First the reports:
Bear Stearns to Bail Out Troubled Fund - New York Times:
"Bear Stearns, the investment bank, said today that it would provide a secured loan of up to $3.2 billion to one of two troubled hedge funds operated by its asset-management business, in an effort to placate lenders and investors.From Bloomberg:
The move comes two weeks after banks that lent billions to the hedge fund, the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Fund, demanded that it put up more money to make up for the losses in its portfolio of complex and hard-to-sell mortgage-related securities."
"The funds speculated in highly-rated CDOs -- securities backed by bonds, loans, derivatives and other CDOs -- that were hurt in March and April as defaults on subprime mortgages to people with poor or limited credit histories increased. The fund also lost on opposite bets against home-loan bonds, which backed many of its CDOs.
As the funds faltered, Merrill [and others] sought to protect itself by seizing the assets that were used as collateral for its loans."
But had very limited success as there were few willing to buy at the prices being asked.Keep it simple: So what happened? In as simple of terms possible, the hedge funds borrowed to buy "bonds" that subsequently went down in value. The collateral for this debt was the the bonds. Hence some borrowers demanded repayment and tried to sell the assets to raise cash. Fearing a fire sale Bear agreed to lend the fund $3.2 Billion to the fund in order to give it time to sell assets or for them to recover.
Is it catchy? The real question of course is whether this will lead to a contagion problem where other firms get in trouble and the possibly lead to a melt down. While it is impossible to say so soon, early guesses are that the problem is not very contagious and any major meltdown is highly unlikely. Why? For one thing almost everyone who has been paying any attention in the past few weeks(months?) has seen it coming.
If you think back to Long Term Capital Management, this was the big issue there as well and led to the Fed arranged bail out of that troubled fund. In many ways, the same thing will likely happen now. Assets will be sold in a more orderly fashion and in due time the fund will be closed.
Yes the risk does still exist (and always will), but it does not appear to be a catastrophic event this time. For one, there are many more hedge funds and private equity investments. thus, through diversification, the impact will be less. Moreover, while highly levered, first reports have leverage less than at LTCM.
What risk is Bear taking on in extending the loan? According to Bear CFO Sam Molinaro (who incidentally is an SBU grad) not much since the assets pledged against the loan are worth more than the loan. (Which of course is hard to say with certainty as evidenced by ML's difficulty in selling off the $850M in assets and getting bids as low as 30 cents on the dollar.
So what will happen? Most likely the funds will sell off their assets and eventually be shut down. But the loan from Bear will give the funds time to do so in an orderly fashion and not at 30 cents on the dollar the WSJ reported this morning that some universities were bidding for the debt.