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Sunday, February 01, 2009

NY Times Example of a Toxic Asset

by Calculated Risk on 2/01/2009 10:32:00 PM

“To date, the banks have stuck their heads in the sand and demanded that they be paid the price of good apples for bad apples.”
Lynn E. Turner, a former SEC chief accountant
Vikas Bajaj and Stephen Labaton provide us with an example of the different values for a toxic assets in the NY Times: Risks Are Vast in Revaluing Tainted Assets
The wild variations on the value of many bad bank assets can be seen by looking at one mortgage-backed bond recently analyzed by a division of Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency.

The financial institution that owns the bond calculates the value at 97 cents on the dollar, or a mere 3 percent loss. But S.& P. estimates it is worth 87 cents, based on the current loan-default rate, and could be worth 53 cents under a bleaker situation that contemplates a doubling of defaults. But even that might be optimistic, because the bond traded recently for just 38 cents on the dollar, reflecting the even gloomier outlook of investors.
The bond is backed by 9,000 second mortgages used by borrowers who put down little or no money to buy homes. Nearly a quarter of the loans are delinquent, and losses on defaulted mortgages are averaging 40 percent. The security once had a top rating, triple-A.
To be worth even 38 cents on the dollar, this must be a senior tranche. The lower tranches have absorbed most of the losses so far, and that is why S&P is currently valuing the bond at 87 cents on the dollar, but any higher default assumptions, and the value of this bond will plummet. I'm amazed, given that these are no money down 2nds that the loss severity is only 40 percent.

But this illustrates the problem. If the bank marks the bond to market (38 cents), they will have to take huge losses. But if the government even pays the current S&P estimated value, the bank will have to write the bond down further, and the taxpayers will probably take huge losses too. Unless a bank has been very aggressive with their write downs, buying the toxic assets doesn't help - or is a gift from taxpayers to shareholders.

The article is excellent and covers several other related topics.