International regulatory amity, bipartisan concerns and common sense be damned: The (probably) outgoing CFTC chair is going to see to it that these swaps-trading rules go into effect next month, damn the consequences. Read more »
Here’s a fun Libor lawsuit: the ghost of problematic former hedge fund FrontPoint is suing the Libor banks for (1) selling FrontPoint some interest-rate swaps and (2) manipulating Libor in a way that hosed FrontPoint on those swaps. Here is the complaint and here is Alison Frankel on the legal issues, which are interesting and which we can talk about a little below.1
Up here let’s talk about the trades that FrontPoint (and Salix Capital, which now owns these claims) is suing over. They’re interest rate swaps, of course, where FrontPoint received Libor, and where Libor was systematically manipulated lower by banks looking to enhance confidence in themselves by showing lower funding costs. But those swaps were part of a larger negative-basis package trade where (1) FrontPoint bought bonds (funded at a spread to Fed Funds), (2) FrontPoint bought CDS from a bank to hedge credit, and (3) FrontPoint entered into a swap with the bank to hedge interest rates. Schematically, when everything cancels, it looks like this:
If you asked FrontPoint what the trade was they might say “we are betting that the negative basis in these bonds will converge, making the bonds worth more relative to the CDS,” or alternately, that they would just ride the trade to maturity, getting paid that negative basis, and “earn a risk-free return by buying and selling the same credit exposure via alternative instruments in different markets.” That’s what the trade is primarily about: that orange thing in the lower-right-hand corner labeled “(Basis).” Read more »
Are you as puzzled as I am by the mild brouhaha over the CFTC’s new swap execution facility rules? Basically the rules require that most swaps be traded on pseudo-exchange-y-type things called “swap execution facilities,” which are run either by an order-book system or a “request for quote” system. The RFQ system would require anyone wanting to trade to send an RFQ to at least 3 (2 for “an initial phase-in period”) potential counterparties. The original proposal was for that to be five counterparties. The revised proposal has caused a striking amount of rage, as various people have confused themselves into thinking that of course it’s obvious that every transaction should be an auction among five potential counterparties. Presumably few of those people orient their daily life that way. I don’t, anyway; I get lunch at Chipotle every day because it’s next door to Dealbreaker HQ.1
On the other hand people who think that customers should choose how many quotes to get don’t like the 3-quote compromise either. Here’s a SIFMA guy whining about it, and he doesn’t seem all that wrong:
SIFMA’s Asset Management Group continues to believe that any minimum-bid requirement will tie the hands of portfolio managers who already have a fiduciary obligation to serve the best interests of their clients. Requiring portfolio managers to broadcast their trading position more widely than they would otherwise choose could negatively impact the prevailing price of their trades, making it more expensive and difficult to hedge their clients’ risk. SIFMA strongly believes that professional investment managers, and not the government, should determine appropriate trading strategy.
The thing that trading is is, deciding how broadly to expose your order. Wider exposure gets you more and potentially better bids, but at the risk of getting front-run or picked off or otherwise abused.2 I realize that I won’t persuade everyone by quoting a trading textbook but here: Read more »
I confess that I have not followed the swap-futurization thing closely but my assumption was that the politico-regulatory view was:
- Swaps are evil instruments of financial instability and fraud and should be discouraged, and
- Listed futures are mostly harmless.
You can have various objections to this preference for futures,1 but surely the most compelling is that swaps and futures are to some reasonable approximation the same thing. They’re just delta-one exposures to some underlying quantity; calling them a “swap” or “future” doesn’t matter economically.
“Bucket shop” has become a general-purpose Wall Street insult – “don’t work at Blackstone, it’s a total bucket shop” – but it’s actually a particular thing, “[a]n establishment, nominally for the transaction of a stock exchange business, or business of similar character, but really for the registration of bets, or wagers, usually for small amounts, on the rise or fall of the prices of stocks, grain, oil, etc., there being no transfer or delivery of the stock or commodities nominally dealt in.”1 The “bucket” bit comes, I think, from the notion that your long order and someone else’s short order would be thrown into a bucket together, netting them out with the shop as a bookie, rather than being forwarded to the stock exchange.
These are illegal now in all sorts of ways, and when they existed in the olden days they seem to have been pretty shady, but I’ve always thought that as a concept they get sort of a bum rap. What’s wrong with giving people synthetic exposure to equities, particularly exposure with low initial margin requirements and limited recourse?
Here’s a Bloomberg article about how banks made money by doing interest rate swaps with Detroit, and now Detroit is sad, because like a lot of municipalities Detroit swapped its floating rate bonds to fixed to hedge the risk of rates going up, and rates went down, and now the PV of Detroit’s swap liabilities is like $350mm, which is big, and that’s sort of that. I’m generally unmoved by the notion that municipalities should be able to get out of swaps that move against them for free, and while I’m sure there’s some nefarious record of mis-selling and fee-inflating in here somewhere, which would justify you getting all mad at Detroit’s banks, Bloomberg has not dug it up. The evidence so far is “rates went down,” so whatever.
Still this a pretty interesting story. The normal posture of these swaps cases is:
- City has floating-rate bonds and swaps to fixed.
- Rates go down but city is still effectively paying high fixed rate.
- City says “WTF, why don’t we stop doing this?”
- City goes to bank and says “remember that swap? never mind”
- Bank says “we’d be happy to tear up the swap, just pay us a $400 million termination fee.”
- City freaks out, calls press, etc., shouts about windfalls, etc.1
But Detroit is different! Detroit, to its great credit, doesn’t want to tear up its swaps. The banks do. But they’re not exactly pushing it: Read more »