBC could explicity guarantee the CP and MTN, and this would attract investors in CP and MTN again. But under accounting rules, this guarantee means the SIV belongs on the bank's balance sheet. The structure stays the same - the SIV equity investors still take the losses - but there is no liquidation event. If the losses exceed the equity investment ($1 Billion in our example), then the bank would start taking losses.

From the HSBC article this morning:
[HSBC] insists earnings won't be materially impacted, because existing investors will continue to bear all economic risk from actual losses.
Clearly HSBC think these is adequate equity in these SIVs to cushion the bank from any losses.

Finally, to the balance sheet!

The balance sheet lists the assets and liabilities of the company. Moving the SIV to the balance sheet simply means adding the $15 Billion in assets (those longer term notes) to the Asset portion of the balance sheet, and moving the $15 Billion in CP, MTN and SIV equity to Liabilities. The new assets balance with the new liabilities, and there is no income or loss for the bank. Since the equity will take the losses first, any mark down in the $15 Billion in assets will be matched by a mark down in the liabilities - up to $1 Billion.

So what is the problem if there are no losses for the bank? There is an impact on the ratios of the bank - the reason the SIVs were off the balance sheet in the first place - and this limits other lending activities of the bank, contributing to the credit contraction.