Great Moments in Negotiation: The Liquidity Put

From Fortune. Bolding is mine. Leaving aside the point that taking these CDOs off balance sheet was probably a sham transaction by accounting standards, why would you ever agree to this term? Heads you win; tails I lose.

At bottom, the countdown to both Prince's exit and Citi's November shocks began in that summer crisis period for the credit markets. Citi started then to have ominous dealings with CDOs that carried a "liquidity put." Never heard of a liquidity put? Google will give you a few uninformative references. But it is testimony to the obscurity of this term that Rubin says he had never heard of liquidity puts until they started harassing Citi last summer.

What Citi did a couple of years ago was insert a put type of option into otherwise conventional CDOs that were backed by subprime mortgages and sold to such entities as funds set up by Wall Street firms. The put allowed any buyer of these CDOs who ran into financing problems to sell them back - at original value - to Citi. The likelihood of the put being exercised, however, was regarded as extremely remote because the CDOs were structured to be high-grade entities called "super-senior."

Meanwhile, you might think the existence of the put would make it impossible for Citi to get those CDOs entirely off its balance sheet. But in fact Citi found a complex accounting rationale for doing exactly that, and the CDOs jumped entirely to somebody else's balance sheet. All that remained in Citi's realm was this sticky little matter of the puts - which, as we shall immediately see, ultimately worked to get these CDOs right back to their creator, Citi.

Posted on November 26, 2007 and filed under Finance.