Thursday, January 19, 2012

Banks to SEC, we will only disclose European exposure only when the market forces us to

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on how US financial institutions did not comply with an SEC request that they provide much more detail about their exposures to Europe and how these exposures are hedged.

This lack of compliance was not surprising.  As Jefferies showed, Wall Street firms only discloses their detailed exposure information when the market forces them to.

Of course, by not disclosing this information, Wall Street is sending a message to market participants that they have something to hide.

With big banks' earnings season nearly over, details on their European debt exposure remain incomplete—and it doesn't look to clear up until annual reports are filed, if ever. 
Disclosures varied widely among the banks reporting results over the past week. Morgan StanleyCitigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. included detailed tables with their earnings reports sorting out the numbers by region or country including their various hedging strategies.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., on the other hand, didn't include any details in their earnings releases. Instead, executives addressed questions during their conference calls. 
The divergence follows a recent warning from the Securities and Exchange Commission that information on European exposure was inconsistently disclosed in banks' quarterly filings with the agency and asked them to consider providing a detailed breakdown. 
Regulators also want to know how gross exposures are hedged through instruments such as credit-default swaps. 
The issue of disclosure has gained import as the European debt crisis has raged for two years in the weaker peripheral nations, with flare-ups continuing into a third year. 
Late last year, MF Global Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection as questions over the futures firm's European exposure prompted a run on the bank. Also last year, Jefferies Group Inc. saw its stock slide as analysts questioned the investment bank's exposure. 
Annual securities filings, known as 10-Ks, are expected to show more details for all banks when they begin appearing next month. For now, however, banks' disclosures on their European debt positions varied widely, at least in their earnings reports. 
For some of the banks, it's a matter of battling perceptions. Morgan Stanley had to defend itself in the fall when concerns about its exposures sent its stock into a tailspin. 
"We were a little bewildered by it to be honest which led us to a very fulsome disclosure in the appendix last quarter and it's been added to" with disclosures this quarter, said James Gorman, the firm's chief executive, on a conference call Thursday....

Last month Jefferies Group, which has been updating details on its exposure frequently since concerns erupted in November, said its net short exposure was $123 million. It had slashed its gross exposure by 75% during the fall.

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