Monoline Malaise

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism had a good post on the financial guarantors. It dealt with MBIA’s new refusal to make a capital contribution to its subsidiaries. Here’s the company’s take on the matter. And here was my comment at her (Yves’) blog:

David Merkel said…

Here’s the way I see the obligation to send capital to the subsidiaries:

  • No, they didn’t promise to shareholders or bondholders that they would do it. It was only their intent.
  • But, they probably did make promises to the rating agencies and NY State insurance Commisioner Dinallo.

If I were in the shoes of the ratings agencies, not downstreaming the capital is worth at least another two notches in terms of downgrades. Can the management be trusted? Probably not, which calls into question all the non-verifiable data that they have from MBIA.

If I were in the shoes of Dinallo, I would not allow MBIA to support just one of its insurance companies. I would ask for the $1.1 billion to be contributed so that risk based capital ratios at the subsidiaries would be close to even.

Now, another analyst suggested that MBIA and Ambac should be junk rated. The idea here is that once a financial guarantor goes bad, it is likely that things are even worse. That is supported by the past behavior of the rating agencies and Moody’s own implied ratings as well.

Now, things could be worse. They are worse for Security Capital Assurance, which could not wriggle off the hook of their obligations to Merrill Lynch. This has negative implications on similar efforts of other insurers to not pay as promised. Even XL Capital, which owns a large portion of SCA, and has guarantees on parts of SCA’s business that was not part of the Merrill suit, fell. It fell because:

  • the value of their SCA stake fell
  • The value of their guarantees to SCA rose; harder to repudiate.
  • General malaise across all financial guarantors.

As a final note, the leverage that MBIA and Ambac had with respect to their market shares has evaporated with the regulators and the rating agencies. Who knows, maybe even with their GAAP auditors… The need to support MBIA and Ambac was greater when the alternatives were fewer, but when you have Berky, Assured Guaranty (give ACE some credit for discipline here), Dexia/FSA, and maybe other new entrants, you can turn your back on everyone else as a regulator. You don’t care about the exotic coverages, and you’re glad they are going away — you just have to clean up the mess. As for the rating agencies, they have reconciled themselves to the idea that all but the municipal enhancement business is dead. So, say goodbye to MBIA and Ambac writing new business. That is over.