Of all the people to give advice on the many countries now suffering from the financial crisis, Nick Leeson would not be the first to come to mind; nor the second, third or fourth. But strange as it may seem, some battered global financiers have turned for advice to the man who brought UK merchant bank Barings to its knees with a simple bet on Japan that went wrong.
As the financial system lived the dream that preceded the current crisis, Leeson was the recipient of numerous invitations to talk on his experience of risk management. And the eager hosts to Leeson's words of wisdom, presumably only months or weeks before their financial sector's demise? Why, those celebrated winners and abject losers in the international game of finance: Russia, Iceland and Estonia.
Speaking in London in the middle of November, Leeson showed instincts of old, with the almost compulsory interruption of a mobile phone sparking the natural fear, which must remain with him, of yet another margin call ...
Another day, and into the limelight comes another credit-linked note whose underlying collateral was a synthetic collateralised debt obligation (CDO). Once more, it is Singapore's battered retail investors who are reeling following a principal writedown on Series 9 and 10 of Pinnacle Performance Notes. The expected return to investors is - you guessed it - zero.
Pinnacle notes defaulted because entities in the product's underlying CDO were subject to credit events. The reference entities that defaulted were the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp, Federal National Mortgage Association, Lehman Brothers, Kaupthing and Landisbanki. An impressive selection, and one might be tempted to assume that a CDO containing these entities might be rated BB or B. Not so. This CDO was given an AA rating from Standard & Poor's, a level that was somehow maintained despite wildly differing levels on offer this year on these names in the credit default swap market.
The cold, hard truth is that investors were duped by the ratings agencies, who should have known better. Would the same investors have bought a product with a BB or B rating? No. Would distributors have sold the product with the same rating? Unlikely, at best.
The Pinnacle Notes default should reignite the finger-pointing at the ratings agencies, and deservedly so.
Does Nomura know what has hit it? Even if it does, did it know what it was doing when it speedily harnessed a large pack of Lehman Brothers' finest to its ranks? The Japanese bank was quick to absorb many Lehman escapees, who were attracted by some very attractive deals, so rumour has it.
But it is not the thorny issue of bonuses that has captured the moment, despite a now widespread obsession with whether well-paid bankers should receive them. In fact, the stumbling block at the moment is more simple and practical, and more human. While presumably Nomura can rustle up enough floor space to house all of those formerly known as Lehman bankers, it appears to have neglected some basic questions, such as, seating and systems. Some of the new entrants will have to wait until March before they can sit down and get connected.
You never know it's true until it comes from the horse's mouth. And now we know. At the Structured Products Europe Awards dinner in London in November, those mounting the podium to collect their awards were permitted a few words, in some cases revealing more than may have been expected.
In the global battle to advertise and impress, there is probably only one bank that has trumped the campaign from iShares, and that must be HSBC, the 'world's favourite local bank'. Winning the foreign exchange award, the man from HSBC just couldn't resist encapsulating the bank's skill (or should that be luck?) in avoiding the latest carnage in the financial markets, adjusting the slogan to: 'the world's smuggest bank'. Quite an accolade, you have to admit. And it elicited quite a lot of grumbling agreement.
Christmas is almost here, so it must be time to dig out the board games. Keep an eye out for the latest variation, a game cunningly disguised as Cluedo but, as described by one speaker at our Europe conference in November, with different names.
To suit these troubled times, our selection of characters includes the following motley crew: Miss de Bit, Colonel Merrill, Miss Pru (short for prudence), Mr Radian (the credit enhancer), Mrs Fortis and Professor Fitch. The answer to the question of whodunit that the game revolves around comes from the judge: "My darling, we are all guilty".
The week on Risk.net, July 7-13, 2018Receive this by email