This Is The Last Greek CDS Post Ever*

There's that famous scene in Liar's Poker - are there non-famous scenes in Liar's Poker? - where the much maligned equity department sends a program trader to impress Michael Lewis's jackass fellow Salomon trainees with his brilliance. It does not work: He lectured on his specialty. Then he opened the floor to questions. An M.B.A. from Chicago named Franky Simon moved in for the kill. "When you trade equity options," asked my friend Franky, "do you hedge your gamma and theta or just your delta? And if you don't hedge your gamma and theta, why not?" The equity options specialist nodded for about ten seconds. I'm not sure he even understood the words. ... The options trader lamely tried to laugh himself out of his hole. "You know," he said, "I don't know the answer. That's probably why I don't have trouble trading. I'll find out and come back tomorrow. I'm not really up on options theory." "That," said Franky, "is why you are in equities." This is totes unfair to the actual equity vol traders I know, but I kind of felt like that guy after talking to a CDS lawyer yesterday about this craziness in Greece. It went something like this: Me: As an equity derivatives guy, I expect derivatives to transform into derivatives on whatever their underlying transforms into. And I'm troubled by them not doing that. Lawyer: You should not be troubled by the concept of cheapest to deliver. Yeah fair! That's the thing about CDS. Dopes like me think of it as just a rough proxy for default risk but when things get real like with Greece it turns into a cheapest to deliver convexity play and then I slink away in embarrassment. But yeah, as a matter of rough justice, if you can go be opportunistic about finding the cheapest to deliver bond, Greece can go be crappy about leaving you with only expensive to deliver bonds. I guess.
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There's that famous scene in Liar's Poker - are there non-famous scenes in Liar's Poker? - where the much maligned equity department sends a program trader to impress Michael Lewis's jackass fellow Salomon trainees with his brilliance. It does not work:

He lectured on his specialty. Then he opened the floor to questions. An M.B.A. from Chicago named Franky Simon moved in for the kill.

"When you trade equity options," asked my friend Franky, "do you hedge your gamma and theta or just your delta? And if you don't hedge your gamma and theta, why not?"

The equity options specialist nodded for about ten seconds. I'm not sure he even understood the words. ... The options trader lamely tried to laugh himself out of his hole. "You know," he said, "I don't know the answer. That's probably why I don't have trouble trading. I'll find out and come back tomorrow. I'm not really up on options theory."

"That," said Franky, "is why you are in equities."

This is totes unfair to the actual equity vol traders I know, but I kind of felt like that guy after talking to a CDS lawyer yesterday about this craziness in Greece. It went something like this:

Me: As an equity derivatives guy, I expect derivatives to transform into derivatives on whatever their underlying transforms into. And I'm troubled by them not doing that.
Lawyer: You should not be troubled by the concept of cheapest to deliver.

Yeah fair! That's the thing about CDS. Dopes like me think of it as just a rough proxy for default risk but when things get real like with Greece it turns into a cheapest to deliver convexity play and then I slink away in embarrassment. But yeah, as a matter of rough justice, if you can go be opportunistic about finding the cheapest to deliver bond, Greece can go be crappy about leaving you with only expensive to deliver bonds. I guess.

(Brief interlude of "what the heck are you talking about": it seems increasingly likely to me - perhaps it was always obvious to everyone else - that when Greek CDS is finally triggered, it will pay off based on the trading price of new Greek bonds, which has absolutely no connection to the loss that you'd experience on any current Greek bond: if you have a bond with a $100 face amount and you get in exchange $5 of new bonds, and they trade at par, you get zero recovery. That's screwed up man.)

Anyway, duly chastened, I will outsource you to smarter people for your daily dose of Greek CDS, including Felix Salmon for a sensible takedown of people gibbering about ooooh no CDS hasn't been triggered yet, freak out!, Lisa Pollack for a timely reminder that much of the demand for Greek CDS historically came from banks buying CDS out of non-economic regulatory gamesmanship so in some broad sense we shouldn't really care if they get hosed on the payout, and Deus Ex Macchiato for a man who knows a thing or two about cheapest to deliver and who is unmoved by your whining:

The market chose to trade a product that hedged individual bonds less well in exchange for having a more liquid instrument. Now I am not going to take a position on whether that was a good choice or not, but I will say this. If you want a CDS that references a particular bond, and whose settlement amount is determined by the price of that bond after the credit event – or which allows you for sure to deliver a given bond – then buy one. Yes, it will cost you more than a standard CDS that is more liquid. It won’t have a readily observable price (although one might assume it would mostly trade in line with more liquid standard CDS). It will be hard to trade. But if you want a Ferrari, why are you buying a Ford?

This is wise counsel. Still I am a zero-arbitrage kind of guy. The freaky thing about the Greek situation is not that the settlement will not mirror the particular value of any particular Greek bond - it's that it might have nothing whatsoever to do with the experience of any holder of Greek debt who bought CDS before the restructuring. That's a bit obscured because the values are not that far off, but you could make them that way. Instead of giving holders $30 of bonds with 3ish% coupons that trade at $10, give them $10 face amount of bonds with 3ish% cash coupons and PIK coupons for the excess sufficient to make them trade at $10. (Exercise for the reader: demonstrate equivalence.) If you believe the smart people who think that Greek CDS will pay out based on trading levels (vs. par) of post-restructuring bonds, then you are left with no CDS payout on that construction.

You cannot quite wave that away like this:

Ian Pearce, who heads up European credit trading at RBS Capital Markets in London, ... [says]: “While there are some serious questions over CDS as a hedge, it will still exist as a spread betting tool,” he says. In other words, people will still trade CDS as a reflection of the credit worthiness of the sovereign issuer. As a borrower gets closer to default, the value of the hedge rises, offsetting the deteriorating price in its bonds. “A punting tool,” Pearce calls it.

You see a fair amount of the claim "it doesn't matter if it pays out on default as long as the value of the hedge rises as you approach default," but that is obviously wrong unless I suppose you can approach default like Zeno's turtle without ever getting there. If it doesn't pay out on default then no one will pay for it on the way there. It's a backwards induction instrument. And if the payout on a default is totally un-indexed to credit-related losses caused by the default, then you have ... a ... problem.

Unless, of course, you can wave your hands and say LOOK A TIGER and make the problem go away through confusion and accident. Our own commenter anonhfm explains:

ISDA will definitely try to sweep this under the rug, because by pure luck the likely CTD [cheapest to deliver] bond (the longest of the 20 new GGB) is trading in the w/i [when-issued] market within one point of where the w/i market for the whole package of 20 new GGBs + 1 warrant will put recovery on an old GGB. Talk about inverse Murphy's Law. They'll declare an event on March 9, when Greece invokes CACs (don't see how anybody could wiggle out of that one and not expect major legal shitshow and the end of CDS), true recovery will be 24, Auction will settle at 25, and ISDA will say, "see, it all worked out!"

So everything's fine then. The End. I SAID THE END.

Worrying about Greece’s CDS for the wrong reasons [Felix Salmon / Reuters]
Did your grandma buy Greece CDS or what? [FTAV]
Deliverability, or a plea for caveat emptor [Deus Ex Macchiato]

* Gotcha! No, I've given up on that dream. All Greek CDS all the time. Next week we'll go paragraph by paragraph through the Credit Definitions.

Related

One Last Greek CDS Post Before It All Goes Poof

One of the side benefits of Greece taking whatever somewhat irreversible steps it is now taking is that something will happen to CDS written on existing Greek debt and that will mean that we can stop talking about what will happen to CDS written on existing Greek debt and start talking about more interesting things like quasi-CDS written by the EFSF on shaky Eurozone government debt. For now, though, we've got at least a few more weeks of surprisingly and unsurprisingly ill-informed fretting that triggering the $4bn of Greek CDS will Bring Down The Entire Global Financial System. That seems sort of silly because notionals aren't that big, mark-to-market collateral is mostly being posted, and at this point the marks are pretty close to what you'll get from Greece so it doesn't look like there's tons of unknown unrecognized losses lurking out there. On the other hand, we're mostly through with the speculation that not triggering Greek CDS will Prove That CDS Is Worthless and thereby Bring Down The Entire Global Financial System, so that's nice. The reason that's mostly over is that it sure looks like Greek CDS will in fact trigger, as Athens has moved to adopt a collective action clause that will flip the Greek restructuring from "voluntary, heh heh heh" to "involuntary" and thus trigger the ISDA restructuring event definition. You can argue that the mechanics of the cash settlement auction will mildly screw CDS holders but I'm not so sure, and in any case this is pretty solidly in the category of derivatives nerdery rather than Bring Down The etc.

So Maybe Greek CDS Will Be More Than Fine?

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah Greece. Okay so all systems appear to be go on the Greek debt exchange, which means its time to decide What This Means, and, I just. Really. Greece. Come on. All I want is to talk about 13D reporting requirements, and now I have to pay attention to Portugal? No. Just no.* Still here is arguably a fun factoid: On Wednesday, Swiss bank UBS AG started quoting a "gray market" in new Greek sovereign bonds ... using as a guide details of the debt swap Greece has put on the table for private investors to accept until Thursday evening. The "bid" price for a batch of future Greek bonds due in 2042, or the highest price the dealer was willing to pay, was around 15 cents on the dollar; the "offer" price, or the most the dealer was willing to sell at, was 17 cents on the dollar, the first person said. ... The prices quoted by UBS imply that losses private creditors to Greece will take are more like 79% of face value, not the original haircut of 70-75% many had expected. Yeah but. If you believe this horrible CDS mechanics stuff that various people including me have been yammering about for weeks - here is the best explanation - that means that if for some reason you had the foresight to be long Greek bonds and hold CDS against them you'd end up with a package worth (1) 21 on the bonds and (2) 83 on the CDS (assuming that the 17 offer for the 2042 bonds represents a real price for the cheapest-to-deliver new bond in the Greek auction) for (3) 104 total which is (4) more than par, so you win this particular game, yay. Which you were at risk of losing - a week ago one of our fearless commenters spotted the longest new bonds at 25ish vs. 24ish for the old-bond-y package, for a total of 99 for the hedged holder - losing 1 point versus par.**

This Is Really Only The "Second" Greek Bailout?

If you're into Greece you've probably already read all about it and if you're not I can't make you. But in brief: Greece is fixed and we will NEVER HEAR ABOUT ANY PROBLEMS EVER AGAIN. In less brief: (1) Some folks stayed up all night and produced a statement. (2) Greece's private creditors will be offered the long-anticipated opportunity to voluntarily exchange their old bonds for new bonds, which will for the most part be the same as the old bonds except for minor differences including but not limited to a greatly extended maturity (to 2042), a 53.5% reduced face amount, and a 3.6% blended interest rate. (3) If they don't voluntarily exchange, which they will because - hilariously - they've already taken accounting writedowns (and also because I guess it's better than a disorderly default), private holders will get CAC'ed, which may or may not be as bad as it sounds, but in any case at least CDS will pay out, unless it doesn't. (4) Also the public sector will do various helpful, confusing things. (5) In exchange for this, Greece will enact horrible austerity, and because no one believes that Greece will actually do that, there will be escrow accounts and what Reuters ominously calls "permanent surveillance by an increased European presence on the ground." (6) Everyone is pretty sure we'll be doing this again in six months and, look, just fair warning, I will not be writing about it then, because feh. We haven't had a serious international bankruptcy, which this pretty much is, since I started paying attention to the financial markets, two months ago, so I mostly think about insolvency from a US bankruptcy law perspective. One thing that happens in bankruptcy is that, like, really really roughly speaking, the creditors stop being creditors and become the owners. This isn't always the case but the basic playbook of US bankruptcy law is:

So Maybe Greek CDS Won't Be Fine, Who Knows, I Give Up

ISDA decided today that there has been no credit event for purposes of Greek CDS. Obvs! And by "obvs!" I mean what I said the other day, which is that with 100% certainty there's been no credit event yet, but with 100% certainty there will be, so everyone should just chill out. Except that it seems like that last part may be wrong. So go ahead and panic. I used to make convertible bonds and some of my time was spent answering questions about what happened to things upon Events. The most popular was: what happens after a merger? If you have a convertible that converts into 10 shares of XYZ stock, but now XYZ is being acquired and each share of XYZ is being acquired for $30 in cash and 4.5 shares of PQR stock and a pony - what happens to the convertible? And the answer I would give usually started with "don't trouble your pretty little head about it." Like, it's fine: you have a convertible that converts into 10 Things, and before the merger each Thing was an XYZ share, and after each Thing is exactly what an XYZ share transformed into, so you convert into $300 and 45 PQR shares and 10 ponies. It just works because it has to work. Economic interests follow without interruption from changes in form; derivative securities poof into derivatives of things that the underlying poofs into. There is no arbitrage! That assumption is central to doing any sort of derivative work, and it spoiled me a bit. Sometimes people would come up with more complicated scenarios involving dividends, multiple-step transactions, weird splits and spinoffs and sales, etc. etc. And I would generally start from the bias "it has to work, so I am sure the document written in the way that works." Where "works" means "the economics and intent of the trade are preserved after the change in form." But of course the document was written by humans, often specifically me, and those humans, often including me, are fallible. So there may well be documents from my former line of work that don't "work" in the sense that an issuer could do some structural tricks that would screw holders out of their economics - where the derivative doesn't follow the underlying everywhere it might go. These tricks are unlikely enough that I don't lose sleep over them. You can't predict everything. I sort of assumed that Greek CDS also had to just work but here is Felix Salmon at Reuters saying no. Lisa Pollack at FT Alphaville said something similar a week ago but I could not fathom that she meant it so I read it to mean something else. But she means it, and Felix does too. Go read it but the basic gist of this theory is:

Greek Debt Management Guy Thought His Partners In Obscuring The National Debt Would Be The Last People To Rip Him Off

Bloomberg's story about the Greece-Goldman swap-debt-whatever kaboodle, so let's talk about the philosophy of derivatives for a minute. First the story: Greece’s secret loan from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) was a costly mistake from the start. On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros ($793 million) more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said. There are at least three reasons to use derivatives. First you could be into some actual informed shifting of risks from those who want to pay to get rid of them to those willing to be paid to bear them, or from those who have Risk X and want Risk Y to those who etc. Boy are there a lot of textbooks that talk about this. And I suppose it even happens sometimes. You could imagine that a vanilla interest rate swap entered into by a corporation on its bonds or credit facility could qualify as this. I guess people who trade listed options to do covered-write strategies or speculate on takeovers or whatever fall in this category, maybe modulo the "informed." (Sometimes!) Then there's tax and regulatory arbitrage. This is time-honored and much of it, particularly the stuff with the best names, is focused on tax dodging, but there are also various other regimes - securities laws, accounting, whatever - that you might want to get around with derivatives. Paying $10 for CDS with a maximum payout of $10 purely to lower your capital requirements is a recent amusing/egregious example. The thing that wasn't mentioned in the CFA Level I derivatives primer is principal-agent arbitrage. This is ... first of all, let's say this isn't a derivatives issue, or a financial-industry issue, it's like a life issue. (Some would say it's why there's an M&A business, for instance.*) But it's also a derivatives issue! And you can see why if you're as baffled as I am by the Bloomberg story. So this: