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Friday, July 18, 2008


regulatory short squeeze to foster dilution

todd harrison at minyanville passes on the overview of what has likely transpired on wall street in the last week.

Financial companies are desperate for capital but their stock prices are so low that any issuance would be dilution death for the companies. The government is desperately trying to keep the financial system together. Add that up and you get the possibility of a great manipulation.

How would the government engineer a rally in financial stocks so that these companies can sell stock to raise capital at a reasonable or at least palatable dilution level?

It might go something like this. Since financial stocks are in such trouble they have heavy short interest; this is natural and well known and can be used to their advantage. A clever “berry” might think to introduce confusing rules that raise the cost of borrowing short stock and temporarily confuse shorts into covering and not shorting more. And this is precisely what the SEC did.

It seems innocuous to most folks, but it put stock loan desks and dealers in complete disarray. New short sellers could find no stock to borrow and many existing short sellers were forced to cover as the technical rules forced allocation of loans at much higher costs.

For example, the rebate rate on Fannie Mae (FNM) the day before the SEC announcement was 1%; the day after it was -5%. Many who were short the stock were forced to cover, thus driving the stock price up.

But this alone would only drive stock prices up so much. The clever berry needs a catalyst, one that would force panic buying into now truncated supply.

It just so happened that the new SEC rules came conveniently the day before many of these financial companies were to report earnings.
(and into options expiration -- gm) If just some how these earnings were really good the match would be lit on the kindling.

So far banks have miraculously come through on their end of things. Wells Fargo (WFC) and JPMorgan (JPM) reported better than expected beaten down earnings. Things must be getting better just as the companies need capital.

What a coincidence.

But if you look at how the banks “beat” their earnings the coincidence becomes clear. WFC took the unprecedented step of extending charge-off acknowledgment from 120 days to 160 days. This allowed the bank to move less capital to loan loss reserves and report better than expected horrible earnings. And JPM was even more aggressive. It actually lowered its loan loss reserves quarter to quarter.

The list of financial companies where shorting regulations are being enforced/enhanced is precisely the banks and dealers (and FNM/Freddie Mac (FRE)) that have access to the Fed's balance sheet (dealers through the PDCF and FNM/FRE through the recently-allowed access to the discount window). So we can speculate on the nature of the ''coincidence'': Perhaps the Fed is getting worried about the value of all that collateral these dealers have posted to the Fed balance sheet and must boost the capital of these companies to protect that value.

And now on cue FRE, a $5 billion market capitalization company wants/needs to issue $10 billion in new stock? Doesn’t that sound a little crazy? Well get ready for others to do the same because the banking system needs capital desperately and the government is there to help.

But help at the expense of who?

i don't like conspiracy theories, but the truth is that a massive short squeeze on the financials is incredibly convenient for banks whose funding options have shuttered and who have been forced to sell good assets to cover losses. it was sparked with very well placed and timed government regulatory assistance. moreover, building strength in financial shares indicate that the big houses very likely knew help was coming -- trading desk profits for the i-banks this quarter were doubtlessly helped. it all hangs together with such cynical beauty that i find it hard to dismiss the possibility. very hard.

reading forward, then, what would we expect? as much near-term firepower as possible directed into financial share prices, with the eventual aim later this year of common stock offerings on the part of everyone who can manage to recapitalize in this fashion. it won't be enough, i suspect, but it will be a step toward the light for some banks.

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