Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Economics 21/12/10: BofI & Irish derivatives warning from the IMF

How wonderful is the world of international banks linkages? And especially, how wonderful it can get when regulators are so soundly asleep at the wheel, a firecracker from the IMF can be shoved in their faces and popped, and the snoring still went on.

A 2007 working paper from the IMF, republished earlier this year in an IMF journal, has warned Irish regulators that (referring to the data through 2005):

“BofI had launched a new venture with a leading Spanish bank, La Caixa to provide extra mortgage options for Irish people buying property in Spain, which included equity release from existing BofI mortgages” (
IMF WP/07/44: External Linkages and Contagion Risk in Irish Banks, by Elena Duggar and Srobona Mitra).

Now, think of those La Caixa/BofI borrowers leveraging levels.
But here’s the bit that relates directly to securitisation threats I hypothesize about in the previous post (here): on page 8 of the report, IMF folks state: “Irish banks could be indirectly exposed to property markets by selling risk protection (buying of covered bonds, credit default swaps, and mortgage backed securities) to other banks which are exposed to foreign property markets. From anecdotal evidence, some small IFSC banks, exposed to international property markets, are selling CDS to other domestic-oriented banks, making the latter indirectly exposed to these property markets even though their loan books are not.”

Of course, the Irish banks were also selling protection to the SPVs they were managing as well. And now, lets jump to IMF’s conclusions:

Some tentative policy lessons could be drawn from the results of this exercise. The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (CBFSAI) may want to stress test specific categories of exposures of Irish banks to both the U.S. and the U.K. Even though linkages with the U.S. do not come out strongly from aggregate consolidated balance sheet exposures, there might be derivatives or other off-balance sheet exposures that the bank supervisors may need to be vigilant of. The Irish authorities may need to collect more information about types and counterparties of derivative positions and risk transfers through structured products of Irish banks, as the use of these is likely to grow rapidly in the future. This would especially be necessary if Irish banks are buying CRT products from foreign banks (that is selling risk protection) that are in turn exposed to property markets or other loan products in the U.S. or the U.K., thus exposing the Irish banks to these markets even though there is no direct loan exposure.”

Sounds like a warning against Irish banks exposures to lending against the US-based property? Oh, no – not at all. In fact recall a basic stylized fact of mortgages finance – in the long run (equilibrium) long term yields on Government debt and long term mortgage rates converge. Which means that if an Irish bank was underwriting an interest rate swap for the US SPV that purchased Irish bank’s securitised loans, then Irish bank was taking a position in providing insurance into the US interest rates environment.

The article – based on 2005 data – couldn’t have imagined what followed in 2007 and 2008.
But, needless to say - judging by their staunch silence on the issue of derivatives and securitisation - our regulators didn't bother with the IMF warnings back then... and still are not bothered by them...

Update: It is worth noting that today the EU Commission approved measures for AIB, Anglo and INBS (details here) that include "a guarantee covering certain off-balance sheet transactions" - a code name for things like securitisations and derivatives...

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