Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sovereign Wealth Funds Bail Out the Banks

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

As the credit crisis unfolded in the fall of 2007, a number of big banks and brokerage houses were desperate for capital - far more desperate than was ever admitted publicly. While they needed large cash infusions to continue operating, a number of sovereign wealth funds in the oil-rich Gulf and the Far East had swollen coffers of dollars that they needed to place somewhere. It was therefore almost inevitable that some of the first bailouts (an insolvent financial institution requires multiple bailouts) of struggling financial institutions would be done by sovereign wealth fund purchases. By the end of 2007, it was estimated that these funds would make at least $37 billion of investments in Western financial companies.

The idea of foreign investment as a means of providing capital was not a completely new one. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia had purchased 5% of Citibank (then Citigroup) when it was reeling from the Savings and Loan Crisis in the early 1990s. Earlier in 2007, China purchased a $3 billion stake in Blackstone's IPO, which debuted just before the collapse of the private equity bubble and promptly plummeted in price. By November, Abu Dhabi had bought a 4.9% stake in Citibank for $7.5 billion. At the time of the purchase, rumors were circulating on Wall Street that Citi might be insolvent. U.S. government officials admitted being involved in the transaction, which begs the question as to whether or not they would have allowed the deal to go through if it wasn't absolutely necessary for Citibank's survival.

In early December, the Government of Singapore Investment corporation got 9% ownership in UBS for a little less than $10 billion and an unnamed middle eastern investor (thought to be Oman) bought a 2% stake. China then bought a 9.9% stake in Morgan Stanley only days before Christmas. Singapore's Temasek Holdings then helped bail out Merrill Lynch on December 24th. By mid-January, Citibank was already in need of a second bailout by the sovereign wealth funds, only two months after the first one had taken place. The Government of Singapore, the Kuwait Investment Authority and Price Alwaleed were part of a $12.5 billion capital infusion for which they got some ownership of the bank in return. On the same day, only weeks after its first cash infusion from a sovereign wealth fund, Merrill Lynch received an additional $6.6 billion from parties including the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Korean Investment Corp.

None of these deals had to undergo scrutiny by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, which only examines whether acquisitions by overseas buyers compromise national security when their stakes rise above 10%. Given the large number of sovereign wealth funds and wealthy individuals in the Gulf States and Far East, it would be possible for their aggregate ownership to reach 100% without a review ever taking place.
Next: Government Investment Pools Dry Up

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
For more about the New York Investing meetup, please go to our web site:

1 comment:


Leave the banks to fend for themselves.