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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bank Failures and Trust-preferred securities

by Calculated Risk on 7/07/2009 08:46:00 AM

From the WSJ: Hybrid Securities Doomed Six Banks (ht Brian)

The six family-controlled Illinois banks that collapsed on Thursday were doomed by massive holdings of trust preferred securities, Wall Street instruments that came into vogue during the industry's boom but are now battering a growing number of small banks.

... Wall Street brokerage firms bought the securities from individual banks and packaged them into collateralized-debt obligations. The firms then sold slices of the CDOs to investors, marketing them as lucrative but low risk. Many of the buyers were small and regional banks.
These trust-preferred securities (TPS) were attractive investments for small banks because they have characteristics of both debt and equity. If the securities were issued by a bank holding company (BHC) - with certain characteristics - they were treated as a tier 1 capital by regulators.

One of the big disadvantages for investors (usually small banks) was that the securities were subordinated to all of the issuing BHC's other debt, and the issuer could opt to stop paying dividends on the securities for several years. As the WSJ notes:
When the credit crisis hit, the values of the securities and pools into which they were packaged rapidly lost value, partly because some banks stopped paying dividends on the securities. Under accounting rules, the banks were required to write down the securities to market value. That forced the banks to absorb big losses, winnowing their capital cushions.
From the Philly Fed: Emerging Issues Regarding Trust Preferred Securities
As of December 31, 2008, almost 1,400 bank holding companies had approximately $148.8 billion in outstanding TPS, compared to 110 BHCs with $31.0 billion outstanding in 1999.
TPS have proven to be an effective way to bolster a BHC's capital position when financial performance is strong. If a BHC or its subsidiary bank's financial condition (particularly, its capital levels) deteriorates, however, the limitations on including TPS for regulatory capital purposes and the restrictive covenants in the debentures could further exacerbate the institution's financial problems and raise supervisory concerns.
Adverse economic and market conditions have resulted in rating downgrades of TPS and significant valuation declines for these securities. For instance, on February 10, 2009, Standard and Poor's Ratings Services lowered its ratings on 35 tranches from 14 U.S. trust preferred CDOs. These downgrades reflect fears that institutions issuing TPS may be more likely to defer interest payments as the current economic crisis continues.
Given the interrelated ownership of a financial institution's TPS by another banking organization, the underlying stability and strength of the issuing bank must be considered when assessing the risk associated with holding a security which is currently in the deferral phase of dividend payment. Given the extensive issuance of TPS over the past 10 years and the present danger for bank failures, the potential exists for many of these securities to default permanently.
emphasis added