DealZone

Uncertainty principles

DEALS/Faced with a $34 billion hole uncovered in the stress test, Bank of America might have little choice but to dump its investment in China Construction Bank, China’s second-largest bank. That would give it about a quarter of the $34 billion of additional capital we are told it needs to fill a yawning gap in its foundation. A lock-up on a portion of the stake ends tomorrow, and the opportunity may be too good for embattled CEO Ken Lewis to pass up, though the bank has plenty of incentive to hold onto the stake.

Citigroup’s Keith Horowitz raised his price target on the bank, citing the end of uncertainty. He also says the total need at the 19 stress-tested banks will be $75 billion, with Bank of America accounting for the lion’s share.

At this point, with hundreds of billions of public dollars having been heaved at the likes of AIG, Citi, Bank of America, automakers, auto suppliers, life insurers, etc. that number is hardly shocking. And with the S&P having recovered 25 percent of its recession-fueled losses, is it time to expect investors to become more aggressively exposed to the end of uncertainty?

Other deals of the Day:

* British insurer Aviva is exploring options to sell its Australian business, which has an estimated value of up to A$1 billion ($740 million), sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

* GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to sell the U.S. rights to the antidepressant Wellbutrin XL to its Canadian partner Biovail Corp for $510 million, the world’s second-biggest drugmaker said.

Universal Banking questioned

CITIGROUP/(From Acquisitions Monthly)

The coming financial services new world order could unleash a wave of mergers and acquisitions as providers look to thrive under a regime of tighter regulation and diminished risk appetite. As such, the IBM Institute for Business Value calls into question some of the ideological shibboleths still held by many senior banking executives.

Whilst banks such as Citigroup, UBS and the UK’s Barclays cling to the notion of universal banking – effectively one stop shops – research by IBM argues that this particular model may not be fit for purpose anymore. The days of soaring profits from what it calls “pockets of opacity” such as over the counter derivatives are over.

“Some of the largest institutions may be required to downsize or dispose of business lines,” says IBM.  It predicts that outperformers will become much more specialist and aligned with their customers’ needs. Many universal banks were found to be more self-serving in outlook. “On average the specialists have seen their revenues grow 30 percent more than the universal banks and enjoy operating margins of 25 percent compared with the 16 percent universal banks command,” says the IBM Institute.

Stress Management

SPAIN/Perhaps the best that can be hoped for from the upcoming week of stress test anxiety is that once it is over, a modicum of uncertainty will be gone as well. Sometime today, we should know how heavy the yardstick used in the tests was. The banks either already know or will soon find out whether they passed, and on May 4, expect all kinds of whooping and hollering outside the Deans’ office when the results are officially posted. Of course, there is a pretty good chance that as the banks find out the test results, the news will find a way out, so May 4 may turn out to be somewhat anti-climactic.

What happens next is still a bit vague. There is much talk about officials force feeding more funds to stressed-out banks. And despite the bad press on shotgun marriages — what with NY AG Andrew Cuomo stomping his feet over alleged pressure applied to Ken Lewis for Bank of America to take over Merrill Lynch — financial matchmakers will certainly look at the failures as prime candidates for synergistic harmonization.

But for the optimist, the market truism that the end of uncertainty is always a good thing could come as a welcome spring break for the troubled financial sector.

U.S. bank failures in 2009

As the U.S. government prepares to reveal the results of stress tests to asses the ability of the nation’s largest 19 banks to cope with worse-than-expected financial conditions, worries continue about the sustainability of recent better-than-expected results from banks.

Bank of America reported a big increase in troubled loans, and shares of Citigroup tumbled after analysts at Goldman Sachs said credit losses at the bank continued to grow at a rapid rate.

Regulators closed banks on Friday in Missouri and Nevada, bringing the total of U.S. bank failures this year to 25 and matching the number that failed throughout all of 2008, as the struggling economy and falling home prices take their toll on financial institutions.

The Value of Experience

BRITAIN/(Corrected – Bank of America did not purchase Countrywide early this decade)

Now that the nation’s top public servant is wielding The Donald-like powers over chief executives of bailed-out companies, expectations are high that more heads will roll, and Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis is looking like the next contestant on a new economic prime-time drama: The Executive.

Rick Wagoner, ousted as General Motors CEO, had spent more than three decades in the company and had been in the driver’s seat for most of the last one. He also presided over the era of the energy-unfriendly Sport Utility Vehicle and is criticized for sticking with trucks far longer than he should have.

Goldman: short East, long West?

FINANCIAL/GOLDMANSACHSFew can claim to have ever gotten very rich betting against Goldman Sachs. The bank is reported to be cutting its stake in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and perhaps buying into exchange-traded funds provider iShares.

The Wall Street Journal reports Goldman and ICBC have been talking. Goldman’s 4.9 percent stake in ICBC is worth about $8.5 billion. The timing of a sale seems right, as a lock-up period tying Goldman’s hands ends late next month. The Journal reported Goldman could raise more than $1 billion by selling 15-20 percent of its holding.

Over the last few months, others have also beaten a retreat from China and other points East as risk aversion has grown to dizzying heights. But other financial heavyweights, notably Citigroup, had to repair tattered balance sheets, while Goldman appears to be acting from a position of relative strength. The New York Times reports Goldman plans to pay back the $10 billion it borrowed from U.S. taxpayers last fall — perhaps within the next month.

A lawyer as CFO? Bad idea, says Bove

CitigroupDid Citigroup do the right thing in installing a new CFO? Depends on who you ask.

Citi named Gary Crittenden to run a unit housing underperforming and toxic assets the bank wants to get rid of, and tapped Edward Kelly to replace him as chief financial officer. Kelly, known as Ned, was head of global banking, including Citi Private Bank, and joined in February 2008 from private equity firm Carlyle Group.

Veteran banking analyst Richard Bove called the move a “big error.”

“This is a terrible mistake. It is the first that Vikran Pandit, CEO, has made in my judgment, but it is a big error,” Bove, an analyst at Rochdale Research wrote in a note to clients.

Citi: No need for more aid

Richard ParsonsCitigroup, which has received $45 billion of U.S. government funds since October, may have had its fill of taxpayer money.

Citi’s chairman thinks the bank does not need any more capital injections from the government and is confident that it will remain in private hands.

“No, I think actually, particularly with the latest conversion … Citi is actually one of the better capitalized banks in the world,” Richard Parsons told Reuters. He also brushed aside any prospect of the U.S. government nationalizing the bank.

In other numbers…

JAPAN-STOCKSWhen presented with stupefying numbers, it’s sometimes fun, and usually cathartic, to boil them down into more tangible figures, give them household values and nod our heads in wonder. Late last week, when word that AIG’s quarterly loss would come in at $60 billion or thereabouts, we started hitting the division key just to make ourselves feel better. Turns out, AIG lost $61.7 billion, but what’s another $1.7 billion when taxpayers are working up a $1 trillion borrowing spree?

AIG’s loss per day in the fourth quarter was $670.2 million. That’s a $27.9 million hourly loss. Divide again and again and you get $465,000 per minute and $7,750 a second. Though not really a GAAP measurement, assume for a moment that at rest a standard human breath takes about two seconds. So AIG’s quarterly loss was about $15,000 per life-giving gulp of air.

The heart of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the most common species of Hummingbird in the eastern half of North America, beats 250 times per minute at rest, so that’d be $1,860 per Hummingbird heartbeat of quarterly losses for AIG. When it’s feeding, the hummingbird’s heart beat races up towards 1,200 or more beats per second, deflating the value of each itty bitty beat down to around $274.

Broad Support for Citi

CITIGROUP/Given Citigroup stock’s dizzying tumble toward nationalization (wipeout) levels, it would appear Uncle Sam’s conversion of Citi preferred shares into common broadly supported anyone shorting the stock. The government did a deal to convert $25 billion of its Citi preferred stock, giving it a stake of up to 36 percent in the bank.Other moves announced this morning also have a decidedly more managerial tone. The bank’s board is to be reconstituted. Other major shareholders, including the government of Singapore, said Uncle too, getting on board with the Treasury plan, which supporters will argue is better than no plan at all. Singapore was an early adopter of the failed investment strategy of bailing out the bank.Where we are in this latest wave of the financial tsunami is difficult to calculate. Globally, this week has seen tremendous activity between governments and banks. Lloyds Banking Group is prepared to tap a 500 billion pound ($715 billion) insurance scheme concocted by Britain to cleanse risky bank assets. And a deal struck yesterday could raise the British government’s holding in Royal Bank of Scotland to 95 percent. Global development banks have launched a two-year plan to lend up to 25 billion euros ($32 billion) to shore up banks and businesses in crisis-hit Eastern and Central Europe.The problem with lenders of last resort is that they are a monopoly and their doors can never close. Notice the queue of seemingly defunct businesses lining up for ever more cash, whether it be Fannie Mae looking for another $15 billion, or the $30 billion GM says it needs to forestall a meltdown of industrial proportions.Deals of the Day:* The chairman of China Huiyuan Juice Group, the country’s top juice maker, said he would meet with Coca-Cola Co executives next week to discuss their $2.5 billion bid for his company.* Beckman Coulter, a maker of medical test systems, said it agreed to acquire the diagnostic systems portion of Olympus Corp’s life sciences business for about $800 million to broaden its clinical chemistry offering.* Britain’s BG Group sweetened its offer for Australian coal seam gas firm Pure Energy, now valuing the company at A$1.03 billion ($671.9 million), in a bid to eliminate rival bidder Arrow Energy from the race.* Commodities trader Noble Group launched a takeover bid for Australia’s Gloucester Coal, valuing the miner at nearly A$400 million ($261 million), looking to thwart Gloucester’s planned merger with Whitehaven Coal.* Indonesian coal miner, PT Indika Energy Tbk said it agreed to buy an 81.95 percent stake in engineering firm PT Petrosea Tbk from Clough International Singapore Pte Ltd for $83.8 million.* China National Petroleum Corp launched a friendly C$443 million ($357 million) offer for Verenex Energy Inc to give the state-owned oil company a stake in a Libyan oil concession.* Coal miner Caledon Resources said it has received an indicative approach “significantly in excess” of its current market price.* UK-based NeutraHealth said it received an unsolicited offer from India’s Elder Pharmaceuticals, at an indicative partial offer price of 5.5 pence per share.(PHOTO: Workers are reflected in the window of a Citibank branch in London January 16, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville)