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Secondary Loan Markets On a Tear – Is M&A Rebirth Far Behind?

Posted on April 23, 2009

Since the collapse of the syndicated loan markets in August 2007, the private equity M&A market has gone from red hot to stone cold at the high end and luke warm in the middle market. The primary cause of this collapse is not lack of equity; at the beginning of the year PE firms had close to $200 Billion of dry powder. The issue holding back the M&A market worldwide has been the lack of leverage for new deals.

The M&A bubble of 2005-2007 was driven in great part by an explosion of new funding sources that entered the leveraged lending market, leading to an unprecedented narrowing of lending spreads. At the peak, leveraged loans were being written at spreads as much as 300 basis points narrower than historical norms. Funding sources included hedge funds, special purpose entities created by the banks, collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), institutional investors and various international purchasers.

From the market crack in August 2007 through August 2008, this market traded at a discount of up to 10% of principal, reflecting a partial return to normality in terms of risk based loan spreads. During this period it became increasingly difficult for lenders to syndicate new deals. In September 2008, coinciding with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, this market went into freefall with a basket of the largest leveraged loans trading below 65% of principal by late 2008. The market for new syndications, particularly the multibillion dollar deals that had been so prevalent, ground to a virtual halt.


Source Churchill Financial – On the Left; S&P LCD Index

At the beginning of this year, the leveraged loan market priced in not only a correction of the previous mispricing of risk, but the assumption that battle horns were blowing in the Valley of Armageddon. After rising from 63.5 to 80.6 in … read the rest

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Allen Stanford Proclaims His Innocence

Posted on April 21, 2009

Recently we have been presented with the spectacle of a high flying banker in deep financial trouble proclaiming that he and his organization have been wrongly singled out for reprisal by the Federal government.  The charges are clear.  His bank aggressively sought deposits from around the world to fund a portfolio of outrageously bad investments, leading to the bank’s insolvency.  The bank funded high paid executives’ lavish lifestyles, including Caribbean junkets, sports sponsorships, a fleet of private jets and outsized bonuses unrelated to actual performance.  Insider loans were made to bail out the personal financial problems of those in control.  Yet that banker has the gall to blame overzealous government actions for his problems.

We are speaking, of course, not of Allen Stanford of Stanford Financial, but of the CEO’s of America’s largest banks.  While there is certainly a difference in degree and Mr. Stanford’s personal style is less than savory, the biggest difference between Stanford Financial and several of our nation’s largest banks, is that the U. S. government chose to bail these institutions out of their mistakes rather than prosecute them as has been done with Stanford Financial.  And these bankers are whining daily about their inability to pay “adequate” compensation due to the restraints placed upon them under the TARP legislation.

Don’t get me wrong, Stanford abused the trust of thousands of investors, many of whom are presumably innocent, and he will likely be punished severely for his apparent wrongdoing.  But so did the big banks.  Had the big banks been allowed to fail in September, as they surely would have absent the federal bailouts, the damage to investors would have been far more dramatic and the retribution on their executives would likely have been far bloodier.  The difference is that they hail from the financial and political centers of the … read the rest

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Time for Transparency on Bailing Out the Banks’ Bondholders

Posted on April 20, 2009

This morning the New York Times reported that the Treasury is planning to convert TARP holdings of preferred stock into common equity at a number of banks. As we previously raised, the real issue is whether and why the Treasury is committed to protect the bondholders of the big banks. There is a great deal of capital in the banking system in the form of unsecured debt.  In a normal world, when a company goes broke, some or all of the debtholders’ interests will ultimately be converted to equity capital either in bankruptcy or in an out of court restructure.  The current issue of The Institutional Risk Analyst makes a very interesting proposal for conversion of Citibank debt into equity, which would address the capitalization issue once and for all.  It’s time the Treasury explains in clear English why they are electing to further commit taxpayer funds to bailing out the big banks’ bondholders.

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Categories: Bailouts, Bankruptcy, Banks, Business Survival, Distress, Economics, Junior Capital

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We’re Seven Months into the Great Mess. What’s Going to Happen Next?

Posted on April 14, 2009

Seven months ago (Monday September 15, 2008) we learned of the failure of Lehman Brothers and soon thereafter the sale of Merrill Lynch and the bailout of AIG.  These events were the culmination of a series of market shocks that had started with the demise of the sub-prime loan market, had accelerated with the collapse of the leveraged loan market starting in August 2007 and had included the takeover of Bear Stearns in March 2008.  But September 15, 2008 is the current era’s equivalent of 1929’s Black Monday.

Since September we have witnessed dramatic governmental actions designed to prevent the current crisis from descending into a downward spiral reminiscent of the 1930s.  For the moment, the stock market seems to be giving these actions (as well as our charismatic new President) a vote of confidence.  We’re also hearing from some of our clients that their operations improved in March and that they are more optimistic about their businesses looking toward the summer.  Another “green shoot” is the middle market M&A market, where I spend much of my time.  The M&A market has definitely improved since the first of the year and indications are that it will remain reasonably strong for a while, at least for profitable companies in favored industries such as government contracting, IT services and health care.

So what is the economic scorecard to date and what can we expect to see going forward?

1)    The World economy is in the midst of the first major global recession of the postwar era.  Global trade has been collapsed for many of the major exporters, particularly China, Japan and Germany.


While there have been some recent hints that the rate of decline is slowing (the second derivative of negative growth) or even bouncing a little, world trade is still an area of significant concern.  … read the rest

It’s Raining; Has Your Banker Asked for the Umbrella Back?

Posted on April 13, 2009

The old saw goes “a banker is someone who lends you an umbrella when the sun is shining and asks for it back when it begins to rain.” It’s certainly raining now and we are working with a number of clients who are in danger of losing their umbrellas. My partners Stan Cutter and Mike Zook have recently published a very insightful article which addresses some of the issues companies are facing with their banks. One of their key points: you may be in trouble even if your company is performing well, if your lender is in trouble or has recently been sold. We’ve reproduced the article in its entirety below:

Is Your Company Ready to Face Financial Institutions in a TARP World?

By Stan Cutter and Mike Zook

What is your strategy if your bank calls and invites you to find a new lender? One of our customers recently met with their banker to find that their loan renewal would have substantially different provisions. The Bank requested:

* Higher collateral levels,
* Lower availability,
* An interest rate floor provision,
* Increased fees for changing the agreement.

Another customer was told to raise more equity before the bank would renew the loan!

Risks and Opportunities of Credit Restructuring Issues

Today’s credit environment is characterized by market turbulence, bank consolidation, markets in disarray and increased regulatory scrutiny. Many companies find themselves weathering the storm although business is not as good as they would like. But, even if every interest and principal payment has been made on time and there is no apparent reason for concern, the onset of credit restructuring issues can be sudden.

Companies and managers need to understand the risks and opportunities surrounding the financial markets’ impact on capital availability. While most often the impact is felt through banking relationships, the impact … read the rest

Categories: Banks, Business Survival, Distress

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How Much Risk is the Treasury Really Assuming from the Financial Institutions? (Part 2)

Posted on April 8, 2009

Our previous post raised the question of just how much risk is being assumed by the U. S. Treasury with its apparent implied guaranty of the unsecured obligations of the major financial institutions.  We asked whether the $188 Trillion (notional amount) of derivatives transactions on the books of four major banks (J. P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Goldman Sachs) could potentially pose risks not fully understood by the banks or their regulators.

In evaluating the potential risks inherent in the derivatives positions of the banks (and more particularly at the risks of the Credit Default Swaps (CDS), it is necessary to look at the one situation where similar risks have been converted to real losses: i.e. AIG Financial Products (AIG FP).   Chris Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics has done so in depth in a recent article posted here.

Mr. Whalen paints a picture of financial instruments created for the purpose of enabling financial as well as non-financial companies to falsify their earnings through the issuance of insurance contracts calculated to remove certain assets and liabilities from companies’ books and by doing so to bring them into compliance with regulatory capital requirements or shift earnings and losses between reporting period, with the presumed intent of manipulating the equity prices of the counterparties.  He further asserts that these ostensibly “economic” transactions were converted to blatant fraud through side letters never disclosed to company management, auditors or regulators that absolved the writers of these contracts from responsibility for honoring their commitments.  These activities are further described as the essence of the SEC’s charges against AIG in a Complaint brought against AIG in 2004.

In broad strokes Mr. Whalen then concludes that AIG FP changed its business practices around 2004 to absent itself from issuing insurance products of the type described above.  Instead Mr. … read the rest

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How Much Risk is the Treasury Really Assuming from the Financial Institutions?

Posted on April 7, 2009

What does it really mean to talk about saving “the banks”?  The Treasury would like us to have a mental picture of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, protecting the savings and mortgages of the good citizens of Bedford Falls.  In truth, for all material purposes, the current Public Private Investment Plan (PPIP) is about saving four mammoth financial institutions considered too big to fail, BankAmerica, Citicorp, J. P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.

These financial behemoths, each as large as a significant number of the world’s national economies, bear as much relationship to the Bedford Falls Building and Loan as a rowboat does to the Titanic.  For public consumption, however, it is convenient for the Treasury to continue to describe its efforts as a rescue of “the banks”;   rescuing hydra-headed financial giants just doesn’t have quite the same ring.  Additionally by lumping these institutions under the category of “banks” the Treasury can continue the fiction that the bailout is about “getting the banks lending again.”

Notwithstanding this fiction, as we showed last week, even Secretary Geithner has abandoned the pretense that the PPIP program is about encouraging direct bank lending in the traditional sense of taking deposits and making loans, admitting that the primary purpose of PPIP is to restore the strength of these wholesale institutions so that they can restart the private securitization markets that fueled the credit bubble earlier in the decade.  So here’s the plan.  Just remove the toxic assets from the books of the financial giants and the system will be restored to its former picture of robust health.  Hopefully the PPIP will be sufficient to fund the fix.  If not the Treasury can use its proposed new liquidation authority, invest few hundred billion dollars more to fill the gaps and sell the freshly minted “clean” … read the rest

Categories: Bailouts, Banks, Business Survival, Business Turnarounds, Distress, Economics

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