Banks that lent to Elon Musk to book Twitter loan losses, avoid hits


Banks that lent $13 billion to buy are preparing to book losses on the loans this quarter, but are likely to do so in a way that it does not become a major drag on their earnings, according to sources with direct knowledge.

Banks typically sell such loans to investors at the time of the deal. But Twitter’s lenders, led by Morgan Stanley, could face billions of dollars in losses if they tried to do so now, as investors shy away from buying risky debt during a period of economic uncertainty, market participants said.

In addition, has seen advertisers flee amid worries about Musk’s approach to policing tweets, hitting revenues and its ability to pay the interest on the debt.

Banks still have to mark the loan to its market value on their books and set aside funds for losses that are reported in quarterly results.

The biggest chunk of the debt — $10 billion worth of loans secured by Twitter’s assets — might have to be written down by 20 per cent. The hit on the loan, distributed among seven banks, could be managed by most of the firms without creating a significant hit to profits. Some banks might only take a 5 per cent to 10 per cent writedown on the secured portion of the loan.

The deliberations of how some of these banks are thinking about accounting for these losses have not been previously reported. They come as Wall Street banks are bracing for lower fourth-quarter earnings due to a slump in investment banking revenue and a rise in loan-loss reserves amid a weakening global economy.

The remaining $3 billion, which is unsecured, could lead to steeper losses for the seven banks. The lenders have considered replacing the unsecured part of the debt with a loan to Musk backed by his shares of Tesla. Musk, however, has said it is best to avoid such loans in the current macroeconomic environment.

Besides Morgan Stanley, the syndicate includes Bank of America Corp, Barclays Plc, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc, BNP Paribas SA, Mizuho Financial Group Inc and Societe Generale SA.

SocGen, Musk and representatives for Twitter did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Representatives from the other banks declined to comment.


Under accounting standards, the banks must mark the loan to its market value when some of them report earnings for the fourth quarter in January, several bankers and accountants said.

But with market activity coming to a standstill, the banks have a fair amount of flexibility on how to value them, which means each one could value them differently. They also have leeway on how to report any write downs and the time they take to sell the debt. Leveraged loan deals after the 2008 financial crisis took years to clear.

Each bank would make market checks with two or three potential buyers to arrive at a value of the loans, which an auditor would have to agree with, one of the three sources said.

The person, who is familiar with the thinking of one of the banks in the lending syndicate, added that some lenders are likely to take a smaller hit initially and write it down over time if valuations keep getting worse.

Projected losses could also be divided between investment banking and trading divisions, making it small enough that it doesn’t have to be disclosed separately, one of the sources said. Any writedowns would probably be broken into chunks and spread over several months, reducing the hit to earnings in any one quarter, two of the sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Some market participants expect the losses from the debt to be significant unless market conditions improve. Two of the banking industry sources said if the banks tried to sell the loans now, they would not get more than 60 cents to the dollar on the secured bond and an even lower price on the unsecured portion. That would add up to billions of dollars in losses for the syndicate as a whole.

In September, Wall Street lenders led by Bank of America suffered a $700 million loss on the sale of about $4.55 billion in debt backing the leveraged buyout of business software company Citrix Systems Inc.

Some $35 billion to $40 billion of such loans are stuck on banks’ books, according to two fixed income bankers.

Twitter’s bankers, however, are more sanguine. “I wouldn’t bet against Elon Musk,” Morgan Stanley Chief Executive James Gorman said in an interview at Reuters NEXT earlier this month.

“We don’t get behind that kind of business and that kind of opportunity unless we believe it is real.”

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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