Tags: Banks, Derivatives, Hedge Funds, tail risks, variance swaps, volatility, Volcker Rule, what?
If you’re in a certain line of work, and I bet you are, then your main concern about things like the Volcker Rule and increased capital requirements for banks is that they might reduce your comp. If you’re in that line of work, you’re also probably the sort of person who has a higher than average aversion to having your comp reduced. However, you’re also the sort of person whose comp everyone else would be happy to see reduced, because you make too much already you greedy jackass.
That poses a quandary because nobody’s all that interested in hearing your arguments against the new rules, even if they’re good arguments and not 100% about your own personal remuneration. One thing you could do is get proxies to make your arguments. If you think that the Volcker Rule will reduce liquidity in foreign government bonds, you could suggest to foreign governments that it’s really important that they lobby against the rule on your behalf. You did that. Good work. Let’s see how it turns out. If it turns out well, the next step would be to get other clients to say “well, we want liquidity in our [stocks/bonds/rate swaps/whatevers] too,” since that would then be a more compelling argument.
I think that’s what’s going on in this sort of amazing FT article, but something has gone terribly wrong: Read more »
Tags: Banks, bonuses, Credit Suisse, Derivatives
Dealbreaker has long admired Credit Suisse for being on the cutting edge of creative approaches to compensation. In 2008, they gave bankers bonuses consisting of “toxic assets” to (1) incentivize the risk-takers to stick around and (2) remind people that “toxic assets” is a meaningless term if you don’t consider price. That worked out okay. This year, they’re giving junior mistmakers bonuses consisting of nothing, as a gentle reminder that there are other, similarly nonremunerative careers that might be better suited to their interests and talents. That also seems to be working. And now there’s this piece of magic:
Credit Suisse Group AG, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, plans to pay a portion of senior employees’ 2011 bonuses in bonds packaged from derivatives linked to about 800 entities.
The move “is a risk transfer from the firm to employees,” Chief Executive Officer Brady Dougan, 52, wrote in a memo to the firm’s staff and obtained by Bloomberg News. “We are trying to strike the right balance and align employees with shareholders. These measures help to put us in a good place and to perform well in 2012.” …
The bonds mature in nine years and will pay a coupon of 5 percent for Swiss franc holders and 6.5 percent in U.S. dollars “for holders elsewhere,” Dougan wrote. Credit Suisse will absorb the first $500 million of losses on the portfolio, according to the memo.
How can you not love this? My favorite part is that shareholders eat the first tranche of losses. OOOH NO BANKSTERS ROBBING SHAREHOLDERS, you think – well, not you, but someone thinks – except no. Read more »
Tags: cats, Claudius Ptolemy, Congress, Derivatives, Feline Pride, taxes
Sometimes it’s useful to be reminded that not all financial structuring is designed to get around capital requirements or defraud customers. Some is designed to get around taxes and defraud the treasury! One group of people who like to think about that kind of thing is the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, who took some time out from shouting about payroll taxes yesterday to have a geeky hearing about the state of financial instrument taxation. Short version is, they’re not all that happy about it.
The JCT staff generally say pretty smart stuff about tax policy, and they get that shit is fucked up and bullshit. Or as they put it more diplomatically:
The timing, character, and source rules apply differently to (and are sometimes uncertain for) equity, debt, options, forward contracts, and notional principal contracts. These five basic instruments can be combined in various ways to replicate the economic returns of any underlying asset. … The flexibility of financial instruments also creates great difficulties in the taxation of financial instruments. This report provides examples of taxpayers’ uses of financial instruments to achieve desired timing, character, and source outcomes and describes how the tax laws have or have not addressed this tax planning.
There are two useful takeaways here. One is kind of weird: there are a bunch of fairly basic things (exchange-traded notes, CDS) where nobody – not the IRS, not the JCT, nobody – knows how they’re supposed to be taxed. That … seems like a bad thing. And, I’m going to guess, not so much the fault of evil financial innovators.
The second takeaway, which is related but more satisfying to fulminate about, is that evil financial innovators can mix and match stuff until they get any tax result they want: Read more »
Tags: Bank of New York Mellon, Derivatives, FX, Gretchen Morgenson, MF Global
Bank of New York Mellon is back in the news for offering a special promotion to its valued FX customers: if you act now, instead of screwing you with the worst possible price for your FX trades, they will not do that. OWS is working!
The thing about that is … well, wait, let’s start with something more important: I don’t really think that Gretchen Morgenson understands anything about derivatives. That would be ridiculous. Good to have that off my chest.
What I meant to say yesterday was not that she did, or that anything she’s said about derivatives was technically correct. It was that getting all excited about how she mislabeled a repo a swap misses the point. If a repo and a swap have substantially the same cash flows and achieve substantially the same economic effect – here, letting MF Global leverage a position by separating funding from credit risk – then there’s nothing substantive about calling one thing a “repo” and another a “swap.”
BoNY Mellon, though, shows that what you call a thing actually can matter. Thinking that everything is a derivative may lead to confusion and anger if you’re, say, Gretchen. Because Derivatives Are Bad. But, if you’re me, thinking that everything is a derivative might make you a little bit more sympathetic to BoNY. Because I don’t think that what they were doing was – or was only – screwing their customers by secretly giving them the worst price of the day. I think that they were “long a floating-strike, intra-day option on their FX transaction.” Read more »
Tags: cds, Derivatives, Gretchen Morgenson, MF Global, repos, we like you Gretchen we really like you
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 »
Tags: cds, Derivatives, EFSF, Europe, that is a matter for investors
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 »
Tags: cds, charts, Derivatives, nerdy things
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 »