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1 big thing: First Republic needs the government's help

Illustration of a stack of money being parachuted in and the parachute has an American flag pattern.

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

One way or another, the U.S. government is going to have to get involved in determining the future of First Republic Bank, Axios' Felix Salmon writes.

Why it matters: First Republic is currently in a state of limbo, its future highly uncertain. That can't last forever. When the eventual resolution comes β€” in a matter of days rather than weeks, if First Republic management gets its way β€” it will unavoidably have government fingerprints all over it.

  • The banking crisis that was precipitated by the failure of Silicon Valley Bank in March is now largely in the past; First Republic is the last major unresolved question mark. If it fails, however, the broader crisis could easily flare up again.

The big picture: First Republic would almost certainly be insolvent if it had to sell all of its assets at their market value. That's eroding trust in the bank, which has lost $100 billion of deposits.

  • First Republic's bonds maturing in 2046 are trading at just 43 cents on the dollar, according to MarketAxess' Bondticker β€” implying that the equity is largely worthless.

Where it stands: Broadly speaking, there are two options for First Republic β€” either it fails, or it manages to continue as a valuable going concern. From a public-policy perspective, the latter is clearly preferable.

Option 1: First Republic fails.

  • In this scenario, the government will face the choice of whether or not to extend FDIC insurance to all uninsured depositors. That would cost more than $40 billion, and most of that money would end up going to the large banks, led by JPMorgan, which deposited $30 billion at First Republic last month. Politically, that's a bad look.
  • On the other hand, if the FDIC didn't declare First Republic systemic, then that would almost certainly precipitate another full-blown banking crisis, with deposits fleeing all but the largest banks.

Option 2: The preferable outcome is therefore that First Republic doesn't fail.

  • If it's recapitalized over the next few days, it's likely to retain both most of the financial advisers in its wealth-management unit and the loyalty of its enviable existing customer base (more below on how that would work).
  • The longer it exists in its current zombie state, however, the more its franchise value erodes, and the harder it becomes to put together an attractive rescue package.

The intrigue: First Republic is not really in charge of its own fate. Previous Treasury Secretary dealmakers like Hank Paulson, Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, or Steven Mnuchin would be in their element here. Janet Yellen, however, is not a dealmaker, and it's not clear whether she's inclined to intervene.

2. How to not fail

Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals

First Republic is a valuable franchise saddled with a terrible balance sheet, Felix writes.

State of play: If it managed to offload $100 billion of assets, it would not be hard to find private equity investors willing to recapitalize the remaining bank to the tune of a few billion dollars.

  • The catch: Those assets are worth much less than book value, thanks to rising interest rates, and First Republic doesn't have enough capital to absorb the loss of selling them at market prices. Therefore, the assets would have to be sold at some midway point β€” below book value, but above their mark-to-market value.

What we're hearing: The natural buyers would be the big banks, led by JPMorgan, which already have $30 billion on deposit at First Republic. They could hold the assets to maturity β€” pocketing a profit β€” and effectively rescue First Republic by doing so. In return, they would receive warrants or other sweeteners.

  • If the banks collectively bought First Republic's assets, either directly or via some kind of special purpose vehicle, that would be better for them as a group than seeing it fail. But there's a collective-action problem here, which is why the government needs to use some moral suasion to push such a solution.

For the record: "The Bank is pursuing strategic options to expedite its progress while reinforcing its capital position," said First Republic in its earnings release Monday.

3. Catch up quick

πŸ›‘ U.K. blocks Microsoft's $69 billion Activision deal. (Bloomberg)

πŸ‡·πŸ‡Ί Russia seizes more Western assets making company exits harder. (Reuters)

πŸ’Έ Record Β£46 billion demand for U.K. inflation-linked bond sale. (Bloomberg)

4. πŸ“¦ Box sales flattened

Data: FactSet, company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet, company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

Box sales ain't what they used to be, Matt writes.

Why it matters: Sales of the humble corrugated containers tell us a lot about the state of the goods economy, as everything from dishwashers to food to toys get stuffed into them.

State of play: The post-COVID swing from spending on stuff, to spending on services, continues. So sales of boxes, which boomed during the pandemic, have flattened out.

What they're saying: "The shift of consumer buying preferences, more towards service oriented spending, persistent inflation and higher interest rates continued to negatively impact consumers' purchases of both durable and non-durable goods," said Thomas Hassfurther, an executive VP at Packaging Corporation of America.

  • The packager reported weaker-than-expected results on Tuesday, sending its share price down 7%.

Zoom out: The view from Boxville stacks up with what we're hearing from other key players in the goods economy.

  • United Parcel Service (UPS) shares took a nearly 10% header on Tuesday after its earnings also fell short of expectations.
  • "We saw a shift in consumer spending," UPS chief executive Carol TomΓ© told analysts, adding, "Disposable income is shifting away from goods to services."

The bottom line: These are tough times for the box business. But the shift to services spending could be good news for the strength of the overall economy since services account for more than 70% of GDP.

5. So much for that shopping spree

Adapted from Morning Consult Economic Intelligence Survey, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Morning Consult's spending data is deflated with the CPI, while PCE is deflated using its own price index; Seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals

Consumer spending fell substantially in March from the previous month, according to a survey out today from Morning Consult, Emily writes.

Why it matters: The polling offers a hint about the official consumer spending data that will come out Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the past, Morning Consult's survey β€” though more volatile β€” has directionally tracked those numbers.

Zoom out: The American consumer is running out of gas when it comes to shopping β€” across all categories, from food to travel β€” as inflation continues to pinch and fears of job losses among higher-wage earners grow. It's a sign that the economy is cooling down a bit from the red-hot spending of the pandemic era.

  • "The strength of the consumer can only be stretched so far," said John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult.

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Axios Markets is edited by Kate Marino and copy edited by Mickey Meece.