Archive for September, 2009

SEC mulls securities lending as risks exposed (Reuters)

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 | Finance News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
U.S. securities regulators are eyeing new restrictions on the multi-trillion dollar securities lending market used by short-sellers after the credit crisis revealed the industry was "anything but low risk."

Some pension funds, mutual funds and foundations that loaned their securities were "significantly harmed," Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said at the start of a two-day public meeting on the matter.

Historically, institutional investors viewed securities lending as a way to put their dormant assets to work. But during the financial crisis many of them lost money from their cash collateral reinvestment programs that invested money received from stock lending.

"For a long time, securities lending was regarded and described as a relatively low risk venture, but the recent credit crisis revealed that it can be anything but low risk," Schapiro said.

Securities that are loaned are often used by short sellers, who make profits on a stock's decline. Short selling has been blamed by some lawmakers and corporate executives for last year's dramatic drop in stock prices.

Short selling, a legitimate investment strategy, is when an investor borrows stock and sells it in the hope that its price will fall. If the price does drop, the seller profits by buying the stock back at the lower price.

Some funds now feel burned by the middlemen who borrowed their securities, then loaned them to short-sellers.

"We seem to be the big loser and it was our money that was put out there to buy the stock that then went out on loan," said Jerry Davis, chairman of the board of trustees at the New Orleans Employees' Retirement System.

"We have suffered real cash losses and the interests seem to be out of balance in the ... agreements," Davis said.

The public meeting was the latest in a series of steps the SEC has taken to broadly address the issue of short-selling.

The agency has already proposed reinstating a version of the uptick rule, which could curb short selling. That has been opposed by big Wall Street players such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and Vanguard Group Inc.

Schapiro previously said the SEC aims to finish work on the uptick rule by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Rachelle Younglai; editing by Andre Grenon)

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FDIC wants banks to prepay fees to meet failure bill (Reuters)

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 | Finance News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
U.S. banking regulators proposed on Tuesday that banks prepay three years of fees to help cover the rising cost of bank failures, now put at $100 billion through 2013.

Banks would prepay $45 billion of regular quarterly assessments under the plan, but would not have to recognize the hit to their earnings until the fees are normally due.

The five-member board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp voted unanimously to put the proposal out for 30 days of public comment.

Regulators have been exploring ways to replenish the fund that safeguards bank deposits without putting a huge burden on healthy banks or taxpayers.

Tuesday's proposal avoids levying another hefty "special assessment" that would crimp banks' earnings or tapping the FDIC's $500 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury.

"Everybody has bailout fatigue," FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said of avoiding drawing on the Treasury.

FDIC staff raised their expectations for bank failure costs from 2009 through 2013 to $100 billion, up from a previous estimate of $70 billion.

If finalized, the proposal would require banks to prepay on December 30, 2009 their regular assessments for the fourth quarter of 2009 and for all of 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The FDIC said the insurance fund's balance is expected to become negative this quarter and will remain negative through 2012, but said the agency will still have plenty of cash to operate and handle bank failures.

"We have tons of money to protect insured depositors," Bair said before the vote. "This is really about the mechanics of funding."

It would be the first time the agency has asked banks to prepay regular fees. It needs the money now because the FDIC's cash needs will outstrip liquid assets early next year.

Because of accounting requirements, the agency must set aside money for failures expected over the next 12 months.

NEGATIVE FUND BALANCE

The FDIC last had a negative fund balance in 1991, during the savings and loan crisis, when the agency chose to borrow from Treasury. FDIC officials insist bank deposits, up to $250,000 per account owner, are safe, even with a negative insurance fund balance.

"Western civilization did not come to an end" when the fund balance last went negative, agreed banking industry consultant Bert Ely. "But there is a public perception issue."

So far this year 95 U.S. banks have failed, compared to 25 last year, and only 3 in 2007.

Those failures whittled the balance of the insurance fund down to $10.4 billion at the end of the second quarter, from $45 billion a year earlier. The FDIC has an additional $32 billion provisioned for failure costs over the next year.

FDIC officials said they expect bank failures to peak in 2009 and 2010, and that industry earnings will have recovered enough in 2011 to absorb a proposal to raise regular assessment rates by three basis points that year.

The FDIC in May authorized a $5.6-billion emergency fee on the banking industry and warned of similar special fees.

But banks have argued that more fees would be a significant hit to their balance sheets just as they are starting to recover.

"It makes sense not to increase assessments now at the worst possible time," said Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, who serves on the board of the FDIC.

Dugan said the only potential downside is the outflow of cash from the banks to prepay the fees could affect their ability to lend. But he said he did not see that as a likely outcome.

James Chessen, chief economist for the American Bankers Association, said the prepayment represents a lot of cash, but is a much better alternative to more emergency fees that have to be expensed immediately.

"The initial cash outflow will be a bit of a shocker, but the fact that they expense it over time... will be a big benefit," Chessen said.

Bair said the prepayment proposal demonstrates that the banking industry will not reflexively fall back on taxpayers to help clean up its mess.

But she declined to rule out the option of tapping the Treasury line of credit, saying it is a necessary backstop if conditions worsen.

"I never say never, and there is much we cannot control for," Bair said.

For graphic about FDIC and bank failures, click here:

http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/099/US_FDIC0909.gif

(Reporting by Karey Wutkowski; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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FTSE dips on unfavourable US data (AFP)

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 | Finance News

LONDON (AFP) –
The leading stock exchange slipped on Tuesday as investors reacted to pessimistic economic data from across the Atlantic.

The FTSE 100 index fell 0.12 percent lower to 5,159.72 points after US consumer confidence declined to 53.1, from 54.5 in August.

Lender Royal Bank of Scotland was the most traded stock with traders exchanging 112 million shares.

Telecommunications giant Vodafone was the second most popular blue-chip after 95.2 million shares changed hands.

Insurance company Legal and General led the FTSE 100 leaderboard seeing its assets gain for a third day. It rose 4.75 percent -- or 3.75 pence -- to close at 82.75.

It was followed by caterer Compass which performed well to gain 3.56 percent -- or 12.8 pence -- to close at 372.4.

On the downside, minerals firm Lonmin was the day's biggest loser, dropping 55 pence -- or 3.23 percent -- to end at 1,648.

Property investor Land Securities fell after Credit Suisse cut its recommendation on UK real estate shares because of Britons' debt levels. It slid 18.5 pence -- or 2.82 percent -- to finish at 638.

The sterling gained ground against both the euro and the dollar.

At 16:58, sterling was trading at $1.5920, up from $1.5880 at Monday's close. The pound also rose against the euro, climbing to 1.0943, up from 1.1864 over the same period.

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