You think you've had a rough first week on the job? Talk to Alan Fishman. After just three days as the new CEO of Washington Mutual
And perhaps for good reason. An ill-timed venture into subprime has left its books looking like they just got hit by a nuclear bomb. Last quarter, net charge-offs came in at more than 3.5%, escorted by a $3.33 billion loss and a supernova of loan loss provisions to nearly $6 billion. Nonperforming loans make up 3.62% of total assets, which is equivalent to holding a hand grenade with a loose pin. At the end of last quarter, it held more than $60 billion in home equity loans and lines of credit -- which stand behind secured mortgages that are in the pits as well.
And investors? They hate it, too.
The cost to insure WaMu's debt -- called credit default swaps -- surged to 40 percentage points. That means it costs $4 million upfront plus $500,000 a year to insure $10 million of WaMu debt for five years. Translation: The derivatives market, if not predicting (dare I say it) bankruptcy, is looking for an absolutely abysmal future.
So where do we go from here? First, we'll start with the reasoning that WaMu has to do something. And soon. Waiting around while the market works itself out isn't an option. Ask Bear Stearns. In the coming quarters, one of three things could happen: WaMu gets bought out, it raises a mountain of new capital, or it goes kaput. The third option is grim and, admittedly, pretty far out there. So what about the other two?
Deal or no deal?
A couple of interesting points arise. JPMorgan Chase
What about other banks? That's where a handful of dilemmas come up. WaMu is huge, with well over $300 billion in total assets. Very few banks could conceivably inherit that large of a portfolio. Moreover, the banks that could buy WaMu -- Bank of America
Yes, a buyout could happen, but seeing one happen in the near future seems like a long shot.
Plan B. And it's ugly.
So if a buyout isn't in the cards, what other options does WaMu have? Well, it can raise capital. To be sure, management doesn't have any current capital-raising plans, as far as we know. But here's the thing: WaMu is nowhere near out of the woods. Lehman Brothers
The problem is, with a current market cap of just above $3 billion at WaMu, raising any significant amount of new money would dilute existing investors on an unprecedented scale. Heck, back in April, shareholders stomped their feet over a $7 billion infusion -- and that was when shares traded at five times their current value. It's a weird phenomenon, but because of concerns over raising capital, as long as shares stay low, shares are, well, going to stay low.
The long road ahead
My guess is that WaMu will still be around next year -- there's no reason to believe that an all-out failure is around the corner. Still, as Freddie and Fannie learned this week, it's entirely possible for a business to keep going while common shareholders get hosed.
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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.