DealZone

Post Traumatic Stress Test Order

A week ago, when the Fed and Treasury mesmerized the financial world with the results of “stress tests” and capital-raising targets for banks, nobody spent much time asking “what if they can’t raise the money?” There was a sense that authorities had washed away enough uncertainty in the sector to satisfy investors. In short order, healthier institutions started raising capital. Those that didn’t need any stepped up efforts to rid themselves of onerous state support.

Bank of America shares are on a tear after the bank raised nearly $13.5 billion through a stock sale. Along with money it raised by selling part of its stake in China Construction Bank, this put Bank of America about half way to filling its stress-test gap.

But when Regions Financial, a large U.S. Southeast regional bank that was stress-tested, announced plans this morning to raise $1.25 billion through stock offerings — also about half of what federal regulators told it to raise — investors balked, sending its stock down more than 8 percent.

Just goes to show that not everybody can fail a stress test and impress shareholders with massive ownership dilution. Regions’ trouble may be that aside from selling stock, it has far less to offer than bigger banks in terms of asset sales to make shareholders feel better about doubling down. If nothing else, the market reaction could put a scent in the air that might interest an acquisition-minded lender needing exposure in the U.S. Southeast. If such a creature exists, it might find many more stressed-out lambs in the U.S. financial pasture.

Will UnTARPed Banks Boost M&A?

News that top investment banks want to pay back their TARP funds is welcome news for the M&A market. Though the tens of billions of dollars in capital that will slosh out of the banks and into government coffers may sap the banks of the funds to make big buys, the fact that most post-stress-test capital-raisings have gone smoothly must be encouraging for dealmakers.

Plus, banks that are unable to pull themselves from the government teat will have a whole lot less pricing power. It was interesting to see HSBC commenting on Tuesday that it expects industry consolidation in the second half of this year and in 2010. Though they may be looking more closely at non-U.S. assets, given the burns on their fingers from their foray into the U.S. mortgage market, that big global may sit out the next round of mergers. Will they be missing the boat, particularly given the conviction of many analysts that the U.S. economy will be the earliest to recover?

A key question that could rain on any M&A party is asset quality, and the radiation emitting from the toxic assets still poisoning the financial system. While most of it has been moved to the bomb shelter balance sheet of the U.S. taxpayer, there is little conviction that valuations will have the golden glow of yesteryear, and plenty of lingering fear that the glow is the toxicity of the lost decade.

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.

Did the crackdown on illegal workers cost Apollo $76.5 mln?

tomatoEuroFresh, a leading producer of greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, partly blaming crackdowns on undocumented migrant workers for its woes.

In a bankruptcy filing in Arizona, where it is based, EuroFresh essentially said the government’s actions has raised demand for workers with legal papers, making them scarce.

“The pool of illegal immigrant labor in the area surrounding the Facilities shrank, creating higher overall demand for legal immigrant labor,” the company complained.

Nationalization Boogeymen

FINANCIAL/BAILOUT-CEOS(Updated with references from Paul Kanjorski’s office)

Lined up to pay their dues, Wall Street CEOs met their congressional inquisitors on Capitol Hill, sparking bouts of righteous indignation peppered with cringe moments worthy of The Office.

Pennsylvania Democrat Paul Kanjorski implored the posterboys for an era of high finance gone bad to “please find a way to return that money before you leave town,” referring to hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout funds that officials believe were poured into unwarranted bonus payments instead of being used to revive the business of lending to America. At least he said please.

The message was clear. Though they may never have been instructed to lend the funds when they got them, that’s what Congress wanted. Bankers need to get back to the business of lending. That’s what they were being bailed out for. Never mind that the business of lending, conducted with adequate credit checks, was not what they were doing before, and that prudence in a period of high inflation would preclude much new lending today.

Dimon: never say never

Jamie DimonJPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon may have enough on his plate – for now.

With the bank still digesting its two major purchases from last year — Washington Mutual’s banking operations and Bear Stearns — Dimon seems ready to take a break from deals and focus on integration.  

A worsening economy is also keeping the industry on edge. “Common sense tells you it will get worse and we should prepare for that,” Dimon said on a conference call after the bank announced lower fourth-quarter profit. He said 7.5 percent to 8 percent unemployment is “the minimum we’ll see.”

JPMorgan is “not out there looking” for an acquisition. And there is nothing that the bank is looking to divest, Dimon said.  

What’s in Citi’s Wallet?

Citigroup may be too big to fail, but is it big enough to close a deal? Soon after losing its bid for Wachovia to Wells Fargo, Citi turned it sights on Chevy Chase Bank, which while not as mighty as Wachovia, was at least closer to its east coast power base. This morning, Capital One Finance said it had agreed to buy the mid-Atlantic lender, right out from under Citi’s nose.
 
JP Morgan Chase had also been interested in Chevy Chase, a smallish, unlisted lender. The deal announced by Capital One was for $520 million – hardly the kind of blockbuster that makes or breaks a battered Wall Street monolith. 
 
It will be interesting to see if Citi, brimming over with TARP funds that the Treasury has all but begged it and others to spend on lending, stays on the prowl. Bank of America took its TARP money and boosted its stake in a Chinese lender, so there is some precedent for Citi to spend the funds on a deal.
    
But with Citi’s wallet stuffed with taxpayer cash, the impetus for growth may be less imperative. If it decides against bidding for the deposits of another regional bank, Citi will find itself with only financial assets to sell — in a seller’s market.
    
It agreed to sell its German retail business, which it put on the block over the summer with a price tag of around $8 billion, and at the end of November reports emerged it would try to sell its trust bank unit in Japan for more than $400 million. 
 
Deals of the day:

* Goldman Sachs said it has rejected an offer from Panasonic to buy its shares in Sanyo Electric because it believes the offer price is too low.

* Rio Tinto is in talks to sell its half of a Chinese aluminium joint venture to its partner, which is consolidating its assets to prepare for a takeover by another state-owned company, sources in the two Chinese companies said.

Bank dealmaking circus=recruiting bait?

Some in the financial industry apparently smell opportunity in the latest round of mergers and blood-letting among top banks.

Referring to the Wells Fargo takeover of Wachovia as the WWF and placing Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis atop a bucking Merrill Lynch bull are just a couple of the attention-getting devices financial sector recruiting firm RJ & Makay uses in its latest promotional You Tube video.

Branching out from a previous video aimed at Merrill Lynch brokers, the new “Billion Dollar Video” (the company claims assets from advisers brought to them via these viral recruiting tools represent billions of dollars) targets all financial advisers but specifically appeals to those currently at Merrill Lynch and Wachovia.