Banks pulling an Enron?

Off balance sheet was a term Americans learned about during the fiasco of Enron. But it doesn't look like things have changed much.

BF........the fact that conduits, and special-purpose entities generically, reside off balance sheets is a reason why everyone has been caught by surprise. Because if mountains of this paper are away from plain sight, potential problems can't be anticipated, as you can't attempt to understand what you can't see.

with the spotlight now trained on the structured-credit arena, institutional investors have become choosier about what paper they're willing to own, thus creating the illiquid environment that the short-term money-market funds and the banks currently find themselves in.

Meanwhile, though London appears to be the epicenter of conduit angst these days, our homegrown Citigroup (C, news, msgs) appears to have plenty of exposure. That's according to a friend who in an e-mail to me rattled off the following list of its structured investment vehicles, or SIVs: Beta Finance, Centauri, Dorada, Five Finance, Sedna Finance, Vetra Finance and Zela Finance.

Citigroup notes that the leverage in this particular vehicle, Beta Finance, is "only 14.24 times." Thus, Citigroup, a leveraged entity, owns a gaggle of leveraged S&Ls. That helps illustrate a point I've made many times: that the well of liquidity that bulls were citing two months ago as a reason to be bullish was just a wall of leverage. (It's worth noting that the net asset value of Beta Finance has declined 19% from its high and that Citigroup's other conduits are apparently down a similar amount.)

The source indicated to me that commercial mortgage-backed securities will also see problems. Though I did not get the impression from her that the timing was imminent, the weakness in the commercial version of the ABX index indicates that some pain is already being dispensed, even if little ink has been spilled on this subject.
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