Counterparties: Deutsche’s hope and “uncomfortable change”

January 31, 2013

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Today, Europe’s biggest bank posted a $3 billion net loss, but it insists it’s embarking on “deliberate”, “uncomfortable change”. Deutsche Bank’s revenue up was up 14%, and the bank’s losses came from a €1.9 billion writedown on assets and €1 billion put aside for litigation (read: likely Libor scandal-related) costs.

But analysts, including KBW’s Andrew Stimpson, agreed that “the big thing is the capital” that the bank is amassing to comply with future regulations. DB’s Tier 1 capital ratio — the amount of money its regulators require it to hold against losses — jumped to 8%, higher than its target of 7.2%, and the stock market promptly loved it.

The WSJReuters and Bloomberg each suggest much of this capital boost was due to the bank tweaking its internal risk models — changing the way it values assets rather than, say, selling them off. To David Weidner, this kind of dial-fiddling means the bank could be reaching “the limits of financial engineering”. Dominic Elliott argued earlier this month that DB has a long way to go on its capital: “investors want big universal banks with sizable exposure to capital markets to be at around 10 percent as soon as practicable.”  (For the uber-wonky, here are the Basel guidelines for tweaking this sort of formula).

DB has been very busy lately thinking about the future: it’s shrinking and “undergoing the most radical surgery of its global peers”; it’s being asked to simulate its own breakup while possibly facing a version of the Volcker Rule; and its own executives have been actively pushing the industry’s most aggressive messaging campaign. In the bank’s earnings release, co-CEO Anshu Jain said he wants to “place Deutsche Bank at the forefront of cultural change,” a process that will take “years not months”. (Hence, the bank calling this “Strategy 2015+”, which will, likely, mean fewer employees getting paid less).

DB’s main problem, Lex writes, is more mundane: it simply needs to stop paying its employees more than its competitors. On that, Deutsche says it’s making progress. The bank deferred more compensation for senior execs, and it has eliminated multi-year bonus guarantees. Sarah Butcher finds a murkier picture — pay per employee in the investment and corporate banking division is actually up, despite variable compensation (aka bonuses), as a percentage of revenue, falling by 60% since 2006. — Ryan McCarthy

On to today’s links:

Oxpeckers
Inside network TV’s biggest musical/comedy/critically acclaimed train wreck – BuzzFeed

Long Reads
How North Dakota produced one of the world’s biggest oil booms – NYT

Hackers
Chinese hackers “stole the corporate password for every NYT employee” – NYT

New Normal
Government is hurting the economy by spending too little – Ezra Klein

Welcome To Adulthood
The latest subprime boom: student loans – WSJ
FICO: Student loan bubble “simply unsustainable” – Zerohedge

Yep
Just saying that the deficit is a really big number “isn’t much of an economic argument” – Neil Irwin

Politicking
White House petitions aren’t about change – Time

Legalese
Regulatory enforcement is a “positive thing… to a point” – Matt Taibbi

Pivots
Citi decides that Pakistan, Paraguay, Uruguay and Romania aren’t part of its consumer banking plans – Reuters

National Emergencies
America now only producing 30,000 lawyers a year – NYT

Facebook
Facebook’s revenue rises 40% over last year – Facebook

Bubbly
5 years of writing the “Is There A Bond Bubble Coming?” story – Matt Phillips

It’s Academic
Fair wages increase productivity – Chris Dillow

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Comments
4 comments so far

That quote of what Mary Jo White said is taken out of context. As is typical, Taibbi is being a blowhard moron.

Posted by realist50 | Report as abusive

@realist50: what is the proper context? Taibbi is typically a blowhard, but he’s not calling White a baby-raper, just documenting the revolving-door shenanigans of the white collar prosecutors/regulators and the white-collar defense bar they “fight” against.

What is the improper connotation; why is this not a valid insight into White’s mindset?

Posted by SteveHamlin | Report as abusive

Here’s the quote from Mary Jo White on which Taibbi seizes:

“I think and as a former prosecutor, sometimes people refer to me as Attila the Hun. I understand how people can get a reputation sometimes. We were trying to obviously figure out whether this was something beyond, you always have a spectrum on the aggressiveness scale for government types and was this an issue that was beyond real commitment to the job and the mission and bringing cases, which is a positive thing in the government, to a point. Or was it a broader issue that could leave resentment in the business community or in the legal community that would hamper his ability to function well in the private sector?”

I read that quote to show Ms. White being a bit euphemistic in saying “is this guy too much of an egotistical jerk to work well with others and for a client” versus implying any sort of quid pro quo.

On the more general point, an SEC lawyer or prosecutor can certainly be too aggressive in bringing cases. Sometimes an investigation strengthens an initial theory for a case, but sometimes it weakens it. You don’t want attorneys to have tunnel vision and bring weak cases. An SEC civil suit against an individual or a federal prosecution can bankrupt a defendant and pretty much ruin a defendant’s career and life, even when the defendant ultimately prevails. Federal attorneys should grasp the consequences of their power.

For a far better take on Mary Jo White’s conflicts and potential conflicts, I recommend this Dealbook article -
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/n ominee-for-sheriff-has-worn-banks-hat/

On top of her own history, I don’t see how you work through the head of the SEC being married to a Cravath partner.

Posted by realist50 | Report as abusive

About the “simulating it’s breaking up” – the German regulator BaFin published their version of the requirements for the reorganization plan, so this is something all German systemically important banks are working on.

Posted by owe.jessen | Report as abusive
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