Morgan Stanley Seen as Risky as Italian Banks in Swaps Market

Morgan Stanley (MS), which owns the world’s largest retail brokerage, is being priced in the credit- default swaps market as less creditworthy than most U.S., U.K. and French banks and as risky as Italy’s biggest lenders.

The cost of buying the swaps, or CDS, which offer protection against a default of New York-based Morgan Stanley’s debt for five years, surged to 488 basis points as of 4:20 p.m. in New York, or $488,000, for every $10 million of debt insured, from 305 basis points on Sept. 15, according to prices provided by London-based CMA. Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP) had CDS trading at 422 basis points, and UniCredit SpA (UCG) at 426, the data show. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percent.

“The CDS spreads are making investors and creditors nervous” about Morgan Stanley, said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York who rates the company’s stock “outperform,” in an e-mail.

The price of Morgan Stanley credit-default swaps continued to climb earlier this week even when the firm’s shares rose. The stock, which yesterday jumped 6.6 percent, today dropped $1.58, or 10 percent, to $13.51 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the biggest drop in the 81-company S&P 500 Financials Index. Shares are down 50 percent since the start of the year.

Implied Risk

Moody’s Analytics, an arm of Moody’s Investors Service that’s separate from the company’s credit-rating business, said in a report yesterday that Morgan Stanley’s CDS prices imply that investors see the bank’s credit rating as having declined to Ba2 from Ba1 in the last month. The company is actually rated six grades higher at A2 by Moody’s Investors Service.

By comparison, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and France’s Societe Generale (GLE) SA, which have CDS trading at 421 basis points and 340 basis points respectively, have prices that imply a rating of Ba1, higher than the implied rating on Morgan Stanley, said Allerton Smith, a banking-risk analyst at Moody’s Analytics in New York.

Mark Lake, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley in New York, declined to comment.

Morgan Stanley was the biggest recipient of emergency loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis and also benefited from capital provided by Tokyo-based Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., now the biggest shareholder, and the U.S. Treasury, which it repaid with interest.

2008 Peak

While the price of Morgan Stanley’s credit-default swaps is at the highest level since March 2009, it’s nowhere near the peak reached in 2008. On Oct. 10 of that year, the annual price for five-year protection rose to the equivalent of 1,300 basis points, according to data provided by CMA, a unit of CME Group Inc. that compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately negotiated market.

The credit-default swaps market can be thinly traded, and the recent jump in prices may reflect no more than a single big counterparty seeking to hedge contracts, said Hintz, a former Morgan Stanley treasurer. Morgan Stanley, one of the biggest traders of CDS among U.S. banks, doesn’t make a market in its own swaps, according to Smith of Moody’s Analytics.

The CDS market has features “that may not exist in other markets like the bond market or the equities market,” Smith said in a telephone interview. Having fewer participants trading in the Morgan Stanley name could result in a “disproportionate spread movement,” he said.

Trading Volume

The daily average trading volume in Morgan Stanley shares over the last three months is 27 million shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. By contrast, a three-month study released this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that most single-name CDS trade less than once a day, while the most active trade more than 20 times per day.

Trading in Morgan Stanley credit-default swaps has risen to 257 contracts last week, compared with 187 for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), according to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. That compares with a weekly average of 73 trades in Morgan Stanley and 91 in Goldman Sachs in the six months that ended on Aug. 26, DTCC data show.

There was a net $4.6 billion of protection bought and sold on Morgan Stanley debt as of Sept. 23, according to DTCC. Even with the higher trading volume, investor skittishness in the face of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis may be leaving few market participants willing to sell CDS protection to meet the demand for hedges, said Hintz.

“With the EU teetering, few other firms are going to jump in and write CDS on a global capital markets player like MS,” Hintz said in his e-mail, referring to the European Union and to Morgan Stanley’s stock-market ticker symbol.

Trading Decline

The rise in Morgan Stanley’s CDS prices may also relate to an expected decline in third-quarter trading revenue or to the company’s exposure to French banks, Smith said.

Ruth Porat, the bank’s chief financial officer, said at an investor conference on Sept. 13 that the fixed-income trading environment in the third-quarter was worse than 2010’s fourth quarter, when Morgan Stanley posted its lowest debt-trading revenue since the 2008 crisis. The company, led by Chief Executive Officer James Gorman, 53, reported second-quarter revenue from both investment banking and fixed-income trading that beat rival Goldman Sachs for the first time on record.

Morgan Stanley had $39 billion of cross-border exposure to French banks at the end of December before accounting for offsetting hedges and collateral, according to an annual filing with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission. Cross-border outstandings include cash deposits, receivables, loans and securities, as well as short-term collateralized loans of securities or cash known as repurchase agreements or reverse repurchase agreements.

‘Galloping Wider’

While Morgan Stanley hasn’t updated those figures, Hintz estimated in a Sept. 23 note to investors that the bank’s total risk to France and that country’s lenders is less than $2 billion when collateral and hedges are included. Morgan Stanley currently has zero exposure to France, including French banks, after hedges and collateral are factored in, according to a person close to the firm.

As of June 30, Morgan Stanley had about $5 billion of funded exposure to Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, which was reduced to about $2 billion when offsetting hedges were accounted for, according to a regulatory filing. The company also had about $2 billion in overnight deposits in banks in those countries and about $1.5 billion of unfunded loans to companies in those countries, the filing shows.

“Their spreads just are galloping wider,” Smith said. “Is it rational that Morgan Stanley CDS spreads would be wider than French bank CDS spreads if the concern is exposure to French banks? I don’t think that makes perfect sense.”

Bond Yield Climbs

Goldman Sachs, which like Morgan Stanley converted from a securities firm to a bank in 2008, had $38.5 billion of gross cross-border exposure to French banks as of June 30, according to a regulatory filing. The firm’s five-year credit-default swaps traded at 330 basis points as of 4:20 p.m., according to CMA.

Morgan Stanley’s 10-year debt has also shown signs that investors are growing concerned. The yield on the company’s $1.5 billion of 5.5 percent senior unsecured notes that comes due in July 2021 has climbed to 6.57 percent from 5.46 percent on Sept. 15, according to prices reported by Trace, the bond price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

That’s still lower than the 6.76 percent yield on 4.125 percent bonds issued by Intesa Sanpaolo that come due more than a year earlier, in April 2020, according to Bloomberg data.

‘Very Sensitive’

Morgan Stanley’s reliance on the debt markets, instead of depositors, to provide funding for its assets may be one cause of concern, some analysts said. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, which were the second-biggest and biggest U.S. securities firms before converting to banks, both got less than 10 percent of their funding from depositors as of June 30, according to company filings with the SEC.

By contrast, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the two largest U.S. banks by assets, funded more than half of their balance sheets with retail deposits at the end of June, filings show.

“The market is just very sensitive to anybody considered to be wholesale funded,” John Guarnera, a financial analyst at Societe Generale in New York, said in a Sept. 23 telephone interview. “If you’re a bank, you can fall back on the fact that you have a strong retail deposit base. Morgan Stanley has deposits, but not like you’d see out of a BofA or a JPMorgan.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Christine Harper in New York at charper@bloomberg.net; Shannon D. Harrington in New York at sharrington6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Scheer at dscheer@bloomberg.net; Alan Goldstein at agoldstein5@bloomberg.net.

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