The other day I had a meeting with some big shots from Citibank's commercial landing. Every single person at the table felt disappointed. On my side of the negotiations, everyone was shocked that the bank came up with some really sneaky changes to the Term Sheet we have originally accepted. Citibank's covert operatives were distressed to realize that their maneuvering didn't work on us and, moreover, we are absolutely ready to walk away from the deal.
Nobody was disgusted more than me, though: I've rejected other lending candidates in Citi's favor based on the conditions of that damn Term Sheet; I've spent so much time and effort making sure that the deal comes to conclusion and closes by June 15th; I've conducted so many detailed discussions with the bank officers; I've plied the Credit Risk Group with tons of information and provided elaborate answers to every single of their drilling questions - dammit, what a waste! I started getting up from the table, determined to say a cold goodbye ("Good day, sirs... I said, 'Good day'," or something like that) and leave everyone in the conference room to their own devices.
But the bank's team leader didn't want to give up. This seasoned warrior (whose bonus depends on the number of deals she closes) quickly swallowed the bitter pill of defeat and started deliberating the possibilities of remedying the unfortunate situation. By way of explaining and excusing their underhanded tactics, she embarked on a tale of pressure and oppression all national banks suffer from the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) that, empowered by the US Treasury's mandate, tightened the regulatory screws on all commercial lenders operating in small and middle markets.
Ring-ding-ding! The government is making it more difficult for small and mid-size businesses to borrow operating funds? Tell me more!
I can only attribute her sudden loquacity to the awkwardness of the impasse we have reached, to the thickness of the room's air that required some sort of easement before our dialogue completely choked. Not only that she went into details of the new pre-lending qualification requirements for private businesses such as lower leverage (i.e. debt/equity) and higher fixed-coverage (EBIT + fixed costs/fixed costs + interest) ratios, but she also divulged some information bankers almost never discuss - she told us about a specific deal just killed by the bank's risk underwriters for the sake of compliance with the government's wishes.
It was the nature of the transaction in question that surprised me at first - a typical leveraged buyout (LBO) of a privately-held manufacturer, with a well-known private equity (PE) firm and a mezzanine lender already in place. Citi was expected to step in as an institutional lender covering 55% of the contractual purchase price. I might've been wrong, since I'm not exposed to M&A on daily basis, but I was under impression that banks are usually hungry for the high-yield rewards of such deals, especially considering the prominence of the PE behind it. The fact that this case was presented to us as an example of insufferable regulatory interference kind of confirmed my suspicion that Citi's bailing out was an unexpected turn of events for the bankers themselves.
So, did they get the explanation from their Risk partners? Yes, they did: The due diligence suggested that the deal had a high probability of a quick turnaround. In other words, it was expected that the PE firm would quickly flip the acquired company's stock for a nice profit leaving the company to deal with the loan repayments. Ok, but isn't that the nature of any private equity transaction, regardless of whether the ownership is sold fast or kept in-house for years? The loan repayments always come out of the company's operational cash flows. The liability is a part of their balance sheet. Hmm...
Anyway, the talkative tactics worked and we all decided to go back to our respective drawing boards instead of walking away from a very promising relationship. Good! But the story of the killed LBO kept gnawing at me.
Ok, on the surface, it may seem that the government is working hard on protecting taxpayers from a possibility of another bailout. But
- Citigroup was one of the first bailees to repay the government ($51 billion) with the highest profit on the bailout list (additional $13.5 billion).
- As we know, it wasn't the commercial lending, but the sub-prime mortgages and the securitization thereof that was at the core of the financial crisis and the subsequent bailout. That is why the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac top the bailout chart with $187 billion of the received support between two of them.
- Of the top 20 bailout recipients the one with the largest debt still outstanding since 2008 is General Motors (as of 05/29/2014, $11.5 billion is still due)- an automaker, a public company, a NYSE's Blue Chip.
Wait a minute, wait a minute! Private business vs. public company? These Treasury moves have nothing to do with the fiscal protection of the nation. It has to do with the government's continuous prevention of the stock-market crash and massive panic that will follow. Too scared to deal with the long overdue adjustment, it has been doing everything in its power to direct both public and corporate investments into the shares gambling of mythological proportions.
The private businesses and the private equity investors act against this insane agenda by laboring hard under the natural commercial formula of growing capital through realized profits generated by functional enterprises. To undercut these efforts, the proverbial "they" are willing to sabotage private businesses, which hoi poloi knows nothing about, in order to continue ballooning the stock market cancer, so that the general public with their Ameritrade accounts and 401(k) plans invested into "emerging" markets is kept at bay.
Well, I will not fold! I will get that Citi line! As hopeless as it may be in the long run, I take a great satisfaction in the fact that my daily work is essentially a part of the Fiscal Resistance.