It’s not a new story – as Deutsche Bank points out in its response – but it’s a story coming up again with more vigor and new evidence. According to the FT: “Deutsche Bank failed to recognise up to $12bn of paper losses during the financial crisis, helping the bank avoid a government bail-out, three former bank employees have alleged in complaints to US regulators.” – FT Alphaville calls it “papering over the cracks … (allegedly)”
Three Deutsche employees have resigned from the bank, after having raised concerns in 2010 and 2011 with the SEC in the US. One has settled handsomely, has been paid $900,000 to settle a case of unfair dismal, apparently after being in touch with the SEC.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Deutche is the highest leveraged bank in Europe and the US: at the end of last year total assets exceeded Tier 1 capital by 44 times – but that’s still down from 68 times in 2007, when the subprime crisis broke. The average leverage in German banks was 32 times last year and in Europe 26 times.
Watching Deutsche from Iceland, it hardly comes as a surprise that some papering was done at and following crisis crunch time in 2008. Deutsche had issued big loans to Icelandic banks and companies. In the case of the pharmaceutical group Actavis, taken off market in 2007 by Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson the loan was huge and for some time the biggest loan on Deutsche’s books. Admittedly a loan saga, which belongs to a different age, the year 2007, as pointed out by Breaking View:
Actavis’s 2007 buyout, by Icelandic tycoon Thor Bjorgolfsson, belongs to a different age. Bjorgolfsson was then reckoned among the world’s richest people and the Actavis deal was worth $6.4 billion including debt – five times the value of Iceland’s biggest listed company today. Deutsche employed bubble-era tactics too. The loans totalled a reported 4 billion euros, including 1 billion of “payment-in-kind” notes. These are particularly risky, since instead of paying interest in cash the PIK-note debt burden expands.
This loan backfired for Deutsche – it couldn’t sell the loan on. As Breaking View points out, the loan stayed with Deutsche until it could finally sell Actavis earlier this year.
Deutsche was also a lender into some interesting Kaupthing schemes, where Deutsche advised Kaupthing to lend companies to invest in Kaupthing’s CDS, in order to lower the CDS and consequently the bank’s borrowing cost (it seems to have had some effect). According to Kaupthing documents Deutsche was also a lender, with Kaupthing, when the bank lent money to a Qatari investor to buy shares in Kaupthing. The Office of the Special Prosecutor in Iceland has brought charges against four Icelanders, as earlier reported on Icelog.* Deutsche is not implied in this case.
Deutsche’s lending to Iceland shows quite a bit of recklessness though we can’t see how reckless they were, i.e. in terms of the loan covenants, if they were lending to holding companies (like the Icelandic banks did) and not into companies with operations and more tangible assets. The feeling is that Deutsche in case of some of the Icelandic loans, i.a. the Actavis loans, Deutsche was too late in sensing changed sentiments in the market and couldn’t sell them off. If that was widely happening within the bank Deutsche had some serious issues – and then the speculations now, of the bank having covered its losses, might possibly make sense.
*The persons indicted are ex-chairman of the Kaupthing board Sigurdur Einarsson, Kaupthing’s CEO Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, Kaupthing Luxembourg manager Magnus Gudmundson and Kaupthing’s second largest shareholder Olafur Olafsson. The District Court has now thrown one of the charges out, related to Magnus Gudmundsson but the OSP will most likely appeal the decision.
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