Here’s a trade. I’ve got these bonds, see? I will sell them to you. You will pay me $100 and get $100 face amount of bonds (if you like, you can get $80 or $120 face value of bonds, depending on where the bonds are trading – but let’s make them par bonds, to keep things simple).
But we’re not done. I will also write a contract under which, if these bonds default prior to maturity, you can hand them back to me, and I will give you back your $100. My loss will be the $100, minus whatever I can get from the defaulted bonds. In exchange for this commitment from me, you will pay me a running payment. That payment will be equal to (1) the coupon payment on the bonds (remember, they’re par bonds, for simplicity), minus (2) a risk-free rate of equal maturity, plus or minus (3) a basis driven by the cost of funding and differences in relative demand for different sorts of payments. Let’s say the bonds pay 6%, the relevant risk-free rate is 2%, and our funding costs are 50bps. Then you pay me 350bps running. The payments, and the contract, expire at maturity of the underlying bond.
Ah, but you have an objection. You’re paying me this running payment in exchange for my promise to cash you out if the bonds default – but how do you know I’m good for it? Fair. Why don’t we do this. I will collateralize that promise. At first my collateral will be quite small, since default is unlikely so the expected value of my promise is small, but it will go up if the bonds decline in value and/or my credit deteriorates.
Okay, fine, now we’ve got a deal. So … what is our deal? I’ve sold you bonds in a spot sale – that much seems clear – and we’ve got … this other thing, this contract. What do we call that contract?
Read more »
We’ve noted here before the irony that Europe is both (1) screwing with your ability to get paid on CDS on shaky European sovereign debt (sort of) and (2) hoping people will buy more shaky European sovereign debt because they can get tradeable first-loss protection, suspiciously reminiscent of CDS, from the EFSF on those bonds. The further irony is that, at the same time as it’s touting the free transferability and liquidity of that first-loss protection as a selling point, Europe is moving to restrict investors from owning sovereign CDS unless they can prove they really need it, to hedge sovereign debt or correlated assets.
Today FT Alphaville has the details on the potential EFSF-issued first loss protection (full Q&A here). The plan would be to let member states who are “under market pressure” to issue bonds along with “partial protection certificates” that would, on a payment default on the underlying bond, pay off an amount equal to the principal loss on the bond, up to some cap. The EFSF is coy on the cap but admits it might be around 20% of the bond’s principal. The payoff would be in the form of EFSF bonds, which are currently AAA rated: so if your Spanish bonds, say, only pay off 50 cents on the dollar, you’d get an extra 20 cents face value of AAA rated EFSF bonds of unspecified terms.
Importantly, these certificates would be freely tradeable:
Read more »
The EU authorities propose to entice investors to return to buying peripheral sovereign bonds by offering tradeable first-loss protection on those bonds. This protection is described as functioning like credit default swaps. At the same time, the EU authorities assert that the solution to Greece’s sovereign debt overhang is for private holders of Greek debt to “voluntarily” agree to take losses on their GGBs. The holders of these bonds will be strong-armed into taking these losses in such a way that CDS will not trigger and therefore provide no cover on those losses. That’s sort of like trying to woo your girlfriend with promises of everlasting fidelity, as demonstrated by how quickly you’ll leave your wife for her. Read more »
The New York Fed and the Wall Street Journal have both been studying how liquid the CDS market today and have released their conclusions today. Short answer: not that liquid. From the WSJ:
In recent years, credit-default swaps—contracts that give the buyer the right to collect a payment from the seller if a borrower defaults on its obligations—have risen from obscurity to an avidly tracked barometer of the financial health of everything from Bank of America Corp. to Greece. … Yet a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that actual trades in these widely cited derivatives are few and far between—and the quotes that market observers bandy about often aren’t based on actual trades at all.
What I liked most about the FRBNY study is that it not only looks at overall liquidity but – sort of – gives you a window into the breakdown between what you could call “initiation trades” and “closeout trades.” And this in turn tells you something about not just “liquidity” in the abstract but about how market makers go about providing that liquidity.
Read more »
We don’t spend much time with Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, and really that’s our loss because he is quite the charmer, though less seductive and/or rapey than other French international bankers who come to mind. Last week he sat down with a French magazine for an interview that was released yesterday, and he had a message for anyone who might still want to speculate on Greece defaulting:
Read more »
JPMorgan equity strategist Thomas Lee put out a glass-half-full note yesterday titled “Corporates are the new “sovereigns”: 22 stocks to own around sovereign default.” Apparently there are a lot of companies who have their shit together more than Congress does:
Over the past year, an increasing share of US corporates are seen as having LOWER default risk than the US government. … As of yesterday, 22% of US high-grade issuers (from the J.P. Morgan JULI index of 250 issuers) have a CDS spread inside that of the US government. This is up from zero a year ago. … Note the composition of CDS spreads by industry. 42% of US industrials have a CDS spread inside the US govt, as do 38% of Healthcare companies.
Read more »
Blanche Lincoln’s famed derivatives legislation, which would basically prevent any big bank from ever trading CDS again, has already been chastised by Barney Frank. Now, a senior Treasury official has essentially delivered another blow to the Lincoln legislation.
In a briefing for reporters today, Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr said the derivatives rules were not part of the administration’s four “core objectives” for financial reform. Translation: The Lincoln legislation can die a slow death for all we care. Read more »
Germany said “auf Wiedersehen” to naked short selling, but it appears the ban is doing nothing but raising fears that Europe is in the midst of a financial crisis of its own. Traders are already clamoring to close out open positions, but who knows if the ban will really prevent a financial calamity. Read more »
The following post is by a hedge fund manager friend of DB who shall remain nameless. He runs the emerging markets desk at his firm.
It’s the financial version of Montezuma’s revenge! The meltdown in Western European sovereign credit has led to a Great Colonial Spread Reversal. Until now, only select Anglosphere colonies had posted tighter spreads than the old metropolis. Sovereign spreads embodied the tradition order when it came to Latin America. When Latam hit turbulence, investors looked at European bank and corporate exposures to the old colonies, or figured on expensive support packages and pushed the colonizers a tad wider. But the shades of some conquistadors this week are weeping in Hades, for their world has been turned upside down. Cortez and Cabral, call your office! Pizarro, take a peek at your portfolio! Mexico and Peru now trade tight to Spain. Brazil is sitting well inside Portugal. For the moment, the sacred memory of the Raj is safe – State Bank of India still trades 50bps wide to UKT – but Gandhi’s ghost may be rubbing his hands with anticipation while Clive sweats, as the spread is narrowing. France maintains a safe lead over francophone Africa as does Belgium with respect to Democratic Republic of Congo – for now!
Read more »
In early October of 2008, Ken Griffin and his partners-in-crime at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange had a dream. It was a dream of bringing “stability and transparency” to the credit-default swap market in such a way that would “reduce much of the systematic risk inherent” in those crazy derivatives.
That December, the CMDX clearinghouse/trading platform got the go ahead from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In March of this year, it received its final regulatory approvals.
And, if it’s lucky, for Hannukah, it may actually get to clear a trade or two.
Read more »