New off-balance sheet rule: Little impact on Wells

Jan 21, 2010 00:21 UTC

The new accounting standard requiring banks to bring assets back on balance sheet had a negligible impact on Wells Fargo. Despite having over $2.0 trillion of off-balance sheet assets, Wells consolidated just $10 billion of risk-weighted assets when the new standard took effect January 1. (See slide 17 in the bank’s supplemental earnings release)

wells 166 better

The idea behind the new accounting standard is to bring hidden assets back into the light of day so that regulators can insure proper levels of capital are held against them. With Wells, this appears not to be happening.

Last summer, the bank estimated the new standard would raise risk-weighted assets by $46 billion.* In its last quarterly filing, it revised the estimate down to $25 billion.** When the standard finally went into effect, the figure was just $10 billion.

Total off balance sheet assets, meanwhile, were over $2.0 trillion at the end of September. (see page 31)

One reason for the giant difference is that “conforming” mortgages comprise a bit over half of Wells’ off balance sheet assets. These are eligible for a government guarantee via Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, argues the bank, so it needn’t consolidate them since they pose no risk to its balance sheet.

Chris Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics has argued this may be inappropriate. Some of these mortgages may be rejected by government guarantors — a more likely prospect it would seem with FHA beefing up standards. That could force Wells to take loan loss reserves against them.

A bigger question is the $900 billion worth of off-balance sheet assets that don’t qualify for a government guarantee. If indeed it’s fair for Wells to say it has so little exposure here, the bank should explain why to investors.

Ironically, the ultimate off balance sheet vehicles are the GSEs themselves: Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie Mae (which securitizes FHA loans). Though backed by taxpayers, the nearly $5.0 trillion worth of mortgages they guarantee aren’t included on Uncle Sam’s balance sheet.

With mortgage lending almost wholly dependent on GSE guarantees at this point, more of the nation’s housing stock disappears off-balance sheet every day…

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*See page 13 of the Q2 10-Q.

**See page 14 of the Q3 10-Q.

COMMENT

I wonder how much for Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, etc.. Sum-up everything-I think huge money will disappear.

Posted by Titus | Report as abusive

Big banks get reprieve from FDIC

Dec 15, 2009 18:41 UTC

Due to new accounting rules — FAS 166 and 167 — banks have to bring certain off balance sheet assets back onto their balance sheets starting next year. More assets, same capital = lower capital ratios. (More in this column about the individual impact on the large banks).

Anyway, the FDIC has agreed to give big banks a 6 month reprieve on raising new capital to buffer the new assets. From Ian Katz at Bloomberg:

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. gave banks including Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. a reprieve of at least six months from raising capital to support billions of dollars of securities the firms will be adding to their balance sheets.Bank regulators including the FDIC and Federal Reserve want to permit a phase-in of capital requirements that rise starting next month under a change approved by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. The rule, passed in May, eliminates some off- balance-sheet trusts, forcing banks to put billions of dollars of assets and liabilities on their books.

“We’re still recovering from the damage these structures caused,” FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said, explaining that the entities contributed to the financial crisis. The phase-in recognizes the “very fragile stage in our economic recovery,” she said at a board meeting Washington.

While Citi and Wells were raising capital this week to repay TARP, FDIC should have had them go for a few billion more to offset the impact of FAS 166/7.

Ending the off-balance sheet charade

Sep 17, 2009 15:43 UTC

Investors have more than one reason to celebrate two new accounting rules. Besides forcing banks to fess up to the risks they are carrying on their books, new standards for off-balance sheet assets will make it harder for companies to inflate earnings artificially.

The new rules – FAS 166 and 167 – are desperately needed to prevent banks from hiding assets to increase leverage. Lending that isn’t supported by capital is a main ingredient behind unsustainable credit bubbles, and banks’ off-balance sheet games played a big role in the most recent one.

But another reason banks like off-balance sheet structures is that it enables them to manufacture profits.

Coming up to the end of a quarter, if a company is a bit short of its earnings target, it can package some assets together into a security and “sell” them to an off-balance sheet entity.

The entity is conjured out of thin air with a small equity investment by the company itself. The entity “buys” the securitized assets at a nice markup, enabling the company to book a profit on the sale.

Is it really a sale if the company still owns the risk? Of course not. If I sell an asset to you, a share of stock for instance, then I transfer all the rights of ownership. Any gains or losses in the stock are yours alone.

With many off-balance sheet entities, however, companies aren’t really transferring risk to anyone else. They’re just pretending to do so in order to lever up and recognize a gain.

It’s the acknowledgment of risks that is most important. Pushing assets off balance sheet — into the “shadow banking system” — put them beyond the reach of regulators, whose job it is to make sure banks have enough capital to absorb losses.

For their part, banks like to fly as close to the sun as possible, operating with as thin a capital cushion as regulators will allow. This is the essence of leverage. The more assets a firm controls relative to the equity on its balance sheet, the higher its potential returns on equity.

If you put down 20 percent to buy a house, and the house’s value appreciates 10 percent, then the return on your equity is a tidy 50 percent. But if you put down 5 percent, that same 10 percent increase in price is a 200 percent return.

The trouble with this strategy is that it works in only one direction. If asset prices fall, banks with smaller equity cushions go horizontal rather quickly.

At the height of the bubble, big banks were operating with equity cushions in the range of 2 to 3 percent. And that was before accounting for off-balance sheet assets.

Since then, banks have raised more capital, putting them in the range of 4 to 5 percent, but bringing assets back on balance sheet will have a meaningful impact. Citigroup will be adding $159 billion of assets, Bank of America $150 billion, JP Morgan Chase $130 billion and Wells Fargo $109 billion.

tce-per-fas-166-7

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley haven’t yet disclosed how much they will be bringing back on, according to their most recent quarterly filings with the SEC.

Unfortunately, and contrary to recent comments about the importance of raising capital from President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, regulators are considering giving banks a year to phase in these assets for regulatory capital purposes.

This seems foolish. With equity markets nice and bubbly again, it’s not very difficult for banks to sell stock. If regulators make clear that additional capital will be required soon, banks may actpre-emptively to raise it now.

The system will certainly be stronger if they do.

COMMENT

it said banks or gloden–s were in so..lvency, suddenly, all banks started making money, is there anything wrong, I am really happy someone else knows more than I do..

Posted by jerry | Report as abusive
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