Derivatives ‘Mother of All Bubbles’ exploding



A derivative is a financial contract whose value is derived from the performance of underlying market factors, such as interest rates, currency exchange rates, and commodity, credit, and equity prices. Derivative transactions include an assortment of financial contracts, including structured debt obligations and deposits, swaps, futures, options, caps, floors, collars, forwards, and various combinations thereof.

Each quarter, based on information from the Reports of Condition and Income (call reports) filed by all insured U.S. commercial banks and trust companies as well as other published financial data, the OCC prepares the Quarterly Report on Bank Derivatives Activities. That report describes what the call report information discloses about banks’ derivative activities.

See also Accounting

Learn More

Risk Management of Financial Derivatives (Comptroller’s Handbook, January 1997)


Credit Derivatives – Guidelines for National Banks (OCC 1996-43, August 1996); Risk Management of Financial Derivatives (BC 277, November 1993)
Covers supervisory guidance on issues related to bank participation in the developing market for credit derivatives

FAS 133 Accounting for Derivatives (OCC 1999-1, January 1999); Interim Guidance
Covers the requirement to record derivatives on the balance sheet as assets or liabilities at their fair value

Risk-Based Capital Interpretations Credit Derivatives (OCC 1999-43, November 1999); Interagency Statement
Addresses the risk-based capital treatment of certain synthetic securitization transactions involving credit derivatives

Risk Management of Financial Derivatives and Bank Trading Activities (OCC 1999-2, January 1999, Supplemental Guidance)
Summarizes key lessons learned and fundamental control issues reaffirmed by financial institutions’ experience since mid-1997

Comptroller Speeches:

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Board of Directors (May 11, 2010)
Comptroller discusses a proposed rule on bank securitizations.

Institute of International Bankers (March 1, 2010)
Comptroller identifies the central challenge for bank regulators over the coming year to be striking the right balance between capital and credit availability.

Institute of International Bankers (March 3, 2008)
Comptroller discusses efforts to improve bank and regulatory practices pertaining to collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps.

Global Association of Risk Professionals (February 27, 2008)
Comptroller discusses credit market disruptions involving asset-backed securities, tranches, credit default swaps, and credit rating agencies.

New York Bankers Association (November 10, 2006)
Comptroller tells bankers that managing risk in derivatives markets is essential to maintain public confidence in nation’s financial institutions.

Related News and Issuances
Publish Date Identifier Title
12/16/2011 NR 2011-149, OCC Reports Third Quarter Trading Revenue of $13.1 Billion
09/16/2011 NR 2011-118, OCC Reports Second Quarter Trading Revenue of $7.4 Billion
06/17/2011 NR 2011-75, OCC Reports First Quarter Trading Revenue of $7.4 Billion



NOTE: more recent at bottom of page


Derivatives Mother of All Bubbles exploding 

In 2003, Warren Buffett called


“financial weapons of mass destruction”


What are they about to destroy



a few charts to see magnitude

click on image to enlarge


and this





and for more info see

Also see

Hedge Hogs; Gold Man’s Sacks; “financial terrorist attacks;” and the Obama sellout: > HERE

SUPER COMMITTEE BIG BANK ROBBERY and “this sucker” going down > HERE

Terrorism by Economic Collapse, debt bondage, money as debt on interest, etc > HERE

Derivatives ‘Mother of All Bubbles’ exploding > HERE

Super rich 1% vs 99 %; Terrorism Cycle: Guillotines: Occupy “ALL” streets  > HERE

and so many more on those websites (under development with limited resources)


Great derivatives crash

Mother of All Bubbles Exploding,

Political Earthquakes Under Way


A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives

Published: December 11, 2010

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

PROTECTING THE CUSTOMER Daniel Singer runs a heating oil company in Elmsford, N.Y., and is a derivatives customer. In order to offer homeowners fixed-rate oil plans, he buys derivatives contracts. But since the trading system is not transparent, he can’t tell whether the prices he gets are fair or not.

House Advantage

Writing the Rules

This series examines how Wall Street tries to gain an upper hand.

Previous Articles in the Series »

Yuri Gripas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A COST TO EVERYONE Gary Gensler of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission says the current system “adds up to higher costs to all Americans.”

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

Drawn from giants like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the bankers form a powerful committee that helps oversee trading in derivatives, instruments which, like insurance, are used to hedge risk.

In theory, this group exists to safeguard the integrity of the multitrillion-dollar market. In practice, it also defends the dominance of the big banks.

The banks in this group, which is affiliated with a new derivatives clearinghouse, have fought to block other banks from entering the market, and they are also trying to thwart efforts to make full information on prices and fees freely available.

Banks’ influence over this market, and over clearinghouses like the one this select group advises, has costly implications for businesses large and small, like Dan Singer’s home heating-oil company in Westchester County, north of New York City.

This fall, many of Mr. Singer’s customers purchased fixed-rate plans to lock in winter heating oil at around $3 a gallon. While that price was above the prevailing $2.80 a gallon then, the contracts will protect homeowners if bitterly cold weather pushes the price higher.

But Mr. Singer wonders if his company, Robison Oil, should be getting a better deal. He uses derivatives like swaps and options to create his fixed plans. But he has no idea how much lower his prices — and his customers’ prices — could be, he says, because banks don’t disclose fees associated with the derivatives.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if I got a fair price, or what they’re charging me,” Mr. Singer said.

Derivatives shift risk from one party to another, and they offer many benefits, like enabling Mr. Singer to sell his fixed plans without having to bear all the risk that oil prices could suddenly rise. Derivatives are also big business on Wall Street. Banks collect many billions of dollars annually in undisclosed fees associated with these instruments — an amount that almost certainly would be lower if there were more competition and transparent prices.

Just how much derivatives trading costs ordinary Americans is uncertain. The size and reach of this market has grown rapidly over the past two decades. Pension funds today use derivatives to hedge investments. States and cities use them to try to hold down borrowing costs. Airlines use them to secure steady fuel prices. Food companies use them to lock in prices of commodities like wheat or beef.

The marketplace as it functions now “adds up to higher costs to all Americans,” said Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates most derivatives. More oversight of the banks in this market is needed, he said.

But big banks influence the rules governing derivatives through a variety of industry groups. The banks’ latest point of influence are clearinghouses like ICE Trust, which holds the monthly meetings with the nine bankers in New York.

Under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, many derivatives will be traded via such clearinghouses. Mr. Gensler wants to lessen banks’ control over these new institutions. But Republican lawmakers, many of whom received large campaign contributions from bankers who want to influence how the derivatives rules are written, say they plan to push back against much of the coming reform. On Thursday, the commission canceled a vote over a proposal to make prices more transparent, raising speculation that Mr. Gensler did not have enough support from his fellow commissioners.

The Department of Justice is looking into derivatives, too. The department’s antitrust unit is actively investigating “the possibility of anticompetitive practices in the credit derivatives clearing, trading and information services industries,” according to a department spokeswoman.

Indeed, the derivatives market today reminds some experts of the Nasdaq stock market in the 1990s. Back then, the Justice Department discovered that Nasdaq market makers were secretly colluding to protect their own profits. Following that scandal, reforms and electronic trading systems cut Nasdaq stock trading costs to 1/20th of their former level — an enormous savings for investors.

“When you limit participation in the governance of an entity to a few like-minded institutions or individuals who have an interest in keeping competitors out, you have the potential for bad things to happen. It’s antitrust 101,” said Robert E. Litan, who helped oversee the Justice Department’s Nasdaq investigation as deputy assistant attorney general and is now a fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. “The history of derivatives trading is it has grown up as a very concentrated industry, and old habits are hard to break.”

Representatives from the nine banks that dominate the market declined to comment on the Department of Justice investigation.

Clearing involves keeping track of trades and providing a central repository for money backing those wagers. A spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank, which is among the most influential of the group, said this system will reduce the risks in the market. She said that Deutsche is focused on ensuring this process is put in place without disrupting the marketplace.

The Deutsche spokeswoman also said the banks’ role in this process has been a success, saying in a statement that the effort “is one of the best examples of public-private partnerships.”

Established, But Can’t Get In

The Bank of New York Mellon’s origins go back to 1784, when it was founded by Alexander Hamilton. Today, it provides administrative services on more than $23 trillion of institutional money.

Recently, the bank has been seeking to enter the inner circle of the derivatives market, but so far, it has been rebuffed.

Bank of New York officials say they have been thwarted by competitors who control important committees at the new clearinghouses, which were set up in the wake of the financial crisis.

Bank of New York Mellon has been trying to become a so-called clearing member since early this year. But three of the four main clearinghouses told the bank that its derivatives operation has too little capital, and thus potentially poses too much risk to the overall market.

The bank dismisses that explanation as absurd. “We are not a nobody,” said Sanjay Kannambadi, chief executive of BNY Mellon Clearing, a subsidiary created to get into the business. “But we don’t qualify. We certainly think that’s kind of crazy.”

The real reason the bank is being shut out, he said, is that rivals want to preserve their profit margins, and they are the ones who helped write the membership rules.

Mr. Kannambadi said Bank of New York’s clients asked it to enter the derivatives business because they believe they are being charged too much by big banks. Its entry could lower fees. Others that have yet to gain full entry to the derivatives trading club are the State Street Corporation, and small brokerage firms like MF Global and Newedge.

The criteria seem arbitrary, said Marcus Katz, a senior vice president at Newedge, which is owned by two big French banks.

“It appears that the membership criteria were set so that a certain group of market participants could meet that, and everyone else would have to jump through hoops,” Mr. Katz said.

The one new derivatives clearinghouse that has welcomed Newedge, Bank of New York and the others — Nasdaq — has been avoided by the big derivatives banks.

Only the Insiders Know

How did big banks come to have such influence that they can decide who can compete with them?

Ironically, this development grew in part out of worries during the height of the financial crisis in 2008. A major concern during the meltdown was that no one — not even government regulators — fully understood the size and interconnections of the derivatives market, especially the market in credit default swaps, which insure against defaults of companies or mortgages bonds. The panic led to the need to bail out the American International Group, for instance, which had C.D.S. contracts with many large banks.

In the midst of the turmoil, regulators ordered banks to speed up plans — long in the making — to set up a clearinghouse to handle derivatives trading. The intent was to reduce risk and increase stability in the market.

Two established exchanges that trade commodities and futures, the InterContinentalExchange, or ICE, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, set up clearinghouses, and, so did Nasdaq.

Each of these new clearinghouses had to persuade big banks to join their efforts, and they doled out membership on their risk committees, which is where trading rules are written, as an incentive.

None of the three clearinghouses would divulge the members of their risk committees when asked by a reporter. But two people with direct knowledge of ICE’s committee said the bank members are: Thomas J. Benison of JPMorgan Chase & Company; James J. Hill of Morgan Stanley; Athanassios Diplas of Deutsche Bank; Paul Hamill of UBS; Paul Mitrokostas of Barclays; Andy Hubbard of Credit Suisse; Oliver Frankel of Goldman Sachs; Ali Balali of Bank of America; and Biswarup Chatterjee of Citigroup.

Through representatives, these bankers declined to discuss the committee or the derivatives market. Some of the spokesmen noted that the bankers have expertise that helps the clearinghouse.

Many of these same people hold influential positions at other clearinghouses, or on committees at the powerful International Swaps and Derivatives Association, which helps govern the market.

Critics have called these banks the “derivatives dealers club,” and they warn that the club is unlikely to give up ground easily.

“The revenue these dealers make on derivatives is very large and so the incentive they have to protect those revenues is extremely large,” said Darrell Duffie, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, who studied the derivatives market earlier this year with Federal Reserve researchers. “It will be hard for the dealers to keep their market share if everybody who can prove their creditworthiness is allowed into the clearinghouses. So they are making arguments that others shouldn’t be allowed in.”

Perhaps no business in finance is as profitable today as derivatives. Not making loans. Not offering credit cards. Not advising on mergers and acquisitions. Not managing money for the wealthy.

The precise amount that banks make trading derivatives isn’t known, but there is anecdotal evidence of their profitability. Former bank traders who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements with their former employers said their banks typically earned $25,000 for providing $25 million of insurance against the risk that a corporation might default on its debt via the swaps market. These traders turn over millions of dollars in these trades every day, and credit default swaps are just one of many kinds of derivatives.

The secrecy surrounding derivatives trading is a key factor enabling banks to make such large profits.

If an investor trades shares of Google or Coca-Cola or any other company on a stock exchange, the price — and the commission, or fee — are known. Electronic trading has made this information available to anyone with a computer, while also increasing competition — and sharply lowering the cost of trading. Even corporate bonds have become more transparent recently. Trading costs dropped there almost immediately after prices became more visible in 2002.

Not so with derivatives. For many, there is no central exchange, like the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, where the prices of derivatives are listed. Instead, when a company or an investor wants to buy a derivative contract for, say, oil or wheat or securitized mortgages, an order is placed with a trader at a bank. The trader matches that order with someone selling the same type of derivative.

Banks explain that many derivatives trades have to work this way because they are often customized, unlike shares of stock. One share of Google is the same as any other. But the terms of an oil derivatives contract can vary greatly.

And the profits on most derivatives are masked. In most cases, buyers are told only what they have to pay for the derivative contract, say $25 million. That amount is more than the seller gets, but how much more — $5,000, $25,000 or $50,000 more — is unknown. That’s because the seller also is told only the amount he will receive. The difference between the two is the bank’s fee and profit. So, the bigger the difference, the better for the bank — and the worse for the customers.

It would be like a real estate agent selling a house, but the buyer knowing only what he paid and the seller knowing only what he received. The agent would pocket the difference as his fee, rather than disclose it. Moreover, only the real estate agent — and neither buyer nor seller — would have easy access to the prices paid recently for other homes on the same block.

An Electronic Exchange?

Two years ago, Kenneth C. Griffin, owner of the giant hedge fund Citadel Group, which is based in Chicago, proposed open pricing for commonly traded derivatives, by quoting their prices electronically. Citadel oversees $11 billion in assets, so saving even a few percentage points in costs on each trade could add up to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But Mr. Griffin’s proposal for an electronic exchange quickly ran into opposition, and what happened is a window into how banks have fiercely fought competition and open pricing. To get a transparent exchange going, Citadel offered the use of its technological prowess for a joint venture with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which is best-known as a trading outpost for contracts on commodities like coffee and cotton. The goal was to set up a clearinghouse as well as an electronic trading system that would display prices for credit default swaps.

Big banks that handle most derivatives trades, including Citadel’s, didn’t like Citadel’s idea. Electronic trading might connect customers directly with each other, cutting out the banks as middlemen.

So the banks responded in the fall of 2008 by pairing with ICE, one of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s rivals, which was setting up its own clearinghouse. The banks attached a number of conditions on that partnership, which came in the form of a merger between ICE’s clearinghouse and a nascent clearinghouse that the banks were establishing. These conditions gave the banks significant power at ICE’s clearinghouse, according to two people with knowledge of the deal. For instance, the banks insisted that ICE install the chief executive of their effort as the head of the joint effort. That executive, Dirk Pruis, left after about a year and now works at Goldman Sachs. Through a spokesman, he declined to comment.

The banks also refused to allow the deal with ICE to close until the clearinghouse’s rulebook was established, with provisions in the banks’ favor. Key among those were the membership rules, which required members to hold large amounts of capital in derivatives units, a condition that was prohibitive even for some large banks like the Bank of New York.

The banks also required ICE to provide market data exclusively to Markit, a little-known company that plays a pivotal role in derivatives. Backed by Goldman, JPMorgan and several other banks, Markit provides crucial information about derivatives, like prices.

Kevin Gould, who is the president of Markit and was involved in the clearinghouse merger, said the banks were simply being prudent and wanted rules that protected the market and themselves.

“The one thing I know the banks are concerned about is their risk capital,” he said. “You really are going to get some comfort that the way the entity operates isn’t going to put you at undue risk.”

Even though the banks were working with ICE, Citadel and the C.M.E. continued to move forward with their exchange. They, too, needed to work with Markit, because it owns the rights to certain derivatives indexes. But Markit put them in a tough spot by basically insisting that every trade involve at least one bank, since the banks are the main parties that have licenses with Markit.

This demand from Markit effectively secured a permanent role for the big derivatives banks since Citadel and the C.M.E. could not move forward without Markit’s agreement. And so, essentially boxed in, they agreed to the terms, according to the two people with knowledge of the matter. (A spokesman for C.M.E. said last week that the exchange did not cave to Markit’s terms.)

Still, even after that deal was complete, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange soon had second thoughts about working with Citadel and about introducing electronic screens at all. The C.M.E. backed out of the deal in mid-2009, ending Mr. Griffin’s dream of a new, electronic trading system.

With Citadel out of the picture, the banks agreed to join the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s clearinghouse effort. The exchange set up a risk committee that, like ICE’s committee, was mainly populated by bankers.

It remains unclear why the C.M.E. ended its electronic trading initiative. Two people with knowledge of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s clearinghouse said the banks refused to get involved unless the exchange dropped Citadel and the entire plan for electronic trading.

Kim Taylor, the president of Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s clearing division, said “the market” simply wasn’t interested in Mr. Griffin’s idea.

Critics now say the banks have an edge because they have had early control of the new clearinghouses’ risk committees. Ms. Taylor at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange said the people on those committees are supposed to look out for the interest of the broad market, rather than their own narrow interests. She likened the banks’ role to that of Washington lawmakers who look out for the interests of the nation, not just their constituencies.

“It’s not like the sort of representation where if I’m elected to be the representative from the state of Illinois, I go there to represent the state of Illinois,” Ms. Taylor said in an interview.

Officials at ICE, meantime, said they solicit views from customers through a committee that is separate from the bank-dominated risk committee.

“We spent and we still continue to spend a lot of time on thinking about governance,” said Peter Barsoom, the chief operating officer of ICE Trust. “We want to be sure that we have all the right stakeholders appropriately represented.”

Mr. Griffin said last week that customers have so far paid the price for not yet having electronic trading. He puts the toll, by a rough estimate, in the tens of billions of dollars, saying that electronic trading would remove much of this “economic rent the dealers enjoy from a market that is so opaque.”

“It’s a stunning amount of money,” Mr. Griffin said. “The key players today in the derivatives market are very apprehensive about whether or not they will be winners or losers as we move towards more transparent, fairer markets, and since they’re not sure if they’ll be winners or losers, their basic instinct is to resist change.”

In, Out and Around Henhouse

The result of the maneuvering of the past couple years is that big banks dominate the risk committees of not one, but two of the most prominent new clearinghouses in the United States.

That puts them in a pivotal position to determine how derivatives are traded.

Under the Dodd-Frank bill, the clearinghouses were given broad authority. The risk committees there will help decide what prices will be charged for clearing trades, on top of fees banks collect for matching buyers and sellers, and how much money customers must put up as collateral to cover potential losses.

Perhaps more important, the risk committees will recommend which derivatives should be handled through clearinghouses, and which should be exempt.

Regulators will have the final say. But banks, which lobbied heavily to limit derivatives regulation in the Dodd-Frank bill, are likely to argue that few types of derivatives should have to go through clearinghouses. Critics contend that the bankers will try to keep many types of derivatives away from the clearinghouses, since clearinghouses represent a step towards broad electronic trading that could decimate profits.

The banks already have a head start. Even a newly proposed rule to limit the banks’ influence over clearing allows them to retain majorities on risk committees. It remains unclear whether regulators creating the new rules — on topics like transparency and possible electronic trading — will drastically change derivatives trading, or leave the bankers with great control.

One former regulator warned against deferring to the banks. Theo Lubke, who until this fall oversaw the derivatives reforms at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said banks do not always think of the market as a whole as they help write rules.

“Fundamentally, the banks are not good at self-regulation,” Mr. Lubke said in a panel last March at Columbia University. “That’s not their expertise, that’s not their primary interest.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 12, 2010, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: HOUSE ADVANTAGE; A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Derivatives Trading.

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Warren Buffett’s Wall Street War (pdf)
TSF’s Dark Comedy Commentary October 20, 2009
by Janet Tavakoli

In a January 2009 interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Warren Buffett criticized leveraging “to the sky,” and creating “phony instruments [RMBSs, CDOs, et al.] that fool other people so you stick money in your pocket.” In 2002, he claimed over-the-counter derivatives are “financial weapons of mass destruction” and participants who account for them have “enormous incentives to cheat.”

Warren Buffett, the blogosphere’s “Oracle of Omaha,” often chastises the financial community. If you cost him money, he’s liable to write an expose. He posts annual shareholder letters on a low-tech website and seems to labor under the assumption that rational people eagerly read his blog. Congress and regulators are dismissive of Buffett’s hyperbolic rhetoric; it is fit only for a banana republic.

Buffett called the crisis an economic Pearl Harbor. [Buffett is not calling for this, but… ] During World War II, we imposed an excess profits tax. We should impose a 95% excess profits tax—or windfall profits tax—on certain financial institutions (including Goldman Sachs) enriching themselves with ongoing low-cost Fed funding and debt guarantees.

End of Excerpt. Click above link for full commentary.

Janet Tavakoli is the president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based firm that provides consulting to financial institutions and institutional investors. Ms. Tavakoli has more than 20 years of experience in senior investment banking positions, trading, structuring and marketing structured financial products. She is a former adjunct professor of derivatives at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. She is the author of:Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (John Wiley & Sons, 1998, 2001), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Janet Tavakoli’s book on the global financial meltdown is Dear Mr. Buffett: What An Investor Learns 1,269 Miles From Wall Street (Wiley 2009)


Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 13:32 GMT

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Buffett warns on investment ‘time bomb’Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction” Warren BuffettThe rapidly growing trade in derivatives poses a “mega-catastrophic risk” for the economy and most shares are still “too expensive”, legendary investor Warren Buffett has warned.The world’s second-richest man made the comments in his famous and plain-spoken “annual letter to shareholders”, excerpts of which have been published by Fortune magazine.The derivatives market has exploded in recent years, with investment banks selling billions of dollars worth of these investments to clients as a way to off-load or manage market risk.But Mr Buffett argues that such highly complex financial instruments are time bombs and “financial weapons of mass destruction” that could harm not only their buyers and sellers, but the whole economic system.Contracts devised by ‘madmen’Derivatives are financial instruments that allow investors to speculate on the future price of, for example, commodities or shares – without buying the underlying investment.

 Derivatives generate reported earnings that are often wildly overstated and based on estimates whose inaccuracy may not be exposed for many years Warren Buffett

Derivates like futures, options and swaps were developed to allow investors hedge risks in financial markets – in effect buy insurance against market movements -, but have quickly become a means of investment in their own right.

Outstanding derivatives contracts – excluding those traded on exchanges such as the International Petroleum Exchange – are worth close to $85 trillion, according to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association.

Some derivatives contracts, Mr Buffett says, appear to have been devised by “madmen”.

He warns that derivatives can push companies onto a “spiral that can lead to a corporate meltdown”, like the demise of the notorious hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998.

Derivatives are like ‘hell’

 Large amounts of risk have become concentrated in the hands of relatively few derivatives dealers … which can trigger serious systemic problems Warren Buffett

Derivatives also pose a dangerous incentive for false accounting, Mr Buffett says.

The profits and losses from derivates deals are booked straight away, even though no actual money changes hand. In many cases the real costs hit companies only many years later.

This can result in nasty accounting errors. Some of them spring from “honest” optimism. But others are the result of “huge-scale fraud”, and Mr Buffett points to the US energy market, which relied for most of its deals on derivatives trading and resulted in the collapse of Enron.

Berkshire Hathaway, the investment group led by Mr Buffett, is pulling out of the market, closing down the derivatives trading subsidiary it bought as part of a huge reinsurance company a few years ago.

In his letter Mr Buffett compares the derivatives business to “hell… easy to enter and almost impossible to exit”, and predicts that it will take years to unwind the complex deals struck by its subsidiary General Re Securities.

Warren Buffett, dubbed “the sage of Omaha”, from where he controls Berkshire Hathaway, is well-known for both his blunt assessments of the markets and the high returns he delivers to shareholders.

This year, he remains cool towards further share investments, despite the sharp correction in stock market values. Mr Buffett says this “dismal fact is testimony to the insanity of valuations reached during The Great Bubble”.

Berkshire backyard barbecues

A good friend of Bill Gates, he famously refused to invest in technology shares during the boom years that came to a sudden end in March 2000. As a result, Berkshire was sitting pretty after the technology bubble burst.

In marked contrast to the hubris of former managers at fallen firms like Enron and WorldCom, Mr Buffett is known for his down-to-earth style, summoning shareholders not to glitzy hotels but “Berkshire backyard barbecues” and baseball games in out-of-the-way Omaha, Nebraska.

But his strategy of identifying undervalued companies with good management in unfashionable retail sectors or the insurance industry and investing in them for the long-term has produced spectacular returns.

During the past 37 years, the company has delivered an average annual return of 22.6%. Since 1965 the company’s book value has gone up by 194,936%.

However in 2001, the last year for which detailed numbers are available, heavy losses in the insurance industry worldwide resulted in a $3.77bn loss at Berkshire Hathaway – the first loss in the firm’s history under Warren Buffett.


Derivatives of Mass Destruction: From ‘Fat Man’ to ‘Fat Finger’

5 comments |  May 10, 2010  |  includes: DIAQQQSPY

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I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. — Albert Einstein

Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that the White House does not believe Thursday’s Wall Street nosedive was the result of a cyberattack. — The Hill

Had Mr. Einstein lived long enough he would not have been ignorant of WWIII’s weapons- they are financial in nature, and, instead of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy“, modern WMDs are called Credit Default Swaps (CDS) and are ignited by a “Fat Finger“.

The need to hedge derivative portfolio “delta” (sometimes in amounts far exceeding the underlying security’s total value and often “computer driven”) makes financial markets very vulnerable to “Fat Finger” problems (or any multi-standard deviation price changes). It’s a WMD (not confined to CDS, hedging is common to all derivatives) waiting for a trigger.

We need to dismantle these WMD, instead of focusing all effort onstamping out the next lit fuse.

Unconvinced? Think I’m (falsely) “shouting fire in a crowded theater?”

Read on.

In theory, CDS provide securities’ owners a means to cheaply insure against their default. By paying a small premium (or series of premiums) [usually far smaller than the security’s yield] the risk of default is swapped to the CDS seller.

In theory, as with all derivatives (in a former life I used to trade these things), sellers can instantaneously hedge (for instance, by selling the security issuer’s stock, bond, or currency) the assumed risks, deriving (sellers hope) profit from the received premiums less any hedging costs.

In practice, (as I learned, painfully) trying to maintain hedges in fast markets (and I traded foreign exchange–a pretty liquid arena) can be impossible. Worse, as price deviation from last hedged position grows, the amounts to hedge grow as well. A .5% move in the underlying might call for a 10% hedge, while a 2% move might call for 35% and so on.

Adding insult to injury, all those hedges may have to be unwound if prices come back to “normal.” Among traders, market chasing as described above is called hedging “bad gamma” (which is about as fun as having “bad karma”).

In practice, CDS are not primarily used as insurance. They are, more often, purchased “naked,”, not to hedge against a default, but to bet on it, and perhaps, as you’ll see, to actually accelerate it, particularly if one could, through naked purchases in greater amounts than existing underlying securities, force hedgers into selling over-drive.

I suspect events like last week’s panic in equity markets will become far more frequent so long as CDS use (in particular), and thus necessity of hedging thereof, continues to grow.

Warren Buffett (BRK.A) , before a Galileo-like recantation and rebaptism in the church of TBTF finance, was a pioneer in recognizing derivatives as financial weapons of mass destruction. Like the nuclear weapons of WWII, modern WMD are examples of tremendous leverage–tiny amounts of fissile material or premium, respectively, explode with enormous yield, wreaking horrific damage.

Unlike atomic weapons, whose direct effects are limited to a blast and radiation radius, modern WMD, like CDS, use high speed connectivity and computer driven hedging as transmission mechanisms. The “Fat Finger” ignites a “critical price deviation” forcing hedgers of naked CDS to (try to) sell what might be many multiples of available securities.

Thursday’s market action might in the future be seen as the Trinity testof the financial Manhattan Projectbroadcast live to anyone in the world with an internet connection.

Fortunately, just as atomic weapons require radioactive cores, so too do our CDS WMD. In the latter case, the underlying core (financial entity) must be highly leveraged. Instability, either at an atomic or financial level, is key to explosive yield. Trying to force default in an unleveraged, highly solvent financial entity would be about as fun as using carbon-12 instead of uranium-235 in an atomic bomb.

In other words, while real world WMD deterrence might require a missile shield, financial WMD deterrence might require a solvency shield. The more solvent, and less leveraged a company becomes, the less it needs to respond to the whims of the markets. It can just go about its business.

Highly leveraged financial companies like Lehman (LEHMQ.PK) and Bear Stearns were prime “fissile” material–so unstable they needed daily financial stabilization. Unfortunately, there seems to me to be far more financially unstable material laying around than fissile isotopes–Wall Street finance being far more effective than, say, Iranian centrifuges.

On the bright side, fears of “Fat Fingers” igniting naked CDS into financial WMD might someday be seen in the same light as plans for mutually assured destruction (MAD) – as signs of the need to dismantle armaments. Perhaps Homeland Security should audit the Fed, and dismantle the highly leveraged and unstable financial cores we’ve strategically placed around the nation.

Either that or people of the future might visit New York as they now visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, looking at a plaque commemorating the destruction caused by a “Fat Finger” instead of a “Fat Man” or a “Little Boy.”

Who knows, maybe in addition to Arms Control, Capital Control will be a national security matter.

This article is tagged with: Macro ViewMarket OutlookUnited States

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A £516 trillion derivatives ‘time-bomb’

Not for nothing did US billionaire Warren Buffett call them the real ‘weapons of mass destruction’

By Margareta Pagano and Simon Evans

The market is worth more than $516 trillion, (£303 trillion), roughly 10 times the value of the entire world’s output: it’s been called the “ticking time-bomb”.

It’s a market in which the lead protagonists – typically aggressive, highly educated, and now wealthy young men – have flourished in the derivatives boom. But it’s a market that is set to come to a crashing halt – the Great Unwind has begun.

Last week the beginning of the end started for many hedge funds with the combination of diving market values and worried investors pulling out their cash for safer climes.

Some of the world’s biggest hedge funds – SAC Capital, Lone Pine and Tiger Global – all revealed they were sitting on double-digit losses this year. September’s falls wiped out any profits made in the rest of the year. Polygon, once a darling of the London hedge fund circuit, last week said it was capping the basic salaries of its managers to £100,000 each. Not bad for the average punter but some way off the tens of millions plundered by these hotshots during the good times. But few will be shedding any tears.

The complex and opaque derivatives markets in which these hedge funds played has been dubbed the world’s biggest black hole because they operate outside of the grasp of governments, tax inspectors and regulators. They operate in a parallel, shadow world to the rest of the banking system. They are private contracts between two companies or institutions which can’t be controlled or properly assessed. In themselves derivative contracts are not dangerous, but if one of them should go wrong – the bad 2 per cent as it’s been called – then it is the domino effect which could be so enormous and scary.

Most markets have something behind them. Central banks require reserves – something that backs up the transaction. But derivatives don’t have anything – because they are not real money, but paper money. It is also impossible to establish their worth – the $516 trillion number is actually only a notional one. In the mid-Nineties, Nick Leeson lost Barings £1.3bn trading in derivatives, and the bank went bust. In 1998 hedge fund LTCM’s $5bn loss nearly brought down the entire system. In fragile times like this, another LTCM could have catastrophic results.

That is why everyone is now so frightened, even the traders, who are desperately trying to unwind their positions but finding it impossible because trading is so volatile and it’s difficult to find counterparties. Nor have the hedge funds been in the slightest bit interested in succumbing to normal rules: of the world’s thousands of hedge funds only 24 have volunteered to sign up to a code of conduct.

Few understand how this world operates. The US Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, tapped up some of Wall Street’s best for a primer on their workings when he took the job a few years ago. Britain’s financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, has long talked about the problems the markets could face on the back of derivative complexity. Unfortunately it did little to curb the products’ growth.

In America the naysayers have been rather more vocal for longer. Famously, Warren Buffett, the billionaire who made his money the old-fashioned way, called them “weapons of mass destruction”. In the late 1990s when confidence was roaring in the midst of the dotcom boom, a small band of politicians, uncomfortable with the ease with which banks would be allowed to play in these burgeoning markets, were painted as Luddites failing to move with the times.

Little-known Democratic senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota was one of the most vociferous refuseniks, telling his supposedly more savvy New York peers of the dangers. “If you want to gamble, go to Las Vegas. If you want to trade in derivatives, God bless you,” he said. He was ignored.

What is a Derivative?

Warren Buffett, the American investment guru, dubbed them “financial weapons of mass destruction”, but for the once-great-and-good of Wall Street they were the currency that enabled banks, hedge funds and other speculators to make billions.

Anything that carries a price can spawn a derivatives market. They are financial contracts sold to pass on risk to others. The credit or bond derivatives market is one such example. It is thought that speculation in this area alone is worth more than $56 trillion (£33 trillion), although that probably underestimates the true figure since lax regulation has seen the market explode over the past two years.

At the core of this market is the credit derivative swap, effectively an insurance policy against the default in the interest payment on a corporate bond. One doesn’t even need to own the bond itself. It is like Joe Public buying an insurance policy on someone else’s house and pocketing the full value if it burns down.

As markets slid into crisis, and banks and corporations began to default on bond payments, many of these policies have proved worthless.

Emilio Botin, the chairman of Santander, the Spanish bank that has enjoyed phenomenal success during the credit crunch, once said: “I never invest in something I don’t understand.” A wise man, you may think.

Simon Evans

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Derivatives: Fiscal Weapons of Mass Destruction

Friday, 07 May 2010 12:28 PM

By Arnaud De Borchgrave


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Even the world’s most savvy stock market giants (e.g., Warren E. Buffett) have warned over the past decade that derivatives are the fiscal equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction, potentially lethal, and the consequences of such an explosion would make the recent global financial and economic crisis seem like penny ante.

But generously lubricated lobbyists for the unrestricted, unsupervised derivative markets tell congressional committees and government regulators to butt out.

While banks all over the world were imploding and some $50 trillion vanished in global stock markets, the derivatives market grew by an estimated 65 percent, the Bank for International Settlements said.

B.I.S. convenes the world’s 57 most powerful central bankers in Basel, Switzerland, for periodic secret meetings. Occasionally, they issue a cry of alarm. This time, derivatives had soared from $414.8 trillion at the end of 2006 to $683.7 trillion in mid-2008 — in 18 months time.

The derivatives market is estimated at $700 trillion (notional value, not market value). The world’s gross domestic product in 2009: $69.8 trillion; the United States’: $14.2 trillion. The total market cap of all major global stock markets? A mere $30 trillion. And the total amount of dollar bills in circulation, most of them abroad: $830 billion (not trillion).

One of the Middle East’s most powerful bankers conceded to us recently that even after listening to experts explain the drill, he still doesn’t understand derivatives and therefore doesn’t trust them and won’t have anything to do with them. And when that weapon of mass destruction explodes, he explained, “Our bank’s customers, from all over the world, will be saved from the disaster.”

What’s so difficult to understand about derivatives? Essentially, they are bets for or against the house — red or black at the roulette wheel. Or betting for or against the weather in situations where the weather is critical (e.g., vineyards).

Forwards, futures, options, and swaps form the panoply of derivatives. Credit derivatives are based on loans, bonds, or other forms of credit. Over-the-counter derivatives are contracts that are traded and privately negotiated directly between two parties, outside of a regular exchange.

All of this is unregulated. What happens between two parties — notably hedge funds — is like what happens between two individuals who bet on the final score of a football or baseball game.

Congressional committees have been warned time and again about “ticking time bombs” and “financial weapons of mass destruction” — to no avail, demonstrating that both the U.S. government and the U.S. Congress are dysfunctional. The need for constitutional reform comes up frequently in Washington think tank discussions, only to end with the observation that Democrats and Republicans would never agree on anything that momentous.

On May 16, 2006, for example, Richard T. McCormack, vice chairman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch and former undersecretary of state for economic and agricultural affairs, told a Senate banking hearing on derivatives and hedge funds in 2006, when the derivative industry was in the $300 trillion range: “The increasing internationalization of finance and investment suggests the need for an ever more global approach to monitoring potentially dangerous problems.”

Derivatives played a key role in camouflaging the multibillion-dollar Enron scam in 2001. Similarly, the Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) hedge fund debacle of 1998 almost slayed the global monetary system. Yet its trading loss was a mere $5 billion. But this derivative-driven collapse seriously threatened the soundness of financial markets.

When the Russian ruble suddenly nosedived without warning, LTCM found itself exposed with more than $1 trillion in foreign exchange derivatives. It couldn’t pay. The N.Y. Fed organized a consortium of companies (Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Bros.) to buy out LTCM and cover its debts. LTCM shareholders were wiped out but none of the creditors took losses.

LTCM was a hedge fund with only 200 employees, but without the N.Y. Fed’s intervention, it would have caused a crash felt around the world.

McCormack pleaded with congressional banking experts to correct, if we can, any structural or technical problems that could increase the likelihood of systemic risk in the event of future shock to the financial system, such as the Russian default (i.e., debacle) in 1998. No response.

On Feb. 28, 2006, when he was president of the New York Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined challenges to financial stability posed by derivatives. No response.

The 2007 U.S. subprime mortgage global disaster was also derivatives-driven — and provoked the biggest financial and economic disaster since the Great Depression.

McCormack, then a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained to the banking committee how Italy secured entrance into the euro by purchasing exotic derivatives that “obscured the true financial condition of the country until after they were admitted” to the new European common currency. No reaction.

The same thing happened with Japan when some banks “purchased derivative instruments which disguised the actual catastrophic state of their balance sheets at the time.” No action.

Today’s massive new derivatives bubble is driving the domestic and global economies, far outstripping the subprime-credit meltdown.

Hopefully not belatedly, Congress is considering legislation to curb the use of derivatives and other methods that artificially boost returns. But 13 members of Congress or their wives used derivatives to magnify their daily moves. And one measure proposed by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., would bar banks from trading in derivatives. This, in turn, would push almost $300 trillion beyond the reach of regulators. And derivatives would become still more opaque. Some say abolish derivatives trading in the United States and push it offshore.

The now bloody Greek tragedy over its debt crisis is echoing through the Federal Reserve and the halls of Congress. Greece’s public debt exceeds 100 percent of its economy versus 90 percent (at $13 trillion) for the United States. If you add unfunded U.S. liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the long-term shortfall is $62 trillion, or about $200,000 for each American. At least that’s the estimate of the Pete Peterson Foundation. And Pete Peterson himself says he’s now in the business of promoting awareness about public borrowing.

With possible trader error plunging the Dow Jones industrial average into a 1,000-point tailspin and back up in 16 minutes, economic and financial prognostication made astrology look respectable.

Could Greece be a harbinger of ugly things to come for the rest of the world? Prominent investor Marc Faber, Hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, and Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff told Bloomberg News China’s economy will slow and possibly “crash” within a year as the nation’s property bubble is set to burst.

© Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Global Economic Collapse Likely

Derivatives Bubble About to Burst — Manipulated Gold Prices About to Explode

Can Wall Street Survive?


Michael C. Ruppert

FTW  A hearing to dismiss a suit by the Gold Ant-Trust Action Committee (GATA) is scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court on October 9th, 2001. That suit, based upon detailed research, alleges that a conspiracy has existed between the U.S. Treasury, The Federal Reserve, former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers and major U.S. investment banks to illegally and covertly flood the world with literally twice the amount of gold permitted by a 1999 international treaty. The suit also threatens to publicly expose the artificial manipulation of gold prices going much further back.

In 1998 the collapse of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), a New York based gold derivatives/futures trading operation, nearly brought about the implosion of the world economy. In order to save LTCM from an insolvency that would have exposed the secret manipulations of gold, the Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan and the Bank of International Settlements allegedly intervened to hide the crimes. They became known as “The Plunge Protection Team.”

One of the prime reasons for artificially suppressing gold prices was to preserve investor confidence in U.S. markets. Gold prices have traditionally been used as a gauge for investor confidence. Low gold prices traditionally mean that stock markets are healthy, good investments; that inflation is low; and that credit may be expanded. Throughout the late 90s as badly needed corrections in the markets failed to happen a monstrous bubble grew on Wall Street. That stock bubble has been threatening the imminent implosion of U.S. markets

Now another, even more terrifying, monster rears its ugly head. This “derivatives bubble” was widely known and discussed when I attend the global crisis economic conference in Moscow, Russia this March. Following is a bulletin I sent to subscribers just two days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

FTW, Sept. 9, 2001 – I cannot overstate the importance of this post in helping to understand the economic precipice on which we are all perched. More importantly, there is also a huge socio-political precipice that is just as dangerous because of the fact that trust in government institutions is at an all time low. Every time there is a police shooting these days, whether as corrupt as those revealed in Miami recently; as indicative of bad judgement and poor training as the one in Santa Clarita; or as justified as those in Indiana; the “automatic” reaction of many now is that the cops are always wrong. This “barometer” of public trust indicates that average people are beginning to have a first reaction that government and major institutions are “the enemy” rather than that they should be trusted. Right or wrong, the implications for society as a whole are ominous when emotion overrides reason.

“Let them eat cake.”

It is this mix of economic and socio/political nitroglycerin that scares me. I am joined by many “thinkers” now in sensing the possibility of a “Reign of Terror,” or mindless bloodletting. It would have nothing to do with justice, good and evil, right or wrong and it would not subside until the fear and revenge quotients just below the surface of the collective consciousness have spent themselves. This is especially true for the nations of the world whose populations have suffered under US economic bullying and globalization for many decades.

The sooner corrective action is taken the better. The more it is postponed, the more certain is the bloody abyss, as emotional and rational “account balancings” occur at the same time as the economic ones.

Read this posting carefully and then consider two points:

  1. Since the 1998 Russian economic collapse was triggered by the “looting” by Harvard and Goldman Sachs and THAT in turn triggered the collapse of LTCM, have we been looking at a system of greed out of control where competing pyramids fight each other for diminishing capital streams? Would Goldman and Harvard wage war against LTCM or JPMorganChase knowing that it could destroy the world economy and create a global depression? If true, that implies a pending financial and economic donnybrook, that could “Hiroshima” the economy of the entire planet. The lunatics are officially running the asylum now.
  2. As the DOW plummets – and I expect that it may be in the 8,000s or below by the end of October – I have now come to the conclusion that it is POSSIBLE, IF NOT LIKELY – that the Bowers shootdown in Peru this Spring was an intentional move. Reason: the immediate and total suspension of drug interdiction flights — an apparent easy capitulation by the CIA — that has since allowed drug smuggling to multiply in the intervening months. I have read some estimates indicating that cocaine smuggling to the U.S. is up 30% this year as a result. Add to that the fact that the eradication efforts in Colombia have not reduced coca production but have instead, increased it by 15-20% or more.

What better way to pour additional billions in drug money into markets on the brink of collapse while trying to maintain a public image that fewer and fewer people are buying anyway?

There’s a reason why people in this country no longer get motivated by individual cries for justice or any single human interest story, whether the victim lost a house or $250 million. In the panic of a fire in a crowded movie theater, no one gives a shit. We’re all going to burn.

Mike Ruppert

“From The Wilderness”

On September 8, I received the following from my friend David Guyatt in London.

I have lifted the following from and hope they donÕt mind me posting it here in its entirety.



9/7 Adam Hamilton – The JPM Derivatives Monster

The JPM Derivatives Monster

Out of all the incredible financial developments of the 1990s, one of the most important fundamental structural changes in the nature of the operation and interaction of the global financial system was the literal explosion of the use of derivatives.

Derivatives are often highly complex financial instruments that “derive” their value from some other underlying asset. As the use of these instruments evolved and advanced to a stunning degree in the 1990s, an intriguing bifurcation of opinion on the merits of the hybrid instruments developed. Among the Wall Street power players and aggressive private speculators, derivatives were seen as a wonderful financial innovation that would lead to highly customizable risk management and a huge new profit stream for Wall Street.

Outside of the financial halls of power, however, derivatives began to acquire a reputation of being staggeringly risky financial instruments that could turn sour in a heartbeat and devour the financial wizards who created them like hungry sharks. Like the young sorcererÕs apprentice in Walt DisneyÕs classic 1940 masterpiece “Fantasia”, a general public perception of derivatives gradually evolved that perceived the growth of derivatives as a dangerous experiment being recklessly played out in the financial world. Like the sorcererÕs apprentice dabbling in powerful magic when the master was not around to manage the unleashed forces, derivatives creation was increasingly seen by the average investor as being hazardous attempts to harness enormous financial tides and forces that were simply too big and too complex to be decisively tamed.

A string of massive derivatives debacles in the 1990s helped buttress this negative popular perception of derivatives and provided strong support for the “derivatives are very dangerous” side of the great derivatives debate.

In December 1993 the large German industrial conglomerate Metallgesellschaft AG reported huge derivates related losses racked up by its US subsidiary. Through an intricate hedging strategy involving heavy energy derivatives use that spun out of control, the US subsidiary of the German giant watched in horror as its complex custom-tailored financial instruments exploded in unforeseen market conditions. Total losses were originally estimated at $1b, enough to push Metallgesellschaft, GermanyÕs fourteenth largest industrial corporation, to the brink of bankruptcy. Metallgesellschaft eventually had to cough up $1.9b as a last-ditch rescue package to stave off bankruptcy. What was perhaps the first well-known large derivatives debacle in the 1990s was only a grim taste of things to come.

Unfortunately, the misfortune of Metallgesellschaft in attempting to conquer the brave new derivatives world proved to be only the tip of the iceberg in derivatives disasters of the 1990s. Cargill lost $100m playing with mortgage derivatives, Askin Securities lost $600m dabbling in mortgage-backed securities, US blue-chip Dow 30 company Procter & Gamble lost $157m hedging with currency derivatives, and Codelco Chile obliterated $200m on copper and precious metals futures. We could add Daiwa Bank of Japan, Sumitomo Corporation, Ashanti Goldfields, and the list goes on and on. And these are just a few of the less well-known derivatives debacles!

In 1994 the County Treasurer of one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, Orange County, California, brought the mighty county to its knees in bankruptcy. Robert Citron deployed risky exotic derivatives including reverse repurchase agreements to produce very high returns for the County Investment Pool he managed. Unfortunately, when the markets moved against his huge leveraged positions, the retirement funds under his custodianship quickly hemorrhaged $1.5b. In a hearing before the California State Senate in 1995, Citron said, “I must humbly state I certainly was not as sophisticated a treasurer as I thought I was.”

In February 1995 the proud and strong 223 year-old Barings Investment Bank of England, which even counted Queen Elizabeth as a client, was annihilated by unauthorized derivatives trading activity that imploded as the markets did not move as planned. Nicholas William Leeson, a 27-year old hotshot derivatives trader based in Singapore, managed to quickly lose $1.3b in the highly leveraged derivatives market before BaringsÕ management in London realized what was happening.

Rogue trader Nick Leeson was betting heavily on the future direction of the Japanese blue-chip Nikkei stock index using common options. He placed hundreds of millions of dollars at risk on the premise that the Nikkei was due for a major recovery in 1995. As we all know today as we watch the embattled Nikkei index rip through 17 year lows like a meteorite through a circus tent, Nick Leeson made the wrong bet. His personal derivatives debacle was so extreme that it killed the proud Barings Bank. Barings had been around for centuries and had even helped finance the rise of the great British Empire in the 19th century. A respected, conservative monolith of a British institution died at the hands of powerful and inherently uncontrollable forces unleashed by a young sorcererÕs apprentice halfway around the world in Singapore.

Derivatives disasters continued to blossom around the world like isolated mushroom clouds in the late 1990s, with the most memorable and dangerous being the catastrophic Long Term Capital Management debacle in 1998 on the heels of the Russian Debt Crisis, which we discuss further later in this essay. In light of the frightening record of the enormous risks and leverage of derivatives humbling the mighty in the 1990s, it is no surprise that most people today rightfully believe that derivatives are a highly risky and unforgiving high-stakes game.

As derivatives use continues to explode around the globe, it is prudent for investors to closely monitor derivatives and the companies dealing in them. The markets, if they have taught us anything in this chaotic past year, have certainly reinforced the historical truism that they are as unpredictable as ever over the short-term. Major discontinuities in price and unforeseen volatility events can erupt at any moment, potentially putting unfathomable structural stress on highly-leveraged derivatives portfolios.

As we plunge through the early years of our new millennium, any study of derivates in the United States among leading blue-chip financial institutions inevitably leads to one conclusion. Virtually all paths of derivatives inquiry lead to the same destination. Today, more than ever before in the short history of derivatives, one leading United States institution effectively IS the derivatives market. This company, as we will explore in this essay, is the American giant superbank JPMorganChase (

Before we begin our exploration of JPMorganChaseÕs (JPM-NYSE) mind-boggling exposure to the high-leverage high-risk global derivatives market, a quick and dirty explanation of derivatives is in order.

As we mentioned above, derivatives are simply financial instruments that derive their value from some other underlying asset. The term “asset” is employed rather loosely here, as in the derivatives world it can also include interest rates, currency exchange rates, stock indices, and other market indices. Common examples of derivatives include options, futures, forwards, swaps, and various combinations of these instruments.

The humble option is one of the simplest forms of derivatives. An option is simply the right to buy (call) or sell (put) a certain investment at a contractually set price for a limited time in the future. Options are also used as building blocks to assemble much more complex highly exotic derivatives instruments, kind of like the financial equivalent of the toy Lego blocks perpetually popular with children. Options are a fantastic tool to help comprehend and understand the enormous leverage inherent in derivatives and the huge risks that are shouldered when trading them. In order to wrap our minds around options, it is best to start our illustration with normal equity investing and then move to simple lone options.

Imagine you have saved up $5,000 of risk capital you want to sow into the markets in the hopes of reaping some profits. The conventional stock investing strategy is simply to find some undervalued stock and buy it. You do your due diligence, find an undervalued stock trading at a fair multiple with good future prospects, and you buy your shares of the company. For this exampleÕs sake, letÕs assume that your investment in “XYZ Company” was made at a share price of $50. Your $5,000 bought you 100 shares of XYZ Company.

Now that your capital has been successfully deployed, letÕs fast-forward six months into the future and examine two scenarios. In the “Win Scenario”, XYZ rallies 50% and you win some healthy capital gains on your investment. In the “Loss Scenario”, XYZ plunges 50% and you begin to feel like a typical NASDAQ investor today.

In the Win Scenario when you are simply buying stock outright, your gains are easy to calculate. Your 100 shares of XYZ that you purchased at $50 ran up 50% to $75, leaving you with an equity position worth $7,500, a straightforward $2,500 profit. In the Loss Scenario, XYZ plunged to $25, vaporizing one half of your original capital deployed. Your shares are still worth $2,500, however, even after the share price implosion of XYZ. This clear-cut equity example which we all intuitively understand is a pure unleveraged position that is most useful to contrast with the extraordinary risks and potential rewards/losses inherent in derivatives trading.

Next, letÕs warp back in time to your original decision to deploy your $5,000 of risk capital. LetÕs assume that the money is not super-important to you and that you have a very-high risk tolerance, so you decide to place the money in options instead of stock. You still like XYZ Company and its prospects but you crave higher leverage and you are willing to accept higher risks of loss to attain that leverage. You fully realize the risks in playing options are very high, but you will not shed any tears if your $5,000 speculation does not pay off. You do some research and find that you can buy a standard call option, the right to purchase, XYZ stock at a strike price of $55 for seven months into the future for $1 per option.

Each option contract on XYZ represents options on 100 shares, so at $1 per share a contract runs $100. With your $5,000 of risk capital you can buy 50 option contracts, yielding a total span of control of 5,000 shares. The enormous leverage inherent in derivatives such as options is immediately apparent. If you buy XYZ outright, you only can afford 100 shares with your $5,000. On the other hand, if you play the risky derivatives market through call options on XYZ, you can control the gains and losses on 5,000 shares, a staggering 50 times increase in absolute leverage. With leverage through derivatives comes the potential for far greater returns, but also far greater losses. Leverage is ALWAYS a sharp double-edged sword.

In the Win Scenario, XYZ rockets to $75 in six months. Your 50 contracts of XYZ call options at a $55 strike price are still one month from expiration and have grown very valuable. As each option grants you the contractual right to purchase a share of XYZ at $55 even though it is now trading at $75, the option on every individual share is now worth $20. The option, a derivative, derives its value from the movements in its underlying asset, the actual shares of XYZ. Since you bought 50 contracts each representing 100 shares worth of XYZ call options, your $5,000 speculation has grown into $100,000 in six months! Through the use of derivatives, your dramatic increase in leverage yielded an awesome $95,000 profit instead of the $2,500 you would have made through outright XYZ stock ownership. When the markets move your way, leverage attained through derivatives can be utterly exhilarating.

In the Loss Scenario, XYZ plummeted to $25 in six months, mimicking the 2001 action of the crippled NASDAQ. Because your options are now so far “out of the money”, they are nearly worthless. Even though there is one month left until they officially expire, no one in the market wants to buy your right to purchase XYZ at $55 when they can just go buy the actual stock at $25 in the open markets. In this scenario, your $5,000 of risk capital has been ground down into oblivion, a catastrophic 100% loss. If you had just bought the stock outright instead, at least you would still have $2,500 dollars left, but through deploying options you basically made an all-or-nothing bet that the XYZ stock price would rise over the limited time horizon of the options. When the markets move against your derivatives, your hard-earned capital can be literally obliterated in mere hours or days, a very difficult and excruciating experience.

Options, the simplest of derivatives, help illustrate the extraordinary leverage and the mega-risk that derivatives exposure entails. Amazingly, long options are one of the lowest risk forms of derivatives because one can never lose more capital than what they paid to purchase the options. Many other more exotic derivatives have dangerous unlimited loss potential and can ultimately destroy far, far more capital than what was actually paid for the financial instruments.

Another critical concept for understanding the strange world of derivatives is “notional value” or “notional amount”. This is a quasi-fictional number that illustrates how much capital a given derivative effectively controls. Although the notional amount does not change hands in a derivatives transaction, it is used to calculate the actual payments that must be made to one counterparty or the other in a derivatives transaction. Furthering our options example above, we can also gain a glimpse into the world of notionality in derivatives.

Although you only deployed $5,000 worth of risk capital in your XYZ call option purchase, you controlled the equivalent of 5,000 shares of stock since each option only cost $1. As the stock was trading at $50 when you originally purchased your options, you controlled a notional amount of XYZ stock worth $50 per share times 5000 shares, or $250,000. In the Win Scenario when XYZ rose 50%, the notional value of your options rose to $75 per share times 5000 shares, $375,000. By purchasing call options you harnessed the extreme leverage of derivatives to enable yourself to originally control the notional equivalent of $250,000 worth of XYZ stock while only risking $5,000 of your own capital.

Realize that the notional amount is not a real number but simply a descriptive fiction detailing how much of the equivalent underlying asset your derivatives position effectively “controls”. Notional amounts are used in the derivatives world to show the effective span of control that derivatives grant market participants over underlying assets at any given point in time. By comparing changing notional values over time, they can be used to measure and analyze positional changes in derivatives exposure over a given time horizon.

Also critical, realize that notional amounts are NOT volume or turnover data, but positional data points. A notional derivatives amount for the end of a given quarter is like a balance sheet presentation of potential exposure at that moment in time, NOT an income-statement like account of activity or turnover in a given quarter. Some prominent analysts have crossed this line out of reality and made the embarrassing public mistake of publishing research where they articulated the twisted fantasy that notional amounts are transactional and not positional. Notional derivatives amounts ARE positional, a snapshot of exposure at a single moment in time.

Although it has lately become somewhat popular on Wall Street and financial circles to claim that notional amounts of derivatives bear no relation to the risk of derivatives positions, we strongly disagree. The higher the notional amounts of an entityÕs total derivatives exposure, generally the higher the leverage it has used to pyramid its derivatives positions. The greater the leverage employed, the higher the aggregate risk of a derivatives portfolio. We will discuss this important concept in more detail further below.

In the United States, commercial banks and trusts are required to report their derivatives exposure once every quarter to the United States Comptroller of the Currency. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency was founded in 1863 as a bureau of the US Treasury and has been responsible for ensuring a “stable and competitive national banking system”. Per the OCCÕs website , the OCC claims it has four objectives:

“To ensure the safety and soundness of the national banking system, to foster competition by allowing banks to offer new products and services, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of OCC supervision, including reducing regulatory burden, and to ensure fair and equal access to financial services for all Americans.”

The OCC prepares a quarterly report called the “Bank Derivatives Report” which details general derivatives positions for all US commercial banks and trusts that operate in the derivatives market. US commercial banks and trusts are required by law to report their general derivatives positions to the OCC each quarter. Although the OCC Bank Derivatives Report does not include the derivatives positions of non-commercial bank entities like Goldman Sachs, which is an investment bank, the OCC report is still extremely useful in providing a sample or cross section of derivatives market activity and positions in general. We are not sure what percent of the total derivatives market that commercial banks and trusts represent, but we suspect it approaches a majority.

In this essay, all the derivatives data cited is directly from the latest available OCC Bank Derivatives Report, for the first quarter of 2001, available at . All of our graphs and derivatives numbers are either lifted directly from or calculated directly from this important US government report. As the data we are reporting is so mind-blowing as to appear unbelievable, we strongly encourage you to check out this original OCC document with your own eyes. An analysis of this official report makes it quite evident that the enormous derivatives market is dominated by one US holding company, the elite blue-chip Dow 30 superbank JPMorganChase.

Our first graph was constructed using data from “Table 1” of the OCC Q1 2001 Bank Derivatives Report. It clearly shows who the largest derivatives players are out of all the 395 US commercial banks and trusts that dabble in the derivatives market. The first point that leaps out of this pie graph like a central banker sitting on a thumbtack shows the overwhelming iron-fisted dominance that JPMorganChase (Chase Manhattan Bank and Morgan Guaranty together) exercises over the US derivatives market.

As we delve into the often cryptic world of derivatives, it rapidly becomes apparent that the amounts of dollars of capital effectively controlled through derivatives is absolutely staggering. The notional amount pie in our first graph above is a monstrous $43,922 billion, or almost $44 TRILLION dollars. Rarely at a loss for superlatives, we cannot even think of enough to describe how large these numbers truly are! It is virtually impossible for humans to grasp how big even one trillion is, so we are enlisting the help of the fascinating “MegaPenny Project” website which was created to illustrate enormous numbers.

The MegaPenny Project is located at and is designed to illustrate large numbers by stacking given numbers of common US one-cent pennies and showing the relative size of the stacks. We encourage you to take in the whole fascinating MegaPenny tour, but for this essay we are particularly interested in its two pages describing one trillion pennies, beginning at . The MegaPenny Project does a wonderful job graphically illustrating just how much space one trillion pennies would take up.

According to the fine folks at MegaPenny, a solid block of one trillion pennies tightly stacked on top of each other would create a cube 273 feet on each side, each axis of the cube almost as long as an American football field. For comparison purposes, remember that all the gold mined in the last six millennia would fit in a much, much smaller cube only 62 feet on each side! The cube of one trillion pennies would weigh an amazing 3,125,000 tons, almost half as much as the estimated entire weight of all the huge stones comprising the Great Pyramid on the Giza plateau in Egypt! If the trillion pennies were laid flat side-by-side instead of stacked, they would cover 89,675 acres, or over 140 square miles. Stacked on top of each other in a single mega-column, one trillion pennies would create a stack of pennies 986,426 miles high. The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is only around 238,866 miles, so one trillion pennies stacked could travel between the Earth and Moon over four times!

One trillion is a ridiculously large number and almost impossible to visualize in the abstract. Trillions of dollars of derivatives exposure blow the mind! According to MegaPenny, it would take 1.8t pennies to create an exact full-scale replica of the Empire State Building out of pennies. It would take 2.6t tightly stacked pennies to create a life-sized perfect replica of ChicagoÕs mighty SearÕs Tower.

It is very hard to believe that the total US notional derivatives positions of US commercial banks and trusts is $43.9 TRILLION dollars. By comparison, the US GDP, all the goods and services produced and consumed in our entire great nation by every single American each year, was only running $10.1t in the first quarter. The US M3 money supply, the broadest measure of money, was only $7.4t at the time. The 500 best and biggest companies in the United States, the S&P 500, were only worth $10.4t at the end of the first quarter. Clearly, the $43.9t dollars of the notional value of derivatives that a mere 395 commercial banks and trusts control is simply staggering as it far exceeds the entire US GDP, the entire broad US money supply, and the entire value of all the stocks traded in the United States! BIG, BIG, BIG numbers!

Of that huge $43.9t, JPMorganChase, a single holding company, controls a breathtaking $26.3t worth of derivatives in notional terms! JPM represents 59.8% of the total derivatives market controlled by US commercial banks and trusts per the OCC. Why on earth would one entity run up such gargantuan exposure to derivatives? Perhaps JPM controls nearly 60% of the commercial bank segment of the derivatives market because maybe it holds 60% of the commercial bank assets in the United States of America. We constructed the next graph from “Table 1” of the Q1 2001 OCC Bank Derivatives Report as well to investigate this very question.

Although JPM is a very large commercial bank, it only represents around 12.6% of the total commercial bank assets in the United States per the Q1 OCC report. The pie size in this second graph is $4.9t. This number implies that, in general, the US commercial banking system has a derivatives notional value to assets ratio of 9 to 1, pretty extraordinary leverage when one realizes that a large portion of a given bankÕs assets are not usually the shareholdersÕ but represent funds entrusted to the bank by depositors in various forms. It is also pretty extraordinary gross leverage for an industry that prides itself in being “conservative”. A 9 to 1 implied leverage to assets achieved through derivatives sounds more like hedge fund territory than banking!

JPMorganChase controls 12.6% of the total commercial bank and trust assets in the United States, but a whopping 59.8% of the total commercial bank and trust derivatives market. JPMÕs implied derivatives leverage on assets ratio is a colossal 43 to 1. Why would one superbank risk such extreme derivatives exposure relative to its asset base?

Even more provocative and outright frightening is the ratio of the notional value of JPMÕs derivatives positions to its shareholder capital. Per JPMÕs latest 10-Q quarterly financial report filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission available at , JPM reported a stockholdersÕ equity balance of $42b. $42b is a lot of capital and is nothing to scoff at, but when compared to an outstanding aggregate derivatives position with a notional value of $26,276b, JPMÕs implied leverage on stockholder equity is utterly mind-blowing. For every dollar that JPMÕs shareholders own free and clear, JPM management has pyramided on almost $626 worth of derivatives exposure in notional terms to the highly risky and highly volatile derivatives market! 626 to 1 implied leverage?!? Why, why, why?

While the latest JPM 10-Q was released in mid-August and pertains to Q2 while the latest OCC derivatives report is from Q1, this cross quarter comparison still accurately shows the hyper-extreme leverage inherent in JPMÕs aggregate derivatives exposure. If we instead use JPMÕs Q1 10-Q to ensure we are comparing apples to apples, the implied leverage on stockholdersÕ equity changes little to 611 to 1 on $43b of stockholdersÕ equity.

In financial circles 10 to 1 leverage is considered very aggressive, 100 to 1 is considered to be in the kamikaze realm, but we donÕt ever recall hearing about large-scale leveraged operations exceeding 100 to 1 outside of the horrible example of the doomed super hedge fund Long Term Capital Management. JPMÕs management may have effectively created the most leveraged large hedge fund in the history of the world by using $42b worth of shareholdersÕ equity to control derivatives representing a notional value of a staggering $26,276b. After we shook off the blunt shock of learning of an implied leverage of 626 to 1 by the United StatesÕ premier Wall Street bank and elite Dow 30 blue-chip company, we continued to dig deeper into the revealing OCC Bank Derivatives Report.

The next pie graph was constructed from “Table 8”, “Table 9”, and “Table 10” of the OCC report. It shows a breakdown of how JPMÕs derivatives portfolio is comprised, of what classes of derivatives constitute the JPM Derivatives Monster. The total pie size in this graph is nine-tenths of one percent smaller than the earlier totals in the OCC report. The OCC explained this small delta in a footnote claiming it was caused by the exclusion of some credit derivatives as well as rounding differences. The large green slice of this pie is comprised of a small amount of credit derivatives and other derivatives of which the OCC does not require specific disclosure including “foreign exchange contracts with an original maturity of 14 days or less, futures contracts, written options, basis swaps, and any contracts not subject to risk-based capital requirements.”

Once again, this graph exclusively represents only JPMorganChaseÕs enormous $26t derivatives portfolio, no other banksÕ or trustsÕ data is included in this gargantuan pie. The sorcererÕs apprentice is playing with powerful financial magic indeed!

As the pie illustrates, JPMÕs largest position by far is in interest rate derivatives. The huge red king-sized slice of the pie graph represents interest rate derivatives with a notional amount of a staggering $17.7t!

In interest rate derivatives, the notional amount represents the implied principal of a debt on which interest rate derivatives are written. For instance, a debtor with $1m in debt and variable interest rate payments may contract with JPM to hedge its interest rate payments into a fixed interest rate scheme instead of a variable one. By having a fixed interest rate payment schedule, the debtor company will not have to worry about market fluctuations in interest rates as their counterparty JPMorganChase assumes that risk for a fee. Although the interest streams in this small $1m debt example are swapped, the actual cash changing hands may only be a few tens of thousands of dollars. The $1m in principal, however, is the notional amount for our interest rate derivatives example and provides a true picture of JPM positional exposure in the deal.

Gold investors may be surprised to see what a trivial portion of JPMÕs total derivatives portfolio is deployed in the gold market. Only two tenths of one percent of JPMÕs notional derivatives exposure is in gold. Of course, gold is an exceedingly small market compared to the huge debt or foreign exchange markets so JPMÕs position in gold derivatives is still quite large relative to the gold market itself. JPM reported $56.8b in gold derivatives in the Q1 2001 OCC report. By comparison, with only 2,500 metric tonnes of gold mined on the entire planet each year, the whole freshly mined annual world gold supply is only worth $22b at $275 per ounce.

JPM is controlling a notional amount of gold through derivatives equal to the value of every ounce of gold that will be mined in the entire world for the next two and a half years assuming gold production does not continue to plummet due to dismal gold prices, which it probably will.

Why is a sophisticated superbank like JPM even interested in the small and devastated gold market, let alone motivated enough to maintain derivatives exposure equal to more than 6,400 tonnes of gold? Why does JPM management want to maintain derivatives gold exposure worth 1.35 times the capital owned by the shareholders of the company? With Wall Street perpetually telling the world that gold is a “barbaric relic”, why does the premier Wall Street bank have such large gold derivatives positions? Ever more intriguing questions!

In the lower left corner of the graph above note the percentage of derivatives market shares that JPM controls out of the entire US commercial bank and trust derivatives universe. JPM is the utterly dominant player with 64% of the interest rate derivatives market, 49% of the foreign exchange market, 68% of the equity derivatives market, and 62% of the gold derivatives market among US commercial banks and trusts. JPMÕs management, for whatever reasons, has effectively built up a derivates powerhouse that has almost cornered the entire US commercial bank and trust derivatives market.

Zeroing back in on the $17.7t in interest rate derivatives, we wonder why such enormous exposure to interest rates has been shouldered by JPMÕs management. In terms of interest rate derivatives alone, JPM has an implied leverage ratio of notional interest rate derivatives exposure to stockholdersÕ equity of 422 to 1. Are JPM shareholders aware of this? It is hard to fathom why anyone would want to have leveraged exposure to chaotic interest rates with 422 to 1 leverage, but an intriguing hypothesis has recently emerged that may illuminate the decision by JPM to dominate the enormous interest rate derivatives market. Here is a quick outline of this provocative theory.

As growing numbers of investors around the world realize, American attorney Reginald Howe filed a landmark complaint against the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements on December 7, 2000. In his lawsuit, which is highly recommended reading and available for free download in PDF format , Mr. Howe carefully builds the case that certain large banks that deal in gold derivatives were involved in an effort to actively manipulate the world gold market in violation of key United States laws. Shortly after Mr. Howe filed his complaint in United States District Court, we wrote a summary essay outlining his lawsuit called “Let Slip the Dogs of War” which also has further background information if you are interested in digging deeper.

In Howe v. BIS et al, both the pre-merger JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan were named as defendants with the BIS. In his complaint, Howe points out anomalous gold derivatives activity at both banks documented on earlier OCC bank derivatives reports that correlates extremely well with unusual activity in the gold markets and gold price. The evidence is highly suggestive that both banks, now a single entity, used carefully targeted strategic gold derivatives transactions to help rein in the out-of-control gold rally that was sparked in late 1999 after European central banks agreed to curtail their gold sales and leasing with the Washington Agreement.

Mr. HoweÕs complaint filed in the federal court elaborates on this odd activity by the two banks that have since merged to form superbank JPMorganChase. Interestingly, Mr. HoweÕs case will soon be heard before a federal judge in Boston, Massachusetts on October 9, 2001, when defendants will present their arguments in support of their Motions to Dismiss.

With both ancestor banks of the new JPMorganChase already documented as having well-timed anomalous gold derivatives activity prior to their merger, chances are the banks had some level of insider-type knowledge of what was really transpiring in the gold market. There is no way that JPM management would have acquired gold derivatives with a notional value worth 1.35 times the total of their entire shareholdersÕ equity base unless they knew and intimately understood the gold market.

On May 30, 2001, ace researcher and analyst Michael Bolser and GATA Chairman Bill Murphy co-published an analysis of JPMorganChaseÕs interest rate derivatives in Mr. MurphyÕs “Midas” column at the contrarian investing website. Mr. Bolser titled his research “GoldGateÕs Real Motive?”. Current subscribers can see this analysis in the archives of the “James Joyce” table at LeMetropoleCafe. In his analysis, Mr. Bolser pointed out that JPMorganChase had $16t worth of notional interest rate derivatives exposure at the time and how incredible this fact was. He noted that JPMÕs interest rate derivatives notional amounts had doubled since the middle of 1998, an astronomical increase given the absolute amounts of dollars involved.

Mr. Bolser offered the stunning tentative conclusion that perhaps a suppressed or shackled-down gold price was a necessary prerequisite to JPM assuming enormous amounts of interest rate derivatives, as a managed gold price would ratchet down inflationary expectations and make interest rate positions much less volatile and risky than in a truly free market. Mr. Bolser planned to continue his research and was seeking earlier OCC reports to model JPMÕs derivatives trading activities and exposures further back in time.

After Mr. BolserÕs interest rate derivatives report revealing JPMÕs enormous and massively out-of-proportion derivatives positions, there were a few tangential comments made about this hypothesis over the summer by various market analysts, but for the most part it remained an obscure area of inquiry that appeared to generate little popular interest.

Then, just a few weeks ago on August 13, 2001, Reginald Howe published a fascinating commentary entitled “GibsonÕs Paradox Revisited: Professor Summers Analyzes Gold Prices” available at . In his essay Mr. Howe quotes a 1988 academic paper from the Journal of Political Economy co-written by President Bill ClintonÕs future third Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers. Among other things, Mr. Howe discusses Mr. SummersÕ interpretation of an observation by the famous economist John Maynard Keynes on the behavior of gold prices and real interest rates. Lord Keynes called the relationship “GibsonÕs Paradox”.

As Mr. Howe points out, per Lord Keynes, GibsonÕs Paradox, the solid relationship between price levels including gold and interest rates under a gold standard regime was, “one of the most completely established empirical facts in the whole field of quantitative economics.” Mr. Howe shows, using the writings of Professor Lawrence Summers and legendary economist John Maynard Keynes that there is a rock-solid inverse relationship between gold and real interest rates in a free market. We investigated this phenomenon as well in our essay “Real Rates and Gold”. In effect, real interest rates could be used to predict inverse moves in the price of gold or gold could be used to predict inverse moves in the real interest rates.

For us, HoweÕs fantastic “GibsonÕs Paradox Revisited” essay finally lit the proverbial lightbulbs above our heads that triggered a solid understanding of Michael BolserÕs shrewd earlier hypothesis on JPMÕs enormous interest rate derivatives exposure! GibsonÕs Paradox helped to reconcile the puzzle and answer nagging questions about JPMÕs gargantuan interest rate derivatives position and how it could relate to the active management of the price of gold.

If factions of the US government in the Clinton years from 1995 to late 2000 were really actively manipulating the gold price (as the latest amazing research of government records by James Turk and Reginald Howe certainly strongly suggests through ever-increasing evidence), and if JPM really had inside knowledge of some of these operations as its anomalous gold derivatives activity seems to imply, then it is only a short logical step to assume that a possible catalyst for the explosion in JPMÕs interest rate derivatives operations was the artificially pegged price of gold!

GibsonÕs Paradox, defined by Lord Keynes, effectively claims that under a fixed gold price regime real interest rates remain predictable. If JPM top management was participating in any US efforts to cap gold, they had full knowledge that a de facto fixed gold price regime had been stealthily established and they would have had a carte blanche to massively balloon potentially highly lucrative interest rate derivatives exposure. After all, if JPM was convinced gold was under control, and that gold prices were a prime driver of real interest rates, then what better time to become the king of the interest rate derivates world than when gold was being quietly hammered down through massive sales of official sector gold from Western central banksÕ coffers?

Our superficial presentation here certainly does not do this startling hypothesis justice, but the JPMorganChase interest rate derivatives explosion due to JPM upper management knowledge of and possible involvement in stealthy government machinations in the gold markets is a very intriguing hypothesis that definitely warrants further investigation and discussion. We may write a future essay on this topic alone after we dig deeper, and we certainly hope other analysts and researchers follow Michael BolserÕs original lead and do some serious investigating.

Back to the JPMorganChase Derivatives Monster for now, we have to wonder how many JPM shareholders realize just how incredibly leveraged their superbank has become. Do they think they are holding a safe conservative blue-chip elite Wall Street bank, or do the average shareholders desire to hold a hyper-leveraged mega hedge fund with 600+ times implied leverage on stockholdersÕ equity? Do JPM shareholders understand how dangerous large derivatives positions have proven historically for other companies?

JPM currently has something like 2,700 large institutional shareholders who hold almost 61% of its common stock. Do the managers of these mutual funds and pension funds understand that JPM management has built the biggest most highly-leveraged derivatives pyramid in the history of the world per US government OCC reports? Do fund managers understand the inherent risks in leveraging capital hundreds of times over? These are important questions that ALL JPM investors should carefully consider, especially in this incredibly turbulent and volatile market environment we are experiencing today.

One of the most dangerous possible events for high derivatives exposure is unforeseen market volatility, especially that caused by unusual and unexpected major discontinuities in market pricing. The following graph is also shamelessly taken from the OCC report, “Graph 5C”, which shows the “charge-offs” taken on derivatives written off in each quarter since 1996 by commercial banks and trusts alone. Note the enormous loss that occurred in the third quarter of 1998 coincident with the Russian Debt Crisis/LTCM debacle and the large losses in late 1999 following the Washington Agreement gold spike.

When a non-linear market event that is inherently unpredictable like the Russian Debt Crisis occurs, its effects on carefully crafted derivatives portfolios can be catastrophic. Long Term Capital Management folded during the 1998 crisis. It was an elite hedge fund run by some of the most brilliant market geniuses of the entire last century. The all-star brain trust at LTCM could probably have helped put men on Mars, as the stellar IQs and acclaim of the founders were without equal in the financial world. The gentlemen helping to build the sophisticated computer derivatives trading models for LTCM were Nobel-prize winning economists who understood more about markets and volatility than pretty much everyone else on the planet. Here are a few paragraphs on LTCM from an earlier essay we penned on gold derivatives volatility titled, “Gold Delta Hedge Trap (Part 2)”.

“LTCM employed ScholesÕ and MertonÕs work to hedge and protect its bets. Through Black and Scholes based hedging strategies, LTCM became one of the most highly leveraged hedge funds in history. It had a capital base of $3b, yet it controlled over $100b in assets worldwide, and some reports claim the total notional value of its derivatives exceeded an incredible $1.25 TRILLION. LTCM used extraordinarily sophisticated mathematical computer models to predict and mitigate its risks.”

“In August 1998, an unexpected non-linearity occurred that made a mockery of the models. Russia defaulted on its sovereign debt, and liquidity around the globe began to rapidly dry up as derivatives positions were hastily unwound. The LTCM financial models told the principals they should not expect to lose more than $50m of capital in a given day, but they were soon losing $100m every day. Four days after the Russian default, their initial $3b capital base lost another $500m in a single trading day alone!”

“As LTCM geared up to declare bankruptcy, the US Federal Reserve believed LTCMÕs highly leveraged derivatives positions were so enormous that their default could wreak havoc throughout the entire global financial system. The US Fed engineered a $3.6b bailout of the fund, creating a major moral hazard for other high-flying hedge funds. (Expecting the government or counterparties will bail them out of bad bets once they get too large, why not push the limits of safety and prudence as a hedge fund manager?)”

Long Term Capital Management had $3b in capital allegedly supporting $1,250b of derivatives notional value, an implied leverage ratio of 417 to 1. JPMorganChase, per its own reports filed with the US government, has $42b supporting $26,276b of derivatives notional value. Incredibly, JPMÕs implied capital leverage on its derivatives is far, far higher than LTCMÕs at 626 to 1. IsnÕt it disconcerting to realize JPM management has further leveraged its shareholder equity than even the infamous Long Term Capital Management?

LTCM had the best economic minds in the world running the fund, unlimited brain and computer power, but still an unpredictable volatility event spurred by the Russian Debt Crisis caused their painstakingly developed computer derivatives models to blow up. By many reports, including from the Federal Reserve, the LTCM failure was so dangerous it threatened to take the whole financial system down if LTCMÕs obligations to its counterparties were defaulted upon.

We are NOT suggesting that JPM is another LTCM. We know that the men and women running JPM are very intelligent and have a deep understanding of the global markets in which their company operates. We know they have cross-hedged and carefully modeled their enormous derivatives portfolio to try and make it net market neutral and therefore resilient to shocks. But, just as a tiny imperfection can cause a massive hardened-steel shaft connected to a nuclear aircraft carrierÕs propeller to vibrate uncontrollably until it shatters, even a “balanced” net derivatives portfolio of massive size is highly vulnerable to market shocks that can push it out of proper equilibrium and spin the computer hedging models out of control far faster than derivatives can be unwound.

There comes a point when leverage becomes so extreme that even a tiny unforeseen event can break down the complex contractual glue that holds the various components and players of the convoluted derivatives world together and cause the whole structure to shake or crumble.

We believe that JPMÕs management is taking a mammoth gamble with the wealth of its shareholders by supporting derivatives with a notional value of over $26 TRILLION dollars with a relatively trifling $42 billion of shareholder equity. Any discontinuous market volatility event that is unforeseen and beyond JPM managementÕs control could conceivably cause this immense pyramid to rapidly unwind, utterly annihilating the companyÕs capital in a matter of days or weeks.

Also, JPM, just by virtue of having extreme leverage, is placing itself at risk for a Barings Bank type scenario, where a rogue trader hid derivatives trading activities from management until it was too late and the damage was irreparable. What if some twenty- or thirty-something derivatives trader working for JPM accidentally makes a big mistake in his or her trading and destroys that fragile balance supporting the whole massive JPM derivatives pyramid and the whole structure comes crashing down?

By its own reporting to the US government, JPMorganChase has shown itself to have evolved into a real-life Derivatives Monster. Derivatives offer extreme leverage and the potential for mega-profits, but with that they carry commensurate extreme risks. Until the JPM Derivatives Monster begins to deflate its leverage and exposure, we believe individual and institutional investors alike should be very careful in assessing the potential extreme risk of holding JPM stock.

We canÕt help but feeling that essentially unlimited leverage is the modern financial equivalent of Walt DisneyÕs sorcererÕs apprentice in “Fantasia” unleashing forces he couldnÕt possibly hope to control.

Adam Hamilton, CPA, MCSE

aka Zelotes

7 September 2001

Copyright 2000 – 2001 Zeal Research

Copyright 1999, 2000 Le Metropole Cafe. All rights reserved


Derivatives: A $700+ Trillion Bubble Waiting to Burst

31 comments |  April 19, 2009

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In the past three years, while banks all over the world and Wall Street were imploding, while some $40-$50 trillion of capital was being destroyed in global stock markets, one financial market kept growing. That market is the financial derivatives market.

According to the Bank for International Settlements [BIS], the global Over the Counter [OTC] derivatives market has grown almost 65% from $414.8 trillion in December, 2006 to $683.7 trillion in June of 2008. On the BIS’s own website, there are no updated figures for the notional derivatives market since June 2008, so we can likely assume, with some margin of safety, that this market has now grown to more than $700 trillion. Comparatively speaking, the total market cap of all major global stock markets is approximately $30 trillion.

Before I discuss how financial products could grow more than 65% during a time period when financial companies were imploding all over the world, let’s review the definition of a derivative, because this will explain how this market of financial products keeps becoming more valuable at a time when the value of many capital assets are sinking like a rock in an ocean.

According to Wikipedia:

Derivatives are financial contracts, or financial instruments, whose values are derived from the value of something else (known as the underlying). The underlying value on which a derivative is based can be an asset (e.g., commodities, equities (stocks), residential mortgages, commercial real estate, loans, bonds), an index (e.g., interest rates, exchange rates, stock market indices, consumer price index [CPI] — see inflation derivatives), weather conditions, or other items. Credit derivatives are based on loans, bonds or other forms of credit. The main types of derivatives are forwards, futures, options, and swaps.

Because the value of a derivative is contingent on the value of the underlying, the notional value of derivatives is recorded off the balance sheet of an institution, although the market value of derivatives is recorded on the balance sheet. Over-the-counter [OTC] derivatives are contracts that are traded (and privately negotiated) directly between two parties, without going through an exchange or other intermediary. The OTC derivative market is the largest market for derivatives, and is largely unregulated with respect to disclosure of information between the parties, since the OTC market is made up of banks and other highly sophisticated parties, such as hedge funds…Because OTC derivatives are not traded on an exchange, there is no central counterparty. Therefore, they are subject to counterparty risk, like an ordinary contract, since each counterparty relies on the other to perform.

There are two key phrases to note in the above explanation of the financial derivatives markets-

(1)The notional value of derivatives is recorded OFF the balance sheet of an institution, although the market value of derivatives is recorded ONthe balance sheet; and

(2)OTC derivatives are not traded on an exchange, there is no central counterparty. Therefore, they are subject to counterparty risk, like an ordinary contract, since each counterparty relies on the other to perform.

As I’ve noted before, the $700 trillion global derivatives market is the notional value of this market, not the market value of these derivatives. The Bank for International Settlements compiles the notional value of this market worldwide from reported figures by Central Banks of the G10 countries and Switzerland. Thus, if the off-balance sheet assets of major international banks are growing so rapidly in the form of their notional values of their held financial derivative products, how can so many of these banks be in trouble?

The answer, quite simply, is that the market value of these derivatives is nowhere near the notional values of these derivatives maintained and reported by these banks, and that the global derivatives market is in serious trouble. Because derivative products are subject to counterparty risks as well, this means that the failure of one major financial institution could cause the evaporation of assets for many other financial institutions that have derivative products with exposure to that one financial institution. In other words, when the notional values of a good percent of these financial derivative products start evaporating into thin air, and they will, it will have a negative domino effect on the balance sheet of not just one major financial institution, but many.

Of course, when FASB suspended mark-to-market accounting rules recently, major international banks were allowed to re-value some of their derivative products closer to their notional value on their books to pad their balance sheets. Due to this change in accounting law, I can almost guarantee you that before market open Friday, Citigroup will announce better than expected financial results as they carried huge amounts of illiquid mortgages and financial derivatives on their balance sheets. [Editor’s note: Article was written prior to earnings announcement on 4/17/09]

Though many people argue that only the market value of these derivatives, and not their notional values, is ultimately important, this would have only been valid if FASB hadn’t suspended mark-to-market accounting rules. The types of derivative products most likely to continue to blow up are Credit Default Swaps [CDS], and indeed, it wasAIG’s exposure to Credit Default Swaps that caused it to collapse.

In reality, the market value of financial derivatives is only a fraction of its $700 trillion notional value; however the reality is that the potential losses from bad Credit Default Swaps can also be much more than their notional value. For example, consider a scenario where Company ABC underwrites a CDS in which they will receive $100,000 of payments from Company X in return for guaranteeing a $1,000,000 bond issued by Company Z. If all goes well, and the bond performs, then company ABC makes $100,000 in profit. However, if company Z fails, then Company ABC may now have to pay Company X $1,000,000. This is a scenario in which the losses from financial derivative products can be very real and very large. Though many analysts harp on the fact that the $700+ trillion notional figure of the derivative market is not real, it is not realistic either to only consider the much smaller market value of these derivatives as the above example illustrates.

Since it is now likely that the balance sheets of many financial institutions have been quickly “nursed back to health” by returning the book value of OTC financial derivative products to some fantasyland notional value versus their true market value, the collapse of the notional value of the $700+ trillion derivative market will indeed have future devastating consequences for global economies.

This article is tagged with: Long & Short IdeasOptionsMacro ViewMarket Outlook


The Horrific Derivatives Bubble That Could One Day Destroy The Entire World Financial System

Today there is a horrific derivatives bubble that threatens to destroy not only the U.S. economy but the entire world financial system as well, but unfortunately the vast majority of people do not understand it.  When you say the word “derivatives” to most Americans, they have no idea what you are talking about.  In fact, even most members of the U.S. Congress don’t really seem to understand them.  But you don’t have to get into all the technicalities to understand the bigger picture.  Basically, derivatives are financial instruments whose value depends upon or is derived from the price of something else.  A derivative has no underlying value of its own.  It is essentially a side bet.  Originally, derivatives were mostly used to hedge risk and to offset the possibility of taking losses.  But today it has gone way, way beyond that.  Today the world financial system has become a gigantic casino where insanely large bets are made on anything and everything that you can possibly imagine.

The derivatives market is almost entirely unregulated and in recent years it has ballooned to such enormous proportions that it is almost hard to believe.  Today, the worldwide derivatives market is approximately 20 times the size of the entire global economy.

Because derivatives are so unregulated, nobody knows for certain exactly what the total value of all the derivatives worldwide is, but low estimates put it around 600 trillion dollars and high estimates put it at around 1.5 quadrilliondollars.

Do you know how large one quadrillion is?

Counting at one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one quadrillion.

If you want to attempt it, you might want to get started right now.

To put that in perspective, the gross domestic product of the United States is only about 14 trillion dollars.

In fact, the total market cap of all major global stock markets is only about 30 trillion dollars.

So when you are talking about 1.5 quadrillion dollars, you are talking about an amount of money that is almost inconceivable.

So what is going to happen when this insanely large derivatives bubble pops?

Well, the truth is that the danger that we face from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet has called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.

Unfortunately, he is not exaggerating.

It would be hard to understate the financial devastation that we could potentially be facing.

A number of years back, French President Jacques Chirac referred to derivatives as “financial AIDS”.

The reality is that when this bubble pops there won’t be enough money in the entire world to fix it.

But ignorance is bliss, and most people simply do not understand these complex financial instruments enough to be worried about them.

Unfortunately, just because most of us do not understand the danger does not mean that the danger has been eliminated.

In a recent column, Dr. Jerome Corsi of WorldNetDaily noted that even many institutional investors have gotten sucked into investing in derivatives without even understanding the incredible risk they were facing….

A key problem with derivatives is that in the attempt to reduce costs or prevent losses, institutional investors typically accepted complex risks that carried little-understood liabilities widely disproportionate to any potential savings the derivatives contract may have initially obtained.

The hedge-fund and derivatives markets are so highly complex and technical that even many top economists and investment-banking professionals don’t fully understand them.

Moreover, both the hedge-fund and the derivatives markets are almost totally unregulated, either by the U.S. government or by any other government worldwide.

Most Americans don’t realize it, but derivatives played a major role in the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Do you remember how AIG was constantly in the news for a while there?

Well, they weren’t in financial trouble because they had written a bunch of bad insurance policies.

What had happened is that a subsidiary of AIG had lost more than $18 billion on Credit Default Swaps (derivatives) it had written, and additional losses from derivatives were on the way which could have caused the complete collapse of the insurance giant.

So the U.S. government stepped in and bailed them out – all at U.S. taxpayer expense of course.

But the AIG incident was actually quite small compared to what could be coming.  The derivatives market has become so monolithic that even a relatively minor imbalance in the global economy could set off a chain reaction that would have devastating consequences.

In his recent article on derivatives, Webster Tarpley described the central role that derivatives now play in our financial system….

Far from being some arcane or marginal activity, financial derivatives have come to represent the principal business of the financier oligarchy in Wall Street, the City of London, Frankfurt, and other money centers. A concerted effort has been made by politicians and the news media to hide and camouflage the central role played by derivative speculation in the economic disasters of recent years. Journalists and public relations types have done everything possible to avoid even mentioning derivatives, coining phrases like “toxic assets,” “exotic instruments,” and – most notably – “troubled assets,” as in Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, aka the monstrous $800 billion bailout of Wall Street speculators which was enacted in October 2008 with the support of Bush, Henry Paulson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Obama Democrats.

But wasn’t the financial reform law that Congress just passed supposed to fix all this?

Well, the truth is that you simply cannot “fix” a 1.5 quadrillion dollar problem, but yes, the financial reform law was supposed to put some new restrictions on derivatives.

And initially, there were some somewhat significant reforms contained in the bill.  But after the vast horde of Wall Street lobbyists in Washington got done doing their thing, the derivatives reforms were almost completely and totally neutered.

So the rampant casino gambling continues and everybody on Wall Street is happy.

For now.

One day some event will happen which will cause a sudden shift in world financial markets and trillions of dollars of losses in derivatives will create a tsunami that will bring the entire house of cards down.

All of the money in the world will not be enough to bail out the financial system when that day arrives.

The truth is that we should have never allowed world financial markets to become a giant casino.

But we did.

Soon enough we will all pay the price, and when that disastrous day comes, most Americans will still not understand what is happening.

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Derivatives: The Quadrillion Dollar Financial Casino Completely Dominated By The Big International Banks

If you took an opinion poll and asked Americans what they considered the biggest threat to the world economy to be, how many of them do you think would give “derivatives” as an answer?  But the truth is that derivatives were at the heart of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, and whenever the next financial crisis happens derivatives will undoubtedly play a huge role once again.  So exactly what are “derivatives”?  Well, derivatives are basically financial instruments whose value depends upon or is derived from the price of something else.  A derivative has no underlying value of its own.  It is essentially a side bet.  Today, the world financial system has been turned into a giant casino where bets are made on just about anything you can possibly imagine, and the major Wall Street banks make a ton of money from it.  The system is largely unregulated (the new “Wall Street reform” law will only change this slightly) and it is totally dominated by the big international banks.

Nobody knows for certain how large the worldwide derivatives market is, but most estimates usually put the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market somewhere over a quadrillion dollars.  If that is accurate, that means that the worldwide derivatives market is 20 times larger than the GDP of the entire world.  It is hard to even conceive of 1,000,000,000,000,000 dollars.

Counting at one dollar per second, it would take you 32 million years to count to one quadrillion.

So who controls this unbelievably gigantic financial casino?

Would it surprise you to learn that it is the big international banks that control it?

The New York Times has just published an article entitled “A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives“.  Shockingly, the most important newspaper in the United States has exposed the steel-fisted control that the big Wall Street banks exert over the trading of derivatives.  Just consider the following excerpt from the article….

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

Does that sound shady or what?

In fact, it wouldn’t be stretching things to say that these meetings sound very much like a “conspiracy”.

The New York Times even named several of the Wall Street banks involved: JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup.

Why does it seem like all financial roads eventually lead back to these monolithic financial institutions?

The highly touted “Wall Street reform” law that was recently passed will implement some very small changes in how derivatives are traded, but these giant Wall Street banks are pushing back hard against even those very small changes as the article in The New York Times noted….

“The revenue these dealers make on derivatives is very large and so the incentive they have to protect those revenues is extremely large,” said Darrell Duffie, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, who studied the derivatives market earlier this year with Federal Reserve researchers. “It will be hard for the dealers to keep their market share if everybody who can prove their creditworthiness is allowed into the clearinghouses. So they are making arguments that others shouldn’t be allowed in.”

So why should we be so concerned about all of this?

Well, because the truth is that derivatives could end up crashing the entire global financial system.

In fact, the danger that we face from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once referred to them as “financial weapons of mass destruction”.

In a previous article, I described how derivatives played a central role in almost collapsing insurance giant AIG during the recent financial crisis….

Most Americans don’t realize it, but derivatives played a major role in the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Do you remember how AIG was constantly in the news for a while there?

Well, they weren’t in financial trouble because they had written a bunch of bad insurance policies.

What had happened is that a subsidiary of AIG had lost more than $18 billion on Credit Default Swaps (derivatives) it had written, and additional losses from derivatives were on the way which could have caused the complete collapse of the insurance giant.

So the U.S. government stepped in and bailed them out – all at U.S. taxpayer expense of course.

As the recent debate over Wall Street reform demonstrated, the sad reality is that the U.S. Congress is never going to step in and seriously regulate derivatives.

That means that a quadrillion dollar derivatives bubble is going to perpetually hang over the U.S. economy until the day that it inevitably bursts.

Once it does, there will not be enough money in the entire world to fix it.

Meanwhile, the big international banks will continue to run the largest casino that the world has ever seen.  Trillions of dollars will continue to spin around at an increasingly dizzying pace until the day when a disruption to the global economy comes along that is serious enough to crash the entire thing.

The worldwide derivatives market is based primarily on credit and it is approximately ten times larger than it was back in the late 90s.  There has never been anything quite like it in the history of the world.

So what in the world is going to happen when this thing implodes?  Are U.S. taxpayers going to be expected to pick up the pieces once again?  Is the Federal Reserve just going to zap tens of trillions or hundreds of trillions of dollars into existence to bail everyone out?

If you want one sign to watch for that will indicate when an economic collapse is really starting to happen, then watch the derivatives market.  When derivatives implode it will be time to duck and cover.  A really bad derivatives crash would essentially be similar to dropping a nuke on the entire global financial system.  Let us hope that it does not happen any time soon, but let us also be ready for when it does.

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The Size of Derivatives Bubble = $190K Per Person on Planet

Posted by Tom Foremski – October 16, 2008

More must read financial analysis from DK Matai, Chairman of the ACTA Open.

The Invisible One Quadrillion Dollar Equation — Asymmetric Leverage and Systemic Risk

According to various distinguished sources including the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland — the central bankers’ bank — the amount of outstanding derivatives worldwide as of December 2007 crossed USD 1.144 Quadrillion, ie, USD 1,144 Trillion. The main categories of the USD 1.144 Quadrillion derivatives market were the following:

1. Listed credit derivatives stood at USD 548 trillion;

2. The Over-The-Counter (OTC) derivatives stood in notional or face value at USD 596 trillion and included:

a. Interest Rate Derivatives at about USD 393+ trillion;

b. Credit Default Swaps at about USD 58+ trillion;

c. Foreign Exchange Derivatives at about USD 56+ trillion;

d. Commodity Derivatives at about USD 9 trillion;

e. Equity Linked Derivatives at about USD 8.5 trillion; and

f. Unallocated Derivatives at about USD 71+ trillion.

Quadrillion? That is a number only super computing engineers and astronomers used to use, not economists and bankers! For example, the North star is “just” a couple of quadrillion miles away, ie, a few thousand trillion miles. The new “Roadrunner” supercomputer built by IBM for the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has achieved a peak performance of 1.026 Peta Flop per second — becoming the first supercomputer ever to reach this milestone. One Quadrillion Floating Point Operations (Flops) per second is 1 Peta Flop/s, ie, 1,000 Trillion Flops per second. It is estimated that all the data found on all the websites and stored on computers across the world totals more than One Exa byte of memory, ie, 1,000 Quadrillion bytes of data.

Whilst outstanding derivatives are notional amounts until they are crystallised, actual exposure is measured by the net credit equivalent. This is normally a lower figure unless many variables plot a locus in the wrong direction simultaneously. This could be because of catastrophic unpredictable events, ie, “Black Swans”, such as cascades of bankruptcies and nationalisations, when the net exposure can balloon and become considerably larger or indeed because some extremely dislocating geo-political or geo-physical events take place simultaneously. Also, the notional value becomes real value when either counterparty to the OTC derivative goes bankrupt. This means that no large OTC derivative house can be allowed to go broke without falling into the arms of another. Whatever funds within reason are required to rescue failing international investment banks, deposit banks and financial entities ought to be provided on a case by case basis. This is the asymmetric nature of derivatives and here lies the potential for systemic risk to the global economic system and financial markets if nothing is done.

Let us think about the invisible USD 1.144 quadrillion equation with black swan variables — ie, 1,144 trillion dollars in terms of outstanding derivatives, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), real estate, world stock and bond markets coupled with unknown unknowns or “Black Swans”. What would be the relative positioning of USD 1.144 quadrillion for outstanding derivatives, ie, what is their scale:

1. The entire GDP of the US is about USD 14 trillion.

2. The entire US money supply is also about USD 15 trillion.

3. The GDP of the entire world is USD 50 trillion. USD 1,144 trillion is 22 times the GDP of the whole world.

4. The real estate of the entire world is valued at about USD 75 trillion.

5. The world stock and bond markets are valued at about USD 100 trillion.

6. The big banks alone own about USD 140 trillion in derivatives.

7. Bear Stearns had USD 13+ trillion in derivatives and went bankrupt in March. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers and AIG have all ‘collapsed’ because of complex securities and derivatives exposures in September.

8. The population of the whole planet is about 6 billion people. So the derivatives market alone represents about USD 190,000 per person on the planet.

The Impact of Derivatives

1. Derivatives are securities whose value depends on the underlying value of other basic securities and associated risks. Derivatives have exploded in use over the past two decades. We cannot even properly define many classes of derivatives because they are highly complex instruments and come in many shapes, sizes, colours and flavours and display different characteristics under different market conditions.

2. Derivatives are unregulated, not traded on any public exchange, without universal standards, dealt with by private agreement, not transparent, have no open bid/ask market, are unguaranteed, have no central clearing house, and are just not really tangible.

3. Derivatives include such well known instruments as futures and options which are actively traded on numerous exchanges as well as numerous over-the-counter instruments such as interest rate swaps, forward contracts in foreign exchange and interest rates, and various commodity and equity instruments.

4. Everyone from the large financial institutions, governments, corporations, mutual and pension funds, to hedge funds, and large and small speculators, uses derivatives. However, they have never existed in history with the overarching, exorbitant scale that they now do.

5. Derivatives are unravelling at a fast rate with the start of the “Great Unwind” of the global credit markets which began in July 2007 and particularly after the collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in September this year.

6. When derivatives unravel significantly the entire world economy would be at peril, given the relatively smaller scale of the world economy by comparison.

7. The derivatives market collapse could make the housing and stock market collapses look incidental.

Three Historical Examples

1. The so-called rogue trader Nick Leeson who made a huge derivatives bet on the direction of the Japanese Nikkei index brought on the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995.

2. The collapse of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), a hedge fund that had a former derivatives and bond dealer from Salomon Brothers and two Nobel Prize winners in Economics as principals, collapsed because of huge leveraged bets in currencies and bonds in 1998.

3. Finally, a lot of the problems of Enron in 2000 were brought on by leveraged derivatives and using derivatives to hide problems on the balance sheet.

The Pitfall

The single conceptual pitfall at the basis of the disorderly growth of the global derivatives market is the postulate of hedging and netting, which lies at the basis of each model and of the whole regulatory environment hyper structure. Perfect hedges and perfect netting require functioning markets. When one or more markets become dysfunctional, the whole deck of cards could collapse swiftly. To hope, as US Treasury Secretary Mr Henry Paulson does, that an accounting ruse such as transferring liabilities, however priced, from a private to a public agent will restore the functionality of markets implies a drastic jump in logic. Markets function only when:

1. There is a price level at which demand meets supply; and more importantly when

2. Both sides believe in each other’s capacity to deliver.

Satisfying criterion 1. without satisfying criterion 2. which is essentially about trust, gets one nowhere in the long term, although in the short term, the markets may demonstrate momentary relief and euphoria.


In the context of the USD 700 billion rescue plan — still being finalised in Washington, DC — the following is worth considering step by step. Decision makers are rightly concerned about alleviating immediate pressure points in the global financial system, such as, the mortgage crisis, decline in consumer spending and the looming loss of confidence in financial institutions. However, whilst these problems are grave, they are acting as a catalyst to another more massive challenge which may have to be tackled across many nation states simultaneously. As money flows slow down sharply, confidence levels would decline across the globe, and trust would be broken asymmetrically, ie, the time taken to repair it would be much longer. Unless there is government action in concert, this could ignite a chain-reaction which would swiftly purge trillions and trillions of dollars in over-leveraged risky bets. Within the context of over-leverage, the biggest problem of all is to do with “Derivatives”, of which CDSs are a minor subset. Warren Buffett has said the derivatives neutron bomb has the potential to destroy the entire world economy, and is a “disaster waiting to happen.” He has also referred to derivatives as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Counting one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one Quadrillion. The numbers we are dealing with are absolutely astronomical and from the realms of super computing we have stepped into global economics. There is a sense of no sustainability and lack of longevity in the “Invisible One Quadrillion Dollar Equation” of the derivatives market especially with attendant Black Swan variables causing multiple implosions amongst financial institutions and counterparties! The only way out, albeit painful, is via discretionary case-by-case government intervention on an unprecedented scale. Securing the savings and assets of ordinary citizens ought to be the number one concern in directing such policy.


To reflect further on this, please respond within Facebook’s ATCA Open discussion board.

We welcome your thoughts, observations and views. Thank you.

Best wishes

DK Matai

Chairman, ATCA Open

— ATCA, The Philanthropia, mi2g, HQR —

This is an “ATCA Open and Philanthropia Socratic Dialogue.”

The “ATCA Open” network on Facebook is for professionals interested in ATCA’s original global aims, working with ATCA step-by-step across the world, or developing tools supporting ATCA’s objectives to build a better world.

The original ATCA — Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance — is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies — bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of the original ATCA network is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

The Philanthropia, founded in 2005, brings together over 1,000 leading individual and private philanthropists, family offices, foundations, private banks, non-governmental organisations and specialist advisors to address complex global challenges such as countering climate chaos, reducing radical poverty and developing global leadership for the younger generation through the appliance of science and technology, leveraging acumen and finance, as well as encouraging collaboration with a strong commitment to ethics. Philanthropia emphasises multi-faith spiritual values: introspection, healthy living and ecology. Philanthropia Targets: Countering climate chaos and carbon neutrality; Eliminating radical poverty — through micro-credit schemes, empowerment of women and more responsible capitalism; Leadership for the Younger Generation; and Corporate and social responsibility.


The Bi-Polar Moving Bretton Woods Meetings

February 7, 2010, at 6:07 pm
by Jim Sinclair in the category General Editorial |  Print This Post |  Email This Post

Dear CIGAs,

1. Bretton Woods was folded.
2. The floating exchange rate system is about to be folded.
3. By default or design we are going to a one-world currency and a one-world central bank of central banks.
4. For Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece or Spain to break off from the euro would be an expansion of the floating exchange rate system under present conditions.
5. There are presently 3 major currencies. That is the US dollar, the euro and gold.
6. The SDR was an attempt to form a single reserve currency that never took flight.
7. The SDR is an accounting unit made up of an index of currencies much like the USDX.

There is no immunity now from the size of funds seeking to speculate or manipulate markets. This type of money is attacking the debt of the weaker euro states by intention or coincidence. Their success in the Iceland situation was only the first chapter of a multi chapter play.

Central bankers fear that this type of action, most certainly if it is as successful as it was on Iceland, succeeding against the weaker euro states could easily attack the present functional reserve currencies, the US dollar and the euro.

There is an implicit fear that if the ECB refuses to or cannot sustain the debt of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain the next to fall will be both the US dollar and the euro.

The states of the US are no different, in form or short opportunity, than weak members of the euro. Already major money is short California, New York and Pennsylvania debt. A pounding of state debt is as easy as the pounding of the weaker members of the euro.

Attack of a currency is primarily an attack of the debt representing that currency.

Central banks are run by bankers who used to measure their capital in millions only a few years ago. After the invention of the OTC derivative they measured their capital as today in billions. They now imagine measuring their capital both of their banks and personally in the trillions as they challenge nations, not companies.

China knows this and is insulating itself from this.

To accomplish this end whilst maintaining and increasing the value of hard assets ( assets of major players) a new single reserve currency must be functionally initiated either by default or by design.

A singular world currency must be an index of many currencies adjusted from time to time. Adjustment within its membership is the key to a common currency that the EU forgot about.

Whatever institution manages that index becomes the central bank of central banks able to create artificial money according to its allocation of the single currency index. This is what was desired of the SDR originally.

The chances of reverting to a Bretton Woods or increasing the Floating Exchange rates are unlikely.

A collapse of the weaker states of the euro would be an expansion of the floating exchange rate strengthening the market forces that will attack all nations one by one after their success in Iceland. The weakest will be the first to go, but none are safe.

The chance of an abrupt change to something new now, as above, is unlikely. The probability of moving towards a one world currency in stages over the next 5 years is a reality.

In order to make that transition a method of raising the status of the IMF and the SDR would be most likely. Such a transition would be for this entity to assist in sustaining the weaker states of the euro and the USA as the states of the USA are now rolling over harder, balance sheet wise, than the weaker states of the euro

The debt of nations is not immune to the tsunami of these speculative and manipulative funds attacking by design or coincidence, focusing on a market all on one side – short.

OTC derivatives are being used in the strategy to collapse the weaker states of the euro.

OTC derivatives are the cause of this entire trauma by design or coincidence.

Nothing has been done to curtail or reduce the ever-growing mountain of these instruments.

All that has occurred is the new means of valuation as value to maturity, and the collapse of FASB requiring market valuation. Both items repaired the appearance of the balance sheet of the financial entities by allowing a cartoon of valuations to re-enter the system.

The decision will take place that is in the best interest of the majority power of four groups ruling these bi-polar central bank meetings. Those groups are the banksters, bankers, Daddy Warbucks and politicians.


1. Gold will progressively lock price-wise in the inverse to the SDR or similar item.
2. An exchange will soon begin to trade a virtual SDR or similar item just as they trade a virtual dollar as the USDX or virtual gold as a paper gold.
3. The USDX will become redundant.
4. The ability to pay off the debt of previous reserve currencies with market de-valued paper is facilitated.
5. Currencies as a whole will decline.
6. That decline will be the SDR versus the gold price.
7. The method of attacking a currency is inherent in attacking its debt.

The answer is simple even though the problem is complex.

Reduce all your currency positions into strength. Buy gold in all its forms other than US or Euro based in weakness.

Gold will trade at $1650 and above. The US dollar continues its march in phases towards worth-less and worthlessness.








Derivatives and the Recession

My Related Pages

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas.
– Publius Vergilius Maro

Happy is he who can know the causes of things.

Revision 0.27
Copyright © 2009-2010 by Zack Smith.
All rights reserved.


We know we’re in a Recession, so what caused it? And what factors are influencing it now? Who is profiting and who is losing? On this page I am presenting my notes that address these questions.

Let us not just assume, as the media would have us do, that poor people who bought houses they could not afford (or rather were suckered into it by predatory lenders) were the main cause of the crisis, or even that they are the sole worthy recipient of blame. That is a story for children, not for we who seek to know the truth. After all, bankers control much of the mainstream media corporations through interlocking directorships.

No, there’s much more to the story and the duped poor people may in fact be only a tiny part. It involves a much larger mesh of wrongdoing and outright criminality, involving bankers engaging in derivatives gambling, bailouts for politically-connected racketeers, Ponzi schemes, front-running scams, money laundering on a massive scale, and much more.


The workers
The borrowers
The abusive speculators
The abused savers
Peekaboo accounting scam
The shadow banking system
Market irrationalism
Ponzi schemes
The money supply
What is a market maker?
Zero-reserve banking system
Has Goldman Sachs taken over the US government?
WTC 7 controlled demolition connection
Economic Bubbles 
Shady international cabal of financiers
What is the Federal Reserve?
The insurers
Program trades
Naked short selling
Counterfeit ratings
The unemployed
The Chinese lenders
The Wall St. fraudsters
World debt versus world GDP
The US dollar
Dollar devaluation
The Carry Trade
The future: What could happen?
Reminder: Our corrupt media
Finance jargon
Gold price
A poem

The workers

  1. Excessive outsourcing of jobs and offshoring of entire factories has hollowed out the US economy.
  2. Excessive importation of foreign workers under H1B and L1 visas has meant that many middle-class jobs have gone to foreigners.
  3. Mass immigration of uneducated foreign workers who work at low-paying jobs either without papers or using stolen or invented social security numbers has meant blue-collar jobs have gone to them.
  4. Therefore more American workers have less income and fewer job prospects.

The borrowers

  1. 9/11 (which was not perpetrated by Muslims) was used as an excuse by the Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates to make money much too easy to get.
  2. After 9/11, Bush stood on the WTC rubble and ludicrously told Americans to go out and shop. This reflected two key facts:
    • 70% of the US GDP of $13 trillion is based on consumption due to exporting of factories and jobs to lower-wage countries.
    • This hollowed-out US economy exists in a debt bubble. Americans have borrowed too much and prices have risen to match available debt money.
  3. Americans generally want to live a middle-class lifestyle and many have used debt to accomplish that. That has increased the debt bubble.
  4. Many Americans who either have money or are willing to take on risky debts have become speculators in the housing bubble with the goal of “flipping” houses or similar.
  5. Therefore home prices rose based on speculation and what the Fed recently called the “illusion” of wealth occurred.
  6. We observed a disappearance of affordable homes for sale and even cheap rentals. For many people this necessitated the use of debt.
  7. Cities enjoyed increased revenues because increased homes prices meant higher tax revenue.
  8. Many Americans who either have money or are willing to take on risky debts have become buy-to-rent operators.
  9. The inability of borrowers/spectulators to pay variable-rate mortgages has led to many foreclosures and the realization that banks possess “troubled assets” meaning worthless loan papers.
  10. Therefore the stock market fell from its high of 14000 to presently near 7000.
  11. Cities also speculated in the stock market and some have reported a halving of assets since the stock market fell.
  12. People who possess retirement accounts have also reported significant falls in their retirement booty.

The abusive speculators

There is a cadre of wealthy speculators who are at war with savers. Who’s a saver? If work for a living and you put money into a bank for safety and to collect interest, you are a saver.

Wealthy speculators like:

  1. Borrowing at low interest.
  2. Collecting (privatizing) all of their gains.
  3. Walking away from (socializing) all of their losses.

This effectively results in a global Ponzi scheme.

Wealthy speculators dislike:

  1. Regulation on derivatives gambling.
  2. Higher bank interest rates.
  3. Higher Treasury bond interest rates.
  4. Stock dividends that are actually paid out.

Wealthy speculators use part of their ill gotten gains to bribe politicians (which is legal in the USA where we call bribes “campaign contribution” or private consultant jobs). Therefore politicians are on their side, not on the side of the savers.

John Paulson and Goldman Sachs

John Paulson is one speculator who became infamous for betting against subprime securities and massively winning. He is said by Kevin Connor to have worked with Goldman Sachs to create those fraudulent securities designing them to fail so that he could later profit on their failure, terming this a “vulture flight pattern”. Paulson is now operating in Greece with a team of 20 traders and is again working with Goldman Sachs betting against their debt.

The abused savers

Savers are regular people who hope to benefit from putting their money in banks, which effectively lends the money to banks to speculate with in return for interest.

Savers like:

  1. Higher bank interest rates.
  2. Higher Treasury bond interest rates.
  3. Stock dividends that are actually paid out.
  4. A guarantee that their money will not disappear if the bank fails.

Now that the FDIC has no money, the guarantee that they formerly offered is ringing pretty hollow.

Peekaboo accounting scam

We now know that Lehman executives were, like almost every US corporation it seems, engaging in “peekaboo accounting” as commentator Max Keiser calls it. This means they would move debts off their balance sheets just days before having to issue a quarterly report, and a week later move it back on.

Peekaboo accounting is also now a common practice by corporations, who shift profits to foreign subsidiaries located in tax havens to avoid paying taxes on those profits. This practice accelerated under the George W. Bush presidency. CTJ report.

General Motors has been accused by Senator Charles E Grassley of using peekaboo accounting to pretend that it paid back bailout money when in truth it repaid it using yet more public money. This is, of course, like a Ponzi scheme. Grassley actually refers to this as a “money shuffle”.

The shadow banking system

Also known as the dark exchange, the after-hours market, the OTC market.

  • Every brokerage firm normally has an “error account” in which brokers’ mistakes are collected. That’s normal.
  • What’s not normal however is that brokerages started trading “derivatives” between themselves through these error accounts. This practice expanded to become the off-the-books or “shadow banking system”.
  • The shadow banking system includes derivatives trading and globally $500 trillion of derivatives debt.
  • Major players include Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citibank, Morgan Stanley.
  • The shadow banking system grew larger than the legitimate, public stock market. The estimate is that it grew to $25 or 30 billion dollars in the US. But $14 trillion globally.
  • Credit default swaps and securitizing are effectively money laundering in his view.

Bank for International Settlements

Located in Basel, Switzerland. Website.

The BIS has useful statistics on the global derivatives market, which is $1200 trillion or so. BIS stats.

Market irrationalism

Market Religion

Some time ago I devised the term market religion to describe what I saw as a set of behaviors that are akin to religion, in a psychological and anthropological senses. I had been taking courses in both psychology and anthropology. Anthropologists are interested in what constitutes a religion and they generally specify a set of characteristics.

I kept seeing these key characteristics of religiousness in financial news reporting, but also in the America’s ostensibly capitalist culture generally. So I began to consider capitalism to be a kind of pseudo-religion.

It was a satirical claim of course, but then again, as an atheist I often see patterns of religiousness in people, even in other atheists’ behaviors and beliefs.

Market Fundamentalism

Market fundamentalism is a term that describes a collection of claims that is actively promoted by various people. Typically these people are pushing the Neoliberal agenda.

Some of these claims:

  • The market is or can be self-regulating.
  • Businesspeople can or should be self-regulating.
  • A higher stock price means a healthier or better company.

Ponzi schemes

Fractional reserve lending

  • This is lending by banks of more money that they have on hand.
  • By law banks can lend out 10 times what they have in deposits.
  • It is standard practice and has been in use for 300+ years.
  • It is explained in the documentary Money Masters.
  • It is a Ponzi scheme.

US dollar

Some have said the US dollar is itself a Ponzi scheme, because it is the world reserve currency.


A bubble is a Ponzi scheme, created to transfer wealth to the Ponzi schemers, who then pop the bubble, and then they rush in afterward to suggest a solution to corrupt politicians like Obama and Gordon Brown that they profit from.

The money supply

Where does money come from literally?

There are two sources of money:

  1. Money comes into existence by being printed. This is about 3 percent of the total money supply.
  2. Money comes into existence (e.g. Fractional Reserve Lending) by being loaned by banks. This is the other 97% of the money supply.

When banks do not lend and/or people are the masses of peole and businesses are too poor to borrow, the money supply shrinks. When the money supply shrinks, money becomes more expensive and the relative value of a currency can increase and deflation can set in.

In the USA, the Goldman-Sachs-controlled Obama Administration started giving billions of dollars away to corrupt, incompetent bankers and to anyone else who would accept it. This expanded the money supply but some deflation has occurred anyway.

What is a market maker?

This term technically means a person or company that exists in the market to provide for an orderly and fair market. They buy when others are selling and the sell when others buy. Market makers are not supposed to profit from their position, because they can see trades before they happen. And yet many do.

However the term as used by Goldman Sachs is a euphemism for thief. Goldman engages in high-frequency trading and therefore has great power over the market. They can push the market up or down on a whim because the number of trades they’re doing (volume) is so large. They are closer to the core mechanisms of the market so that they can rig the market in order to never lose.

Because players like Goldman can manipulate the market in dramatic ways, they stand accused of creating panics in order to influence politicians to prevent imposition of new regulations.

Market makers are sometimes accused of being in a position to run Ponzi schemes.

Zero-reserve banking system

The banking cartel (banks and the US government) has figured out that banks can game the system so that they don’t have anything on hand. A bank will obtain an asset, lend out 10 times its value, and right away sell the asset. So they have basically no risk except for the system itself. If they do experience a loss, they will employ the Neoliberal practice of going to Washington to get the politicians to have the taxpayers bail them out, paying off their bad bets. (In Neoliberalism they privatize profits and socialize losses.)


Fractional reserve lending in analogous to the system as a whole. Big financial companies are “over-leveraged” meaning they have bets and debts greatly in excess to their real assets. However since Alan Greenspan the “fraction” has been shrinking as a percentage. This increases the risk for everyone since a stable economy is one that is built upon production (not bets and debts) and whose currency is backed by (built upon) something tangible such as a precious metal like gold and/or silver.

Bernie Madoff

  1. Madoff was probably just the tip of the iceberg.
  2. Since his situation came to light several other con men like him have been identified as well.
  3. The stock market itself for years has been pushing profit increases of 20% per year. This was not a realistic rate of return.
  4. A stock bubble is effectively (like the tech bubble or the housing bubble) a Ponzi scheme.
  5. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan we have seen a series of economic bubbles and bubble-bursts.
  6. One of the best funds is Berkshire Hathaway run by Warren Buffett. It is considered legit.
  7. Bernie Madoff in this context used a simple scheme of offering a rate of return that was less than Berkshire Hathaway and less than short-lived Ponzi schemes of the past. Therefore it was not perceived as a scam.

Goldman Sachs has taken over the US government?

Some charge that Goldman Sachs has staged a coup d’etat. Consider:

  1. Barack Obama is loyal to them since they were his largest campaign contributor.
  2. Timothy Geithner (formerly NY Fed chief) appointed as his chief of staff a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist. Source
  3. Timothy Geithner as head of the NY Fed had the job of helping Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs make more money which is why the worldwide economic system is at risk of collapse.
  4. Ben Bernanke is alleged to be under the thumb of Goldman Sachs.
  5. The SEC is headed up by yet another Goldman Sachs banker.
  6. Henry Paulson was a former CEO of Goldman and yet he became Treasury secretary. When he left Goldman he got a golden parachute of $500 million.

Some brokers like Goldman Sachs stand accused of deliberately selling their clients worthless products, then “shorting” these products i.e. betting that the value of those products will fall from their inflated price. In this way, they were ensured of a profit and their clients were certain to lose.

It is also worth pointing out that the controlling board of the BBC is dominated by Goldman Sachs executives, as revealed by Max Keiser. I might also note that it is well known that on 9/11, BBC reporters announced live that World Trader Center building 7 had collapsed due to “terrorism” and yet so obviously by controlled demolition a full 30 minutes before it did.

What are they up to?

They are said to do 1 trillion trades per hour and to make a profit of $100 million per day.

The WTC 7 connection

The controlled demolition of the World Trade Center at 5:20pm on 9/11 had a convenient effect for criminal bankers: The demolition of building 7, which most Americans have never seen nor heard of, resulted in a large loss of documents owned by foreign banks that described the value of assets. It also contained key files on the Enron investigation and other financial investigations.

Building 7 falling on 9/11:

Economic bubbles

What is an economic bubble?

A bubble is a phenomenon in which a feedback loop arises:

  1. A type of asset price goes up.
  2. Speculators form the belief that the rise will continue.
  3. Speculators buy more of this type of asset.
  4. More demand causes the price to go up.

This cycles until some event causes the majority to realize that assets of this type are overvalued and will not continue to rise.

Bubbles are often due to Ponzi schemes. Anything that is a Ponzi scheme naturally creates a bubble.

Examples of economic bubbles:

  • The Dot Com Bubble.
  • The Housing Bubble.
  • The credit crash of 2000-2008.

Since fractional reserve lending is a Ponzi scheme, it too is creating a bubble but slowly.

America’s social security system is a Ponzi scheme.

Bubbles beget more bubbles

A Chinese official has admitted that China and the US are addressing the bubble problem by creating more bubbles.

Head Of China Sovereign Wealth Fund Openly Admits Asset Bubble Addressed By Creation Of More Bubbles (8/09).


Inflation is portrayed in some Economics 101 classes as being a natural phenomenon of the market.

That’s not quite correct.

It is actually also the product of a scheme invented hundreds of years ago by kings and queens and dukes who realized that there was a hard limit on how much they could tax their subjects before they would face the end of a pitchfork. So a new scheme was invented. It works as follows.

If a regular person writes a check without any money in the bank to pay for it, they risk going to jail.

If the Federal Reserve does it however, Congress thanks them for it. The Fed has the right to invent money out of thin air, because it’s a central bank. Printing more money has bad future consequences those won’t appear until later, Congress will have spent the money by then.

So rather than tax the public more, Congress can go to the Fed anytime and get free money. It was the same with royals.

This weakens the dollar, because of supply and demand. The more of a currency that is in circulation, the less value it has.

However printing more money also results in inflation, which erodes consumers’ buying power and destoys savings. But this harm will not occur immediately.

In addition:

  1. Whoever gets the free money early and spends it right away is not affected by the inflation that will happen due to the free money being put into the economy.
  2. Whoever makes a profit by conveying or storing the free money should spend that profit sooner rather than later to avoid the penalty of inflation.
  3. But for the regular Joe Blow he will receive any trickled-down money late in the game when the inflation has had a chance to take effect. His purchasing power is reduced and he becomes poorer.
  4. In addition Joe Blow will have to help pay back the debts. So he is made poorer twice.

Thus, inflation is an indirect form of taxation in two ways.

Shady international cabal of financiers

It has been said that when Ian Fleming was writing his James Bond books he always gave them a basis in truth, albeit uncommon truth. So on some level Dr No, Goldfinger and other bizarre characters had counterparts in the real world.

For the common person who just wants to keep his or her down and live life, talk about an international cabal that is trying to shape world events will immediately illicit scoffs and condemnation of “conspiracy theories” and “tin foil hats”.

Yet there seems to be historical evidence, unsurprisingly not provided by Establishment lackeys, that such Dr No wannabe’s do exist and regularly meet in organizations such as the Bilderberg group, Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relation.

Which is to say that economic bubbles are not accidents but are planned, as are Depressions, Recessions, and the like. Rich people of this ilk frequently use the term “New World Order” in public to refer to their ultimate goal.

And indeed there are many momentous events where gross malfeasance or criminality played a role behind the scenes: The creation of the Federal Reserve; the Great Depression; major economic bubbles (Dot Com, Housing, etc.); repeal of the Glass-Stiegel Act;

Since the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh people have said that the NWO goal of a “one world government” and a worldwide bank and currency is now moving ahead, with the Dr No types in control of it.

What is the Federal Reserve?

The Federal Reserve is a cartel of private banks whose members were once (around 1910) known as the Money Trust.

The public despised them and wanted to break their parasitic grip on society so the Money Trust members pulled a fast one: They met secretly on Jekyll Island (Georgia) to write the Federal Reserve bill. They then used trickery to get it passed in Congress as a bill to break their own hold on the economy.

Woodrow Wilson foolishly signed it into law, which he later admitted was a grave mistake.

The Federal Reserve Act indeed legalized and enshrined the Money Trust as the Federal Reserve.

The purpose of any cartel is to reduce competition between members preferably to zero while increasing profits and reducing risk for members. The Federal Reserve Act did that.

The US government is fully in on the scam: The government is an active member in the cartel.



A derivative is a gamble.

  1. A derivative is a financial instrument (a contract) whose value is determined by something else which is called the underlying.
  2. Derivatives are essentially bets that the value of the underlying item will go up or down. They are a kind of gambling. The underlying can be any of these:
    • An asset such as a stock or real estate or loan.
    • A stock index or other index e.g. Consumer Price Index.
    • The price of grain.
    • The weather.
    • Etc.
  3. There are four kinds of derivatives:
    • Futures = a contract to provide goods at a specific price in the future e.g. grains.
    • Forwards
    • Swaps
    • Options
  4. A recent tally by the Bank of International Settlements was that there exists $700 trillion in derivatives.
  5. Warren Buffett recently referred to derivatives as weapons of mass financial destruction.
  6. Buffetts firm Berkshire Hathaway has $63 billion of “exposure” to derivatives.
  7. Another tally from March 2009 was that the world total of derivatives was near $1.2 quadrillion. This is much more than the world GDP. (The US GDP is $14.2 trillion.)
  8. This sum has been referred as a “ticking time bomb.”

OTC = over the counter

This odd term refers to any transaction that does not have a middleman.

When you buy a car from another person as a private sale, that is an example of an “over the counter” transaction. Transactions negotiated through Craigslist classified ads and on Ebay are often OTC as well.

When you buy a stock on the stock market, this is not OTC. There is an intermediate (the market) who will sell you stocks even if there is no one selling to it. Likewise you can sell to the intermediate even if there is no buyer. The intermedate functions as a market maker.

OTC can be risky for society if some party buys a highly risky product like a mortage-backed security without understanding that it’s junk, and then asks society to bail them out.

Mark to market is the act of defining the market value of a contract. Some companies, realizing that an objective value could not be set, abused the mark to market concept to engage in accounting fraud.

The insurers

  1. AIG convinced itself that it would be a good idea to insure against a kind of derivative called a credit default swap.
  2. This is a type of “insuring against loss.” Imagine that you go to a casino to gamble. But you bring an insurance agent with you to ensure that if you lose at poker then the insurance company will pay for your loss.
  3. So long as you the gambler are guaranteed to win the insurance company has no risk and any insurance premium that you pay is free money for them.
  4. A credit default swap is a deal in which a lender seeks insurance on a loan but does not want to make insurance premium payments. If the loan goes bad the deal is that the insurer buys the troubled loan from the lender.
  5. AIG insured so much of these credit default swaps because these are unregulated and at the time AIG believed that there was little or no risk involved in insuring them.
  6. In other words AIG thought it could use CDSes to get free money.
  7. When the global meltdown began AIG found its goose was cooked and unfortunately the US taxpayer has been giving them money to pay for their bad thinking and massive losses.
  8. Insuring against loss is not a new idea. It has happened with every economic bubble and has caused huge destruction every time. Yet Congress will not outlaw it.

Program trades

A program trade is a trade brought about by a computer program. They are advantageous in certain situations.

What certain situations? Arbitrage, from microsecond to microsecond or millisecond to millisecond.

On the New York Stock Exchange, 70% of the trades are program trades.

Of that 70%, 50% are by Goldman Sachs.

Therefore, 35% of the volume on the NYSE is Goldman Sachs program trades.

Another major program trader is Citadel.

The mid-2009 scandal to do with Goldman Sachs software being stolen by a worker proved that Goldman is using program trades to reap $100 million per day, which is a collossal rigging of the market.

Naked short selling

There’s a technique called “naked short selling” that is used to literally counterfeit a company’s stock in order to make a profit by selling that fake or phantom stock. In the process, its price is driven down and that negatively affects whatever company is the victim of a naked short attack.

  • In a normal “short” sale, you borrow stock and then try to sell it for less money. If you sell, you must deliver what you sell.
  • In a naked short, you don’t borrow anything and if you sell it, you don’t deliver. So it’s totally fraudulent. But Wall Street loves it.

It is because of naked short selling that Bear Stearns’ stock and Lehman Brothers’ stock plummeted and each declared bankruptcy. They were the victims of fund managers orchestrating a coordinated attack on their stock using naked shorting.

It’s not just banks that have been victims. Many companies have including, as explained by its CEO in this Fox News interview of David Byrne.

The SEC identified decreed that 19 banks to be protected from naked shorting. What this really meant was that the SEC was in all other cases and prior to that new rule refusing to enforce the laws against naked short selling, which is definitely an illegal activity.

Why? Because the people and companies who profit from naked shorting are very powerful. Indeed, according to David Byrne 9 of the protected banks were engaging in naked short selling.

Here’s a YouTube video posted by WriterJudd about the naked-short-selling attacks on Bear Stearns and Lehman:

Notice that in this video the author (presumably WriterJudd) identifies three hedge fund managers whom he believes are guilty of the Bear Stearns and Lehman attacks:

  • Jim Chanos
  • Dan Loeb
  • Steven Cohen

Hedge fund transactions may constitute 50% of the trades on the NYSE.

Counterfeit ratings

Everyone knows that mortgage-backed securities were fraudulent. So why did organizations, towns, cities, and countries buy them?

Because ratings agencies like Moody’s were paid more to provide better ratings of these securities. It was fraud.

This established the mortgage-backed securities as a “confidence game”, i.e. one in which a victim is made to feel confident that something is worth a great deal of money when actually it’s fairly worthless.


The unemployed

The official unemployment number is bogus because it ignores people who are working only part-time and people who have stopped looking for work.

So while the official rate as of July 2009 is 9.5% the truth is it’s more like 16%.

The Chinese lenders

  • China has about $1.5 trillion of US dollars the value of which falls when the dollar falls and whenever the Fed prints more and more money.
  • China holds about $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves overall.
    Source: FT article.
  • China has $500 billion that is mortage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
    Source: NYT article.
  • China can use this debt to demand key assets such as income-producing properties in the USA. For instance toll roads.

The Wall St. fraudsters

There are at least 16 types of fraud that are commonplace on Wall Street. Many of these techniques are old, but they are common and are used to steal from investors.

He refers to Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan as financial-terrorist organizations. He notes that even the mainstream media has said that the economy is being “held random” by these bankers, and that Goldman Sachs desires to put the entire world under the yoke of debt-slavery.

World debt versus world GDP

  • The total of all GDPs of all nations in the world is only $100 trillion versus the US GDP of $13 trillion.
  • The total debt in the world is something like $1000 trillion (a quadrillion).

The US dollar

It’s the world reserve currency. But for how long?

  • Oil and gold are traded in US dollars.
  • The dollar-based financial markets are the “deepest”. It involves $50 trillion.
  • China has been buying up gold bars apparently in order to strenghen the importance of the yuan.

Dollar devaluation

In October 2009, journalist Robert Fisk announced that China, Fruance, Russia, oil producing countries and Gulf states had met secretly to discuss dumping the US dollar as the currency for trading oil.

This is the “decoupling effect” that Peter Schiff warns will happen.

It is known that China has been quietly accumulating gold. Gold has an inverse relationship with the dollar.

It is known that Gulf states have about $2 trillion dollars of reserves.

63% of worldwide reserves of foreign currencies are US dollars according to Russia Today in October 2009.

The Carry Trade

Interest rates are not the same in every country. If you see that the interest rates are low in country A, such that you can borrow cheaply, and that investments exist in country B that are offer a higher rate of return, then you can make money by borrowing in one currency, exchanging it, and investing in country B. This is the carry trade.

If the interest rates rise in country A, the carry trade disappears and investors are left with bad investments.

The carry trade was instrumental in Iceland’s unlikely rise. The carry trade is how they made money without producing anything and despite Iceland’s tiny population of only 300,000 people.

The carry trade can explain why the dollar has risen recently even while the stock market fell. The dollar was in demand because it’s cheap to borrow. Interesting commentary by Jan-willem Nijkamp.


  • China has 600 tons of gold bullion.
    • China has for some years been quietly buying gold whenever the price dips.
  • USA has 8000 tons of gold bullion.
  • IMF has 1000 tons of gold bullion.
  • German gold is in New York.
  • Hong Kong has demanded its gold back from London.
  • The French took their gold back from New York a few decades ago.
  • The total value of all gold in the world is about US $4 trillion.

The “Beijing put” refers to China’s purchasing of gold whenever it falls below $1000 per ounce. It does so quietly so as to not send the price higher. Thus it buys in the valleys i.e. when the price dips.



  • London has been the center of world hedge fund industry.
  • Gordon Brown pushed to relax the rules (weaken regulations) for the City of London.
  • Gordon Brown made the City of London the least regulated financial center in the world.
  • AIG based its credit-default-swap (CDS) operations in London.
  • The UK provides “safe haven” for money launderers.

The future: What could happen?

Peter Schiff says…

Schiff is the former economic advisor to US presidential candidate Ron Paul. He regularly appears on mainstream media news shows to provide his opinions and debate the big wigs. He believes there will be a “decoupling effect” in which the US dollar will cease to be the world’s reserve currency and will be abandoned.

At his point both Russia and China have argued that the US dollar should be abandoned as the world reserve currency.


China calls for new reserve currency

Jim Rogers says…

His website

Rogers is a famous investor and frugal man who has “little need for money”. He and friend George Soros won big when trading currency during their younger years. Rogers warns everyone to get out of the US dollar and the UK pound. He has famously told young Britons to leave the UK.

Michael Hudson says…

His website

Michael Hudson explains the meltdown: KPFA Guns and Butter interview MP3.

Michael Moore

Moore’s 2009 film “Capitalism, a Love Story” brings the details of the derivatives mess and the threat of corporatism to the public’s doorstep.

He does a pretty good job considering that he makes mainstream American films and is surely constrained from speaking verboten topics.

Yet what he doesn’t say is almost more important than what he does. He fails in this documentary to mention:

  • The $23.7 trillion in bailouts that Neil Barofsky has warned of.
  • The $2 trillion of loans to unknown parties that the Fed issued and which Bloomberg sued over.
  • The fact that the Fed was begun by and is today run by the major corrupt banks that he mentions.
  • The ongoing and increasingly successful effort to audit the Fed.


The Neoliberal system takes the resources of Africa and gives them aid and guns in returns. You can no longer say it’s “the West” doing it, since China is in on the game.

Reminder: Our corrupt media

We live in an age of huge scams. Massive wrongs are being committed or have been and few people are being held accountable. Even Obama may be in on the racketeering and the cover-ups. He is providing a continuation and expansion of George W. Bush’s disastrous policies, not just in the area of finance.

Both the mainstream media and the carefully-named “alternative” media (who are not truly independent as they are funded by foundations) have to varying extents been active in covering up the facts about all the major scams that have been in play and thereby in protecting the guilty.

For info about who controls the alternative media, see here: diagram

Finance Jargon

  1. Great Fool Theory = people who understand risks more will dump their assets onto people who understand risks less e.g. you know your car is broken therefore you sell it to some fool.
  2. Short selling (“shorting”) = a bet in which you borrow something (you do not own it) and sell it in the hope of buying it back at a profit when the price falls. If the price rises then you lose money.
  3. Naked short selling = an attack on a stock (such as Bear Stearns or Lehman) that drives its stock price down short-term so that the attacker can profit from a put option i.e. a bet that the price will go down.
  4. Market liquidity = When the exchange itself serves as a buyer or seller to ensure that buyers and sellers can always find a partner for a transaction — irregardless of whether both buyers and sellers (other than the exchange) are present.
  5. Quantitative easing = The act of creating inflation by printing too much money. Why do that? Because the USA cannot pay back its national debt. Every time the Fed prints more dollars it is decreasing the value of the dollar itself (supply and demand) and since that debt is denominated in dollars the value of the debt decreases.
  6. Black swan = an event that deviated significantly from the norm but that is hard to predict e.g. results of an inside job.
  7. To “front run” = trading based on inside information.
  8. Moral hazard = When one party acts more riskily because they know they are insulated from loss by another party. This has occurred with the US financial bailouts and is why some say that profits are privatized but losses are socialized — the public is the second party paying for losses from the risky behavior of bankers.
  9. Carry trade = Borrowing money in a low-interest currency and then exchanging it to invest it in another, higher-interest currency.
  10. Mark to market = assigning value to an OTC (over the counter) derivative.
  11. Front running = when a broker puts his own trade in front of a client trade. Link
  12. Dead cat bounce = Creating a fake rally in the market just before the real shit hits the fan in order to pull in the “suckers” who wish and wish so hard that the Recession is already over.
  13. Painting the tape = Creating a fake end-of-day rally in a stock so that the news media will claim in the evening/morning news tht the stock is now popular even though no real value has been added.
  14. Margin = money paid to an exchange to be used in the event of a trading loss.
  15. Margin call = use of a margin in the event of a trading loss.
  16. Put option = contract saying you may sell X at price Y for a period of time. X is the “underlier”. Y is the “strike price”. If Y > spot price then you win.
  17. Call option = contract saying you may to buy X at price Y for a period of time. X is the “underlier”. Y is the “strike price”. If Y < spot price then you win.
  18. Straddle = a put combined with a call. You win more money than you bet if the price goes outside of a range. Otherwise you lose and the seller keeps your money.
  19. Breakeven point = the point at which the costs of making a transaction equals the profit/gain achieved by the transaction.
  20. White shoe = mafia-like bankster behavior concealed by a veneer of light-skinned Protestants.
  21. Weenie waving = making stock market gambles just to show you are big stuff.

For reference: Gold price

gold price charts provided by And oil too:

WTI Crude Oil

$84.12 ▼0.11 0.13%
21:23 PM EDT – 2011.10.13

A poem

Soon the people will be hosed,
Despite gold or ameros or whatever
By derivative scams under our nose,
And worthless green Fed toilet paper.

A few links


Google ads on this webpage now use Google’s interest-based advertising.



Foreclosure Scandal Exposes
Systemic Derivatives Fraud

by John Hoefle

October 2010

This article appears in the October 15, 2010 issue of Executive Intelligence Review and is reprinted with permission

[PDF version of this article]

EIRNS/Stuart Lewis

The foreclosure scandal making headlines across the country is sounding the death knell of the derivatives markets. This sign in Leesburg, Va., was from the very beginning of the wave of foreclosures, in February 2007.

October 9, 2010 — Filing false documents in courts to obtain illegal foreclosures, breaking into homes and changing the locks while the residents are still legally living there, and even foreclosing on homes which have no mortgages—these are just some of the things the derivatives arms of the giant banks are doing, as they throw people to the wolves in a vain effort to stop their own collapse into oblivion. We are not at all surprised that the derivatives banks are acting this way—in fact, we would be a bit surprised if they didn’t, given the criminal nature of the financial markets. It would be nice to be able to say that we are surprised that the Federal regulators are letting them get away with it, but that one won’t fly. Under the Obama regime, with the help of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and “Bailout” Barney Frank and Chris Dodd of the House and Senate banking committees, the banks have gotten pretty much whatever they wanted. If that includes your house, too bad for you.

Fortunately, a number of state officials have more backbone and morality than the sellouts in Washington, and are beginning to take steps to rein in some of these abuses. Their actions have forced at least four banks—JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, PNC, and Ally Financial (née GMAC), to temporarily suspend foreclosures—in the 23 states which require court approval in the case of home foreclosures (Bank of America has frozen foreclosures in all 50 states). Attorneys general in a number of states have already launched investigations into the actions of the banks, with more expected. The magnitude of the problem, and the number of banks involved, have only begun to surface.

The state actions have prompted weak cover-your-mustache posturing from Obama, Pelosi, and company, in a desperate effort to hide their abject subservience to the British Empire and the Inter-Alpha Group. No one is buying it.

The banks, for their part, are covering up this scandal as fast as they can, and with the help of compliant media such as the New York Times and Washington Post, are attempting to cast it as a story of “shoddy paperwork by low-level nobodies,” whose errors are now “jeopardizing the fragile recovery.” In effect, these bankers are brazenly threatening us yet again—even as they destroy the nation trying to bail them out. “Stop us from taking what we want,” they’re saying, “and we’ll make you pay.” What unmitigated gall!

Well, we’ve got a hot news flash for these arrogant bastards: You are already way beyond bankrupt, the economy is already collapsing, and we are through capitulating to your suicidal demands. This time, we’re going to shut your derivatives market down, and save ourselves. Enough is enough!

Blame Derivatives

The horror show playing out before our eyes in the foreclosure markets, is the continuing collapse of perhaps the greatest financial swindle in the history of mankind: the derivatives markets. The story revolves around the way that derivatives were used to create a giant pool of fictitious capital, nominally based on home mortgages, and the way that the banks are now attempting to seize the homes to turn their funny money into hard assets.

What is absolutely clear, is that the mortgage system—which was run by and for the big derivatives players—systematically ignored legal requirements for the conveyance of promissory notes and mortgages, as they engaged in this giant scam. Individual mortgages were sold by their originators, and combined into pools, which were, in turn, used as the basis for the issuance of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). These MBS were then sliced and diced into pieces, and sold. Then many of these pieces were combined into new pools, against which new derivatives were created and sold, ad nauseam.

Rather than record these sales with county courts, as required by state real estate laws, the bankers created a giant database called MERS, to keep track of the sales. This allowed the banks to save billions of dollars in time and money on court filings, and made the whole train-wreck run more smoothly—for a while.

The problems for the bankers began in mid-2007, when the mortgage-derivatives market collapsed. Panic set in after the collapse of two Bear Stearns hedge funds, and with good reason: The pyramid scheme had collapsed. Speculators suddenly retrenched into survivalist mode, thereby killing the flow of funds into the mortgage market, and sending property values plunging.

Now the foreclosures have begun to accelerate, as the derivatives-holders try to seize real homes to cover their fictitious claims. The problem they face is that, having ignored real estate filing laws, they are now finding it difficult to prove they are the legal owners of the mortgages/notes, and thus have the legal standing to foreclose.

As a result, the banks acting on behalf of their derivatives pools have resorted to faking the paperwork, filing false affidavits with the courts, and other unsavory actions. They have become so blatant in their criminality and contempt for the law, and for the welfare of the people, that they have triggered a revolt by the public, and the state regulators and courts.

Prosecution of the individuals and institutions that knowingly violated the law is certainly warranted, but that is not sufficient to deal with the problem. If we fine the banks, they will just pay us back with our own bailout money. So people need to go to jail, and institutions need criminal convictions. We must teach the British Empire that violating U.S. laws has serious consequences. No more slaps on the wrist (especially when accompanied by cash under the table).

We must finally recognize that this financial crisis—from the so-called “subprime crisis” to the “foreclosure crisis” and everything in-between, has been the result of a derivatives market which has turned the global financial system into a giant, and completely bankrupt casino, and that the attempt to bail out this casino by sticking the public with the bill is killing us all. If we are to survive, we must shut down the derivatives markets, declaring all existing derivatives contracts null and void, and prohibiting them in the future. Wall Street will howl, but that’s just a sign something right is being done. If they’re not howling, we’re not doing enough.

Get Back On Track

Putting the nation back on track requires a fundamental change in policy, starting with the reinstatement of Franklin Roosevelt’s Glass-Steagall law. We must separate out and protect real banking, of the sort needed to keep a proper economy functioning, from the speculations of the casino. We will honor legitimate debts, but not derivatives claims and other casino chips. We will put the Federal Reserve into receivership, go back to a Hamiltonian credit system, return to a Bretton Woods-style fixed exchange rate, and launch an infrastructure Renaissance in the style of Lyndon LaRouche’s NAWAPA/Mars concept.

To succeed, we must break the power of the British Empire and its Rothschild-run Inter-Alpha Group over the world economy, and, in particular, the U.S. economy. We are at war with the empire, and our very survival is on the line. The actions we see in the foreclosure process are just a small part of the financial warfare directed against us. The empire’s puppets—from Obama on down, in Washington, and virtually all of Wall Street and the Boston Vault—must go. We must return to the concept of “of, by, and for the People.”

We had a chance in 2007 and 2008 with LaRouche’s Homeowners and Bank Protection Act, which would have stopped the foreclosures, and ripped legitimate banking functions from the clutches of the speculators. That effort, which had considerable public support, was sabotaged by “Bailout” Barney Frank and others. Had it passed, we would not be in the mess we are today. Those who blocked the HBPA on behalf of the empire, committed treason, if not by the letter of the law, then by the intent of the Constitution. They are not fit for public office—even in sanitation. They’re so corrupt they would probably contaminate the sewers.

What was a financial crisis, having been made far worse by the bailout scheme, has turned into a full-fledged breakdown crisis. We must bust up the imperial crime wave via Glass-Steagall. That will clean up the mess, but it still leaves us with a dying economy, which is where NAWAPA (the North Amerian Water and Power Alliance) and LaRouche’s “platform” concept come in. Nothing less will work, anything less is a waste of time.

Finally, in closing, we have a suggestion for all the investigators looking into the foreclosure crisis. The devil is not in the details, but in the nature of the now-dead financial system. You are looking at a vast criminal conspiracy intended to destroy the United States, and the nation-state system itself, in favor of the re-establishment of the British Empire on a global scale.

You should also consider the possibility that the deliberate failure to follow legal document-recording standards has to do with more than just saving time and money. We suspect, knowing the nature of the empire, that what they were really doing is selling the same assets to more than one buyer. They will gladly take “paperwork” fines, to hide that. Don’t let them get away with it.

So, put away your Sherlock Holmes, and turn off “CSI,” and read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” That is the method you will need to get to the bottom of these crimes. Look with your mind, not your senses.

Related pages:

END-GAME IS ON: Getting Out in Time! by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.

Obama Out To Kill Glass-Steagall, While Pushing Weimar Hyperinflation by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.

A Glass-Steagall for Europe: Outlaw Currency Speculation by Helga Zepp-LaRouche

Federal Reserve Sparks Hyperinflation: Implement Glass-Steagall in September! by Helga Zepp-LaRouche

Glass-Steagall: The Constitutional Solution To Goldman Sachs Criminality

Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. Addresses Diplomats On Solution to Economic Crisis May 2010

An Extraordinary International Dialogue With Lyndon LaRouche

LAROUCHE WEBCAST: The Ides of March 2010

An Appeal for a Two-Tier Banking System: Europe Will Go Under Without Global Glass-Steagall June 2010 by Helga Zepp-LaRouche

There Is No `Greek’ Crisis: It’s the Euro That Has Failed May 2010 by Helga Zepp-LaRouche

EU Opens the Floodgates For Hyperinflation April 2010 by Helga Zepp-LaRouche

Lyndon H. LaRouche Emergency Address September 1, 2007 (MP3 audio)

LaRouche Proposes Homeowners and Bank Protection Act in Foreclosure Crisis

Resolution Filed With National Black Caucus of State Legislators: Implement the Homeowners and Bank Protection Act of 2007

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The Schiller Institute
PO BOX 20244
Washington, DC 20041-0244



Systemic Uneconomics: Financial Crisis Root Causes: Part III

Submitted by Scott Cleland on Thu, 2010-01-21 16:03

To discern the real “root” causes of the financial crisis of 2008, one must probe beneath the surface and examine the health of the “root system” of our capital markets “forest.” The roots of the capital markets forest are sound economics; the natural market function of automatically equilibrating supply and demand and risk and reward, that is commonly appreciated as Adam’s Smith’s “invisible hand.” We generally assume that the natural market strength of the capital market forest’s root system ensures that all the trees are not in danger of being blown over in the crisis of a storm.

In the fall of 2008, we all were shocked to learn that the root system of our capital markets, that we had always assumed was healthy and strong, was actually frighteningly weak and brittle requiring the slapdash reinforcement of multi-trillion dollar emergency scaffolding of whatever material was close at hand, a TARP, bailout lifelines, capital sandbags, etc. — to buttress the main market “trees” from toppling over, trees that the Government judged to big to be allowed to fall.

With the financial storm clouds apparently passed for now, many are becoming complacent, because the old adage is true — out of sight out of mind. Moreover, everyone desperately wants and needs to be able to assume that the essential root system that they cannot see is fine and nothing to worry about. That’s because if people knew the root system was weak with root rot, systemic uneconomics, they would have less confidence in the capital markets forest or the fledgling economic recovery.

So many are myopically focusing on structurally preventing the trees from falling down, largely by packing tens of billions of dollars of additional capital “soil” around the base of the trees to try and reinforce them. More capital “soil” to reinforce the trees makes good sense. However, it totally covers up the most important point — that the capital markets forest must have a healthy root system so that the market’s trees can stand by themselves long-term. If the health of the root system is not restored with sound economics, it won’t be able to withstand future storms/crises that will surely come, if the future is anything like the past three decades.

Unfortunately, we also know that another old adage is true: what we don’t know can hurt us.

The real problem is neither the market nor economics, but the irresponsible proliferation of inherently uneconomic financial instruments that undermine the ability of natural market economics to function. It is common sense that if enough inherently uneconomic activity is introduced, condoned, and allowed to spread broadly and deeply into the public capital markets system, public markets deteriorate from being systemically economic to being systemically uneconomic; in other words the systemically dysfunctional mess we witnessed in the dismal fall of 2008.

More specifically, the root system rot of uneconomics comes from introducing a variety of inherently uneconomic derivative financial instruments into the public capital markets system, that inherently undermine, weaken and destabilize the market’s (or invisible hand’s) natural ability to equilibrate: supply and demand; risk and reward; the borrower and lender relationship; the balance between short and long term horizons; and the economic equation between risk and insurance.

Let me be crystal clear, financial derivatives themselves are not the problem because derivatives can be economic and have many legitimate and valuable benefits. As I explained in Part II of this series, “Systemic Risk Laundering,” the problem is an unaccountable, out-of-control derivative system where derivatives are all assumed to be systemically benign and allowed to destroy the underlying public asset they are derived from. Central to accountability is the fundamental question: is a particular derivative financial instrument economic or uneconomic when integrated into the overall capital market system? In other words, are particular derivative instruments constructive or destructive to the core economic linkage of: supply and demand? Risk and reward? Borrower and lender? Short term and long term? Risk and insurance? To carry the root metaphor deeper, do the particular derivative instruments impede, block, or distort the root system’s natural ability to absorb and benefit from the water and nutrients in the soil?

So what are the uneconomic derivative financial instruments that create systemic risk and systemic uneconomic dysfunction?

First, employee stock options (in stark contrast to actual employee stock grants) are inherently uneconomic because they pervasively disconnect risk from reward and supply from demand. Stock options are the market equivalent of something for nothing, an opportunity to gain with no offsetting opportunity to lose. Stock options, unlike stock grants or the buying or selling of stock, are one-way upside potential with no potential downside risk. The tech bubble taught us that too much personal financial opportunity divorced from any personal financial risk encourages unwarranted risk taking with other peoples’ money. Typical of the system, not enough was done after the tech bubble to address the inherent uneconomic nature of stock options, so they continue to rot away the market’s natural strength to this day.

Second, indexing financial instruments are inherently uneconomic because pervasive indexing is inherently destabilizing, anti-capital formation, speculative, and hyper-stressing of the financial system, as I described inPart I of this series: “Indexing into the Ditch.” Indexing naturally impedes the market’s ability to reach equilibrium by exacerbating market volatility because it artificially creates a massive one-sided economic market. It generates substantial supply with no offsetting demand in a down market; and it generates substantial demand with no offsetting supply in an up market. Indexing fosters a market momentum dynamic which means a dominant segment of the market does not care about economics: price, fundamentals or time horizon — at all. Therefore prices can never be too high or too low for an indexer because economics have absolutely nothing to do with indexing.

Third, off-exchange derivatives often are destructively uneconomic, because like indexing, they can subordinate the first purpose of an underlying publicly-traded asset by advantaging the second purpose of the derivative ahead of the first purpose of the publicly traded asset — the quintessential tail wagging the dog. Credit default swap derivative instruments were dangerously uneconomic in that they perverted the essential equilibrium of borrower and lender and the concept that insurance is only economically viable for quantifiable risk. New experiments with “life settlements” derivatives assuredly will end badly because they mix the economic concept of insurance for highly-quantifiable risk with markets with inherently unquantifiable risks, rewarding speculative arbitrage, manipulation and fraud.

Almost by definition, the second purposes of derivative instruments are different from the first purpose financial instruments, and that difference can either be benign and productive or uneconomic and destructive. Returning to the root system metaphor, many derivatives are akin to introducing untested synthetic bacteria or virus into the capital market’s forest ecosystem. The current near-total lack of accountability for many off-exchange derivatives means that anyone can dump in the capital market forest whatever they can convince or trick someone into buying.

Finally, computer-automated program trading, or more simply algorithmic trading, is rapidly becoming the market norm because it offers efficiencies, mostly centered on substantially lowering transaction and management costs, which can contribute to better net performance. However, the much under-appreciated problem here is the inherent uneconomic “short-termism” effect of pervasive algorithmic trading in capital markets. The obsession, trend, and technology arms race to achieve ever faster, more complex, and more comprehensive automated trading is tautologically short-term focused. This is essentially devolving into a counter-productive race where artificial intelligence portfolio management arbitrages new information faster and faster (now measured in milliseconds and soon in nanoseconds), rather than compete for long-term investment returns — the universal goal of most investors, pensioners, and companies that are supposedly the true customers of the public capital markets system.

I call this pervasive and corrosive technological dynamic “algorithmia.” At core, algorithmia is a technological downward spiral to achieve a relative mili-second edge and is all about extremely short-term arbitrage, often less than a day. The flood of investable resources into immediate-term algorithmia only exacerbates the distortion and destabilization for the rest of the market that is trying to investment optimize for various long-term investment horizons that investors, pensioners and companies need.

Why algorithmia is profoundly uneconomic is that it powerfully disconnects the market’s natural function of reaching equilibrium by matching buyers and sellers via different investment horizons. If most liquid investable resources are inherently immediate-term focused, even if they are masquerading as having a longer term investment horizon, the long-term capital market purposes of capital formation, economic growth and investment simply cannot function economically.  Algorithmia is not about investing at all, but about constant arbitrage within and between asset classes. In the virtual mathematical world of algorithmia, what happens in the real world that’s not readily quantifiable, other than infrequently reported official numbers, is largely irrelevant.

Like indexing, algorithmia is inherently a momentum dynamic too, because what drives all of these algorithms is the same basic official input data. Once the market adjusts to new information the algorithmic task then shifts to see how the next piece of information will change the relative arbitrage equation competition based on what just happened, so this process is inherently sequential and cumulative, and hence momentum driven, not driven by economic fundamentals.

The 2008 Financial Crisis was a perfect and ominous example of the perils of algorithm-dominated markets. Algorithmia becomes a problem for the market when something happens that the programmers did not anticipate. Much of the market froze in fear in the fall of 2008 precisely because the established momentum of the market broke so unpredictably that many of the programs could not function as designed. In other words they worked when everything went according to plan, but they could be disastrous if and when the market behaved in an unanticipated or uneconomic way.

The scariest part of algorithmia is that almost by definition oversight and regulators will be lagging and reactive. Algorithmia also only increases the knowledge and sophistication gap between industry practitioners and regulators. Common sense suggests that, at a minimum, there needs to be an accountability system where all the algorithmic decisions and changes are at least subject to audit and re-creation by law enforcement, because without that deterrence and accountability, algorithmia, like off-exchange derivatives, will become a safe haven for speculators, market manipulators and fraudsters.

In sum, a primary root cause of the Financial Crisis of 2008 was systemic uneconomics: the ever-increasing accumulation of trillions of dollars of inherently uneconomic derivative financial instruments rotting out the root system of the capital markets forest. No amount of surface reinforcement or capital soil piled on the top of the big trees in the capital markets forest will enable the trees to stand on their own during the next big storm if their root systems continue to rot away from systemic uneconomics.

The best way to avert another financial crisis is stop the root rot in the capital markets forest. The best way to do that is to apply an “Accountability Framework Checklist” (like the one recommended below) to discern which derivative financial instruments and algorithmic practices are inherently economic and productive and which are inherently uneconomic and destructive. If the overall economic purposes of capital markets are capital formation, economic growth and investment, all the roots of the capital markets system need to be based on sound economics and not arbitrage, manipulation and fraud.


Note:  Don’t miss Part I & II of this research series:

  • Systemic Risk Laundering — Financial Crisis Root Causes — Part II” Click here.
  •  “Indexing into the Ditch – Financial Crisis Root Causes – Part I” Click here.


Scott Cleland is President of Precursor LLC, an industry research and consulting firm, and was the Founding Chairman of the Investorside Research Association. Click here for Cleland’s Biography.


Systemic Risk Prevention Framework & Derivative Accountability Checklist

(Same Recommended Framework as in Part II of the series)

All of the thousands of new derivative financial instruments and systemic practices that have emerged over the last decade since the CFMA created a safe harbor from accountability need to be audited and evaluated for unaccountable systemic risk, fraud and uneconomics.

  1. What asset, instrument, or market is the derivative dependent or predicated upon?
  2. Does the derivative’s second purpose conflict with, or undermine, the first purposes/value of the underlying public asset, instrument, or market that the derivative is derived from?
  3. How is the derivative interconnected with other assets, instruments, markets or counterparties? And to what extent is that interconnectedness reasonably transparent and known by all the affected parties?
  4. What are the side effects, externalities, and long-term/cumulative effects of the derivative?
  5. Does the derivative enhance or detract from the underlying asset, instrument, or market?
  6. Does the derivative undermine or break any linkage/relationship/balance between:
    1. Supply and demand?
    2. Risk and reward?
    3. Borrower and lender?
    4. Short and long term?
    5. Risk and insurance?
  7. As the derivative scales in usage could it foster systemic:
    1. Market momentum?
    2. Market speculation?
    3. Misrepresentation?
    4. Front running?
    5. Destabilization?
  8. Is the derivative’s effect prone to undermining or discouraging capital formation?
  9. Is the derivative’s effect prone to undermining market efficiency in reaching price equilibrium?
  10. How could the derivative be susceptible to fraud or manipulation?
  11. Does the derivative transfer risk transparently and with fair representation?
  12. Does the derivative have independent research coverage?
  13. How is the derivative accountable and to what/whom?
  14. What are the accountability measures, (audit, internal controls, etc.) for the derivatives algorithms or quant models?
  15. What independent third party audits and creates accountability for ensuring integrity of the algorithms and computer code that undergird these virtual derivative exchanges/systems?


Wiki accessed oct 13 2011-10-13

Credit default swap

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. Please help improve this article to make it understandable to non-experts, without removing the technical details. The talk page may contain suggestions.  (November 2010)

If the reference bond performs without default, the protection buyer pays quarterly payments to the seller until maturity

If the reference bond defaults, the protection seller pays par value of the bond to the buyer, and the buyer physically delivers the bond to the seller

Sovereign credit default swap prices of selected European countries from June 2010 till September 2011. The left axis issiis points; a level of 1,000 means it costs $1 million to protect $10 million of debt for five years.

credit default swap (CDS) is similar to a traditional insurance policy, in as much as it obliges the seller of the CDS to compensate the buyer in the event of loan default. Generally, this involves an exchange or “swap” of the defaulted loan instrument (and with it the right to recover the default loan at some later time) for immediate money – usually the face value of the loan.

However, there is a significant difference between a traditional insurance policy and a CDS. Anyone can purchase a CDS, even buyers who do not hold the loan instrument and may have no direct “insurable interest” in the loan. The buyer of the CDS makes a series of payments (the CDS “fee” or “spread”) to the seller and, in exchange, receives a payoff if the loan defaults.

Credit default swaps have existed since the early 1990s, and increased in use after 2003. By the end of 2007, the outstanding CDS amount was $62.2 trillion[1], falling to $26.3 trillion by mid-year 2010.[2]

Most CDSs are documented using standard forms promulgated by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), although some are tailored to meet specific needs. CDSs have many variations.[3] In addition to the basic, single-name swaps, there are basket default swaps (BDSs), index CDSs, funded CDSs (also called a credit-linked notes), as well as loan-only credit default swaps (LCDS). In addition to corporations and governments, the reference entity can include a special purpose vehicleissuing asset backed securities.[4]

CDSs are not traded on an exchange and there is no required reporting of transactions to a government agency.[5] During the2007-2010 financial crisis the lack of transparency became a concern to regulators, as was the multi-trillion dollar size of the market, which could pose a systematic risk to the economy.[6][3][7][8]

Credit default swaps and other derivatives are unusual–and potentially dangerous–in that they combine priority in bankruptcy with a lack of transparency.[6] In March 2010, the DTCC Trade Information Warehouse (see Sources of Market Data) announced it would voluntarily give regulators greater access to its credit default swaps database.[9]

A number of financial professionals, regulators, and the media have begun using credit default swap pricing as a gauge of the riskiness of corporate and sovereign borrowers, and U.S. Courts may soon be following suit. [10]




Buyer purchased a CDS at time t0and makes regular premium payments at times t1, t2, t3, and t4. If the associated credit instrument suffers no credit event, then the buyer continues paying premiums at t5, t6 and so on until the end of the contract at time tn.

However, if the associated credit instrument suffered a credit event at t5, then the seller pays the buyer for the loss, and the buyer would cease paying premiums to the seller.

A CDS is linked to a “reference entity” or “reference obligor”, usually a corporation or government. The reference entity is not a party to the contract. The buyer makes regular premium payments to the seller, the premium amounts constituting the “spread” charged by the seller to insure against a credit event. If the reference entity defaults, the protection seller pays the buyer the par value of the bond in exchange for physical delivery of the bond, although settlement may also be by cash or auction.[3][11] A default is often referred to as a “credit event” and includes such events as failure to pay, restructuring and bankruptcy, or even a drop in the borrower’s credit rating.[3] Most CDSs are in the $10–$20 million range[12] with maturities between one and 10 years. Five years is the most typical maturity.[4]

A holder of a bond may “buy protection” to hedge its risk of default. In this way, a CDS is similar to credit insurance, although CDS are not subject to regulations governing traditional insurance. Also, investors can buy and sell protection without owning debt of the reference entity. These “naked credit default swaps” allow traders to speculate on the creditworthiness of reference entities. CDSs can be used to create synthetic long and short positions in the reference entity.[7] Naked CDS constitute most of the market in CDS.[13][14] In addition, CDSs can also be used in capital structurearbitrage.

A “credit default swap” (CDS) is a credit derivative contract between two counterparties. The buyer makes periodic payments to the seller, and in return receives a payoff if an underlying financial instrument defaults or experiences a similar credit event.[3][11][15] The CDS may refer to a specified loan or bond obligation of a “reference entity”, usually a corporation or government.[12]

As an example, imagine that an investor buys a CDS from AAA-Bank, where the reference entity is Risky Corp. The investor—the buyer of protection—will make regular payments to AAA-Bank—the seller of protection. If Risky Corp defaults on its debt, the investor receives a one-time payment from AAA-Bank, and the CDS contract is terminated. A default is referred to as a “credit event” and include such events as failure to pay, restructuring and bankruptcy.[3][5] CDS contracts on sovereign obligations also usually include as credit events repudiation, moratorium and acceleration.[5]

If the investor actually owns Risky Corp’s debt (i.e., is owed money by Risky Corp), a CDS can act as a hedge. But investors can also buy CDS contracts referencing Risky Corp debt without actually owning any Risky Corp debt. This may be done for speculative purposes, to bet against the solvency of Risky Corp in a gamble to make money, or to hedge investments in other companies whose fortunes are expected to be similar to those of Risky Corp (see Uses).

If the reference entity (i.e., Risky Corp) defaults, one of two kinds of settlement can occur:

  • the investor delivers a defaulted asset to Bank for payment of the par value, which is known as physical settlement;
  • AAA-Bank pays the investor the difference between the par value and the market price of a specified debt obligation (even if Risky Corp defaults there is usually some recovery, i.e., not all the investor’s money is lost), which is known as cash settlement.

The “spread” of a CDS is the annual amount the protection buyer must pay the protection seller over the length of the contract, expressed as a percentage of the notional amount. For example, if the CDS spread of Risky Corp is 50 basis points, or 0.5% (1 basis point = 0.01%), then an investor buying $10 million worth of protection from AAA-Bank must pay the bank $50,000 per year. These payments continue until either the CDS contract expires or Risky Corp defaults. Payments are usually made on a quarterly basis, in arrears.

All things being equal, at any given time, if the maturity of two credit default swaps is the same, then the CDS associated with a company with a higher CDS spread is considered more likely to default by the market, since a higher fee is being charged to protect against this happening. However, factors such as liquidity and estimated loss given default can affect the comparison. Credit spread rates and credit ratings of the underlying or reference obligations are considered among money managers to be the best indicators of the likelihood of sellers of CDSs having to perform under these contracts.[3]

[edit]Not insurance

CDS contracts have been compared with insurance, because the buyer pays a premium and, in return, receives a sum of money if one of the events specified in the contract occurs. However, there are a number of differences between CDS and insurance, for example:

  • The buyer of a CDS does not need to own the underlying security or other form of credit exposure; in fact the buyer does not even have to suffer a loss from the default event.[16][17][18][19] In contrast, to purchase insurance, the insured is generally expected to have an insurable interest such as owning a debt obligation;
  • the seller doesn’t have to be a regulated entity;
  • the seller is not required to maintain any reserves to pay off buyers, although major CDS dealers are subject to bank capital requirements;
  • insurers manage risk primarily by setting loss reserves based on the Law of large numbers, while dealers in CDS manage risk primarily by means of offsetting CDS (hedging) with other dealers and transactions in underlying bond markets;
  • in the United States CDS contracts are generally subject to mark-to-market accounting, introducing income statement and balance sheet volatility that would not be present in an insurance contract;
  • Hedge accounting may not be available under US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) unless the requirements of FAS 133 are met. In practice this rarely happens.

However the most important difference between CDS and insurance is simply that an insurance contract provides an indemnity against the losses actually suffered by the policy holder, whereas the CDS provides an equal payout to all holders, calculated using an agreed, market-wide method.

There are also important differences in the approaches used to pricing. The cost of insurance is based on actuarial analysis. CDSs are derivatives whose cost is determined using financial models and by arbitrage relationships with other credit market instruments such as loans and bonds from the same ‘Reference Entity’ the CDS contract refers to.

Further, to cancel the insurance contract the buyer can simply stop paying premium whereas in case of CDS the protection buyer may need to unwind the contract, which might result in a profit or loss situation.

Insurance contracts require the disclosure of all known risks involved. CDSs have no such requirement. Most significantly, unlike insurance companies, sellers of CDSs are not required to maintain any capital reserves to guarantee payment of claims.


When entering into a CDS, both the buyer and seller of credit protection take on counterparty risk:[3][4]

  • The buyer takes the risk that the seller may default. If AAA-Bank and Risky Corp. default simultaneously (“double default”), the buyer loses its protection against default by the reference entity. If AAA-Bank defaults but Risky Corp. does not, the buyer might need to replace the defaulted CDS at a higher cost.
  • The seller takes the risk that the buyer may default on the contract, depriving the seller of the expected revenue stream. More important, a seller normally limits its risk by buying offsetting protection from another party — that is, it hedges its exposure. If the original buyer drops out, the seller squares its position by either unwinding the hedge transaction or by selling a new CDS to a third party. Depending on market conditions, that may be at a lower price than the original CDS and may therefore involve a loss to the seller.

In the future, in the event that regulatory reforms require that CDS be traded and settled via a central exchange/clearing house, such as ICE TCC, there will no longer be ‘counterparty risk’, as the risk of the counterparty will be held with the central exchange/clearing house.

As is true with other forms of over-the-counter derivative, CDS might involve liquidity risk. If one or both parties to a CDS contract must post collateral (which is common), there can be margin calls requiring the posting of additional collateral. The required collateral is agreed on by the parties when the CDS is first issued. This margin amount may vary over the life of the CDS contract, if the market price of the CDS contract changes, or the credit rating of one of the parties changes. Many CDS contracts even require to pay an upfront at the beginning (also referred to as “initial margin”).[20]

Another kind of risk for the seller of credit default swaps is jump risk or jump-to-default risk.[3] A seller of a CDS could be collecting monthly premiums with little expectation that the reference entity may default. A default creates a sudden obligation on the protection sellers to pay millions, if not billions, of dollars to protection buyers.[21] This risk is not present in other over-the-counter derivatives.[3][21]

[edit]Sources of market data

Data about the credit default swaps market is available from three main sources. Data on an annual and semiannual basis is available from the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) since 2001[22] and from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) since 2004.[23] The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), through its global repository Trade Information Warehouse (TIW), provides weekly data but publicly available information goes back only one year.[24] The numbers provided by each source do not always match because each provider uses different sampling methods.[3]

According to DTCC, the Trade Information Warehouse maintains the only “global electronic database for virtually all CDS contracts outstanding in the marketplace.”[25]

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency publishes quarterly credit derivative data about insured U.S commercial banks and trust companies.[26]


Credit default swaps can be used by investors for speculationhedging and arbitrage.


Credit default swaps allow investors to speculate on changes in CDS spreads of single names or of market indices such as the North American CDX index or the European iTraxx index. An investor might believe that an entity’s CDS spreads are too high or too low, relative to the entity’s bond yields, and attempt to profit from that view by entering into a trade, known as abasis trade, that combines a CDS with a cash bond and an interest-rate swap.

Finally, an investor might speculate on an entity’s credit quality, since generally CDS spreads increase as credit-worthiness declines, and decline as credit-worthiness increases. The investor might therefore buy CDS protection on a company to speculate that it is about to default. Alternatively, the investor might sell protection if it thinks that the company’s creditworthiness might improve. The investor selling the CDS is viewed as being “long” on the CDS and the credit, as if the investor owned the bond.[4][7] In contrast, the investor who bought protection is “short” on the CDS and the underlying credit.[4][7] Credit default swaps opened up important new avenues to speculators. Investors could go long on a bond without any upfront cost of buying a bond; all the investor need do was promise to pay in the event of default.[27] Shorting a bond faced difficult practical problems, such that shorting was often not feasible; CDS made shorting credit possible and popular.[4][27] Because the speculator in either case does not own the bond, its position is said to be a synthetic long or short position.[7]

For example, a hedge fund believes that Risky Corp will soon default on its debt. Therefore, it buys $10 million worth of CDS protection for two years from AAA-Bank, with Risky Corp as the reference entity, at a spread of 500 basis points (=5%) per annum.

  • If Risky Corp does indeed default after, say, one year, then the hedge fund will have paid $500,000 to AAA-Bank, but then receives $10 million (assuming zero recovery rate, and that AAA-Bank has the liquidity to cover the loss), thereby making a profit. AAA-Bank, and its investors, will incur a $9.5 million loss minus recovery unless the bank has somehow offset the position before the default.
  • However, if Risky Corp does not default, then the CDS contract runs for two years, and the hedge fund ends up paying $1 million, without any return, thereby making a loss. AAA-Bank, by selling protection, has made $1 million without any upfront investment.

Note that there is a third possibility in the above scenario; the hedge fund could decide to liquidate its position after a certain period of time in an attempt to realise its gains or losses. For example:

  • After 1 year, the market now considers Risky Corp more likely to default, so its CDS spread has widened from 500 to 1500 basis points. The hedge fund may choose to sell$10 million worth of protection for 1 year to AAA-Bank at this higher rate. Therefore, over the two years the hedge fund pays the bank 2 * 5% * $10 million = $1 million, but receives 1 * 15% * $10 million = $1.5 million, giving a total profit of $500,000.
  • In another scenario, after one year the market now considers Risky much less likely to default, so its CDS spread has tightened from 500 to 250 basis points. Again, the hedge fund may choose to sell $10 million worth of protection for 1 year to AAA-Bank at this lower spread. Therefore over the two years the hedge fund pays the bank 2 * 5% * $10 million = $1 million, but receives 1 * 2.5% * $10 million = $250,000, giving a total loss of $750,000. This loss is smaller than the $1 million loss that would have occurred if the second transaction had not been entered into.

Transactions such as these do not even have to be entered into over the long-term. If Risky Corp’s CDS spread had widened by just a couple of basis points over the course of one day, the hedge fund could have entered into an offsetting contract immediately and made a small profit over the life of the two CDS contracts.

Credit default swaps are also used to structure synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Instead of owning bonds or loans, a synthetic CDO gets credit exposure to a portfolio of fixed income assets without owning those assets through the use of CDS.[8] CDOs are viewed as complex and opaque financial instruments. An example of a synthetic CDO is Abacus 2007-AC1, which is the subject of the civil suit for fraud brought by the SEC against Goldman Sachs in April 2010.[28] Abacus is a synthetic CDO consisting of credit default swaps referencing a variety of mortgage backed securities.

[edit]Naked credit default swaps

In the examples above, the hedge fund did not own debt of Risky Corp. A CDS in which the buyer does not own the underlying debt is referred to as a naked credit default swap, estimated to be up to 80% of the credit default swap market.[13][14] There is currently a debate in the United States and Europe about whether speculative uses of credit default swaps should be banned. Legislation is under consideration by Congress as part of financial reform.[14]

Critics assert that naked CDS should be banned, comparing them to buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house, which creates a huge incentive for arson. Analogizing to the concept of insurable interest, critics say you should not be able to buy a CDS—insurance against default—when you do not own the bond.[29][30][31] Short selling is also viewed as gambling and the CDS market as a casino.[14][32] Another concern is the size of CDS market. Because naked credit default swaps are synthetic, there is no limit to how many can be sold. The gross amount of CDS far exceeds all “real” corporate bonds and loans outstanding.[5][30] As a result, the risk of default is magnified leading to concerns about systemic risk.[30]

Financier George Soros called for an outright ban on naked credit default swaps, viewing them as “toxic” and allowing speculators to bet against and “bear raid” companies or countries.[33] His concerns were echoed by several European politicians who, during the Greek Financial Crisis, accused naked CDS buyers of making the crisis worse.[34][35]

Despite these concerns, Secretary of Treasury Geithner[14][34] and Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gensler[36] are not in favor of an outright ban of naked credit default swaps. They prefer greater transparency and better capitalization requirements.[14][21] These officials think that naked CDS have a place in the market.

Proponents of naked credit default swaps say that short selling in various forms, whether credit default swaps, options or futures, has the beneficial effect of increasing liquidity in the marketplace.[29] That benefits hedging activities. Without speculators buying and selling naked CDS, banks wanting to hedge might not find a ready seller of protection.[14][29]Speculators also create a more competitive marketplace, keeping prices down for hedgers. A robust market in credit default swaps can also serve as a barometer to regulators and investors about the credit health of a company or country.[29][37]

Despite politicians’ assertions that speculators are making the Greek crisis worse, Germany’s market regulator BaFin found no proof supporting the claim.[35] Some suggest that without credit default swaps, Greece’s borrowing costs would be higher.[35]


Credit default swaps are often used to manage the risk of default that arises from holding debt. A bank, for example, may hedge its risk that a borrower may default on a loan by entering into a CDS contract as the buyer of protection. If the loan goes into default, the proceeds from the CDS contract cancel out the losses on the underlying debt.[12]

There are other ways to eliminate or reduce the risk of default. The bank could sell (that is, assign) the loan outright or bring in other banks as participants. However, these options may not meet the bank’s needs. Consent of the corporate borrower is often required. The bank may not want to incur the time and cost to find loan participants. If both the borrower and lender are well-known and the market (or even worse, the news media) learns that the bank is selling the loan, then the sale may be viewed as signaling a lack of trust in the borrower, which could severely damage the banker-client relationship. In addition, the bank simply may not want to sell or share the potential profits from the loan. By buying a credit default swap, the bank can lay off default risk while still keeping the loan in its portfolio.[8] The downside to this hedge is that without default risk, a bank may have no motivation to actively monitor the loan and the counterparty has no relationship to the borrower.[8]

Another kind of hedge is against concentration risk. A bank’s risk management team may advise that the bank is overly concentrated with a particular borrower or industry. The bank can lay off some of this risk by buying a CDS. Because the borrower—the reference entity—is not a party to a credit default swap, entering into a CDS allows the bank to achieve its diversity objectives without impacting its loan portfolio or customer relations.[3] Similarly, a bank selling a CDS can diversify its portfolio by gaining exposure to an industry in which the selling bank has no customer base.[4][12][38]

A bank buying protection can also use a CDS to free regulatory capital. By offloading a particular credit risk, a bank is not required to hold as much capital in reserve against the risk of default (traditionally 8% of the total loan under Basel I). This frees resources the bank can use to make other loans to the same key customer or to other borrowers.[3][39]

Hedging risk is not limited to banks as lenders. Holders of corporate bonds, such as banks, pension funds or insurance companies, may buy a CDS as a hedge for similar reasons. Pension fund example: A pension fund owns five-year bonds issued by Risky Corp with par value of $10 million. To manage the risk of losing money if Risky Corp defaults on its debt, the pension fund buys a CDS from Derivative Bank in a notional amount of $10 million. The CDS trades at 200 basis points (200 basis points = 2.00 percent). In return for this credit protection, the pension fund pays 2% of $10 million ($200,000) per annum in quarterly installments of $50,000 to Derivative Bank.

  • If Risky Corporation does not default on its bond payments, the pension fund makes quarterly payments to Derivative Bank for 5 years and receives its $10 million back after five years from Risky Corp. Though the protection payments totaling $1 million reduce investment returns for the pension fund, its risk of loss due to Risky Corp defaulting on the bond is eliminated.
  • If Risky Corporation defaults on its debt three years into the CDS contract, the pension fund would stop paying the quarterly premium, and Derivative Bank would ensure that the pension fund is refunded for its loss of $10 million minus recovery (either by physical or cash settlement — see Settlement below). The pension fund still loses the $600,000 it has paid over three years, but without the CDS contract it would have lost the entire $10 million minus recovery.

In addition to financial institutions, large suppliers can use a credit default swap on a public bond issue or a basket of similar risks as a proxy for its own credit risk exposure on receivables.[14][29][39][40]

Although credit default swaps have been highly criticized for their role in the recent financial crisis, most observers conclude that using credit default swaps as a hedging device has a useful purpose.[29]


Capital Structure Arbitrage is an example of an arbitrage strategy that utilizes CDS transactions.[41] This technique relies on the fact that a company’s stock price and its CDS spread should exhibit negative correlation; i.e., if the outlook for a company improves then its share price should go up and its CDS spread should tighten, since it is less likely to default on its debt. However if its outlook worsens then its CDS spread should widen and its stock price should fall. Techniques reliant on this are known as capital structure arbitrage because they exploit market inefficiencies between different parts of the same company’s capital structure; i.e., mis-pricings between a company’s debt and equity. An arbitrageur attempts to exploit the spread between a company’s CDS and its equity in certain situations. For example, if a company has announced some bad news and its share price has dropped by 25%, but its CDS spread has remained unchanged, then an investor might expect the CDS spread to increase relative to the share price. Therefore a basic strategy would be to go long on the CDS spread (by buying CDS protection) while simultaneously hedging oneself by buying the underlying stock. This technique would benefit in the event of the CDS spread widening relative to the equity price, but would lose money if the company’s CDS spread tightened relative to its equity.

An interesting situation in which the inverse correlation between a company’s stock price and CDS spread breaks down is during a Leveraged buyout (LBO). Frequently this leads to the company’s CDS spread widening due to the extra debt that will soon be put on the company’s books, but also an increase in its share price, since buyers of a company usually end up paying a premium.

Another common arbitrage strategy aims to exploit the fact that the swap-adjusted spread of a CDS should trade closely with that of the underlying cash bond issued by the reference entity. Misalignments in spreads may occur due to technical reasons such as:

  • Specific settlement differences
  • Shortages in a particular underlying instrument
  • Existence of buyers constrained from buying exotic derivatives.

The difference between CDS spreads and asset swap spreads is called the basis and should theoretically be close to zero. Basis trades can aim to exploit any differences to make risk-free profit.



Forms of credit default swaps had been in existence from at least the early 1990s,[42] with early trades carried out by Bankers Trust in 1991.[43] J.P. Morgan & Co. is widely credited with creating the modern credit default swap in 1994.[44][45][46] In that instance, J.P. Morgan had extended a $4.8 billion credit line to Exxon, which faced the threat of $5 billion inpunitive damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. A team of J.P. Morgan bankers led by Blythe Masters then sold the credit risk from the credit line to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in order to cut the reserves that J.P. Morgan was required to hold against Exxon’s default, thus improving its own balance sheet.[47] In 1997, JPMorgan developed a proprietary product called BISTRO (Broad Index Securitized Trust Offering) that used CDS to clean up a bank’s balance sheet.[44][46] The advantage of BISTRO was that it used securitization to split up the credit risk into little pieces that smaller investors found more digestible, since most investors lacked EBRD’s capability to accept $4.8 billion in credit risk all at once. BISTRO was the first example of what later became known as synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

Mindful of the concentration of default risk as one of the causes of the S&L crisis , regulators initially found CDS’s ability to disperse default risk attractive.[43] In 2000, credit default swaps became largely exempt from regulation by both the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which was also responsible for the Enron loophole ,[5] specifically stated that CDSs are neither futures nor securities and so are outside the remit of the SEC and CFTC.[43]

[edit]Market growth

At first, banks were the dominant players in the market, as CDS were primarily used to hedge risk in connection with its lending activities. Banks also saw an opportunity to free up regulatory capital. By march 1998, the global market for CDS was estimated atabout $300 billion, with JP Morgan alone accounting for about $50 billion of this.[43] The high market share enjoyed by the banks was soon eroded as more and more asset managers and hedge funds saw trading opportunities in credit default swaps. By 2002, investors as speculators, rather than banks as hedgers, dominated the market.[3][4][39][42] National banks in the USA used credit default swaps as early as 1996.[38] In that year, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency measured the size of the market as tens of billions of dollars.[48] Six years later, by year-end 2002, the outstanding amount was over $2 trillion.[1] Although speculators fueled the exponential growth, other factors also played a part. An extended market could not emerge until 1999, when ISDA standardized the documentation for credit default swaps.[49][50][51]Also, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis spurred a market for CDS in emerging market sovereign debt.[51] In addition, in 2004, index trading began on a large scale and grew rapidly.[4]

The market size for Credit Default Swaps more than doubled in size each year from $3.7 trillion in 2003.[1] By the end of 2007, the CDS market had a notional value of $62.2 trillion.[1]But notional amount fell during 2008 as a result of dealer “portfolio compression” efforts (replacing offsetting redundant contracts), and by the end of 2008 notional amount outstanding had fallen 38 percent to $38.6 trillion.[52]

Explosive growth was not without operational headaches. On September 15, 2005, the New York Fed summoned 14 banks to it offices. Billions of dollars of CDS were traded daily but the record keeping was more than two weeks behind.[53] This created severe risk management issues, as counterparties were in legal and financial limbo.[4][54] U.K. authorities expressed the same concerns.[55]

[edit]Market as of 2008

Composition of the United States 15.5 trillion US dollar CDS market at the end of 2008 Q2. Green tints show Prime asset CDSs, reddish tints show sub-prime asset CDSs. Numbers followed by “Y” indicate years until maturity.

Proportion of CDSs nominals (lower left) held by United States banks compared to all derivatives, in 2008Q2. The black disc represents the 2008 public debt.

Since default is a relatively rare occurrence (historically around 0.2% of investment grade companies default in any one year),[56] in most CDS contracts the only payments are the premium payments from buyer to seller. Thus, although the above figures for outstanding notionals are very large, in the absence of default the net cash flows are only a small fraction of this total: for a 100 bp = 1% spread, the annual cash flows are only 1% of the notional amount.

[edit]Regulatory concerns over CDS

The market for Credit Default Swaps attracted considerable concern from regulators after a number of large scale incidents in 2008, starting with the collapse of Bear Stearns.[57]

In the days and weeks leading up to Bear’s collapse, the bank’s CDS spread widened dramatically, indicating a surge of buyers taking out protection on the bank. It has been suggested that this widening was responsible for the perception that Bear Stearns was vulnerable, and therefore restricted its access to wholesale capital, which eventually led to its forced sale to JP Morgan in March. An alternative view is that this surge in CDS protection buyers was a symptom rather than a cause of Bear’s collapse; i.e., investors saw that Bear was in trouble, and sought to hedge any naked exposure to the bank, or speculate on its collapse.

In September, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers caused a total close to $400 billion to become payable to the buyers of CDS protection referenced against the insolvent bank. However the net amount that changed hands was around $7.2 billion[58] This difference is due to the process of ‘netting’. Market participants co-operated so that CDS sellers were allowed to deduct from their payouts the inbound funds due to them from their hedging positions. Dealers generally attempt to remain risk-neutral, so that their losses and gains after big events offset each other.

Also in September American International Group (AIG) required a federal bailout because it had been excessively selling CDS protection without hedging against the possibility that the reference entities might decline in value, which exposed the insurance giant to potential losses over $100 billion. The CDS on Lehman were settled smoothly, as was largely the case for the other 11 credit events occurring in 2008 that triggered payouts.[57] And while it is arguable that other incidents would have been as bad or worse if less efficient instruments than CDS had been used for speculation and insurance purposes, the closing months of 2008 saw regulators working hard to reduce the risk involved in CDS transactions.

In 2008 there was no centralized exchange or clearing house for CDS transactions; they were all done over the counter (OTC). This led to recent calls for the market to open up in terms of transparency and regulation.[59] In November, DTCC, which runs a warehouse for CDS trade confirmations accounting for around 90% of the total market,[60] announced that it will release market data on the outstanding notional of CDS trades on a weekly basis.[61] The data can be accessed on the DTCC’s website here:[62] The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission granted an exemption for IntercontinentalExchange to begin guaranteeing credit-default swaps.

The SEC exemption represented the last regulatory approval needed by Atlanta-based Intercontinental. Its larger competitor, CME Group Inc., hasn’t received an SEC exemption, and agency spokesman John Nester said he didn’t know when a decision would be made.

[edit]Market as of 2009

The early months of 2009 saw several fundamental changes to the way CDSs operate, resulting from concerns over the instruments’ safety after the events of the previous year. According to Deutsche Bank managing director Athanassios Diplas “the industry pushed through 10 years worth of changes in just a few months”. By late 2008 processes had been introduced allowing CDSs that offset each other to be cancelled. Along with termination of contracts that have recently paid out such as those based on Lehmans, this had by March reduced the face value of the market down to an estimated $30 trillion.[63] The Bank for International Settlements estimates that outstanding derivatives total $592 trillion.[64] U.S. and European regulators are developing separate plans to stabilize the derivatives market. Additionally there are some globally agreed standards falling into place in March 2009, administered by International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA). Two of the key changes are:

1. The introduction of central clearing houses, one for the US and one for Europe. A clearing house acts as the central counterparty to both sides of a CDS transaction, thereby reducing the counterparty risk that both buyer and seller face.

2. The international standardization of CDS contracts, to prevent legal disputes in ambiguous cases where what the payout should be is unclear.

Speaking before the changes went live , Sivan Mahadevan, a derivatives strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York, stated

A clearinghouse, and changes to the contracts to standardize them, will probably boost activity. … Trading will be much easier…. We’ll see new players come to the market because they’ll like the idea of this being a better and more traded product. We also feel like over time we’ll see the creation of different types of products.

In the U.S., central clearing operations began in March 2009 , operated by InterContinental Exchange (ICE). A key competitor also interested in entering the CDS clearing sector is CME Group.

In Europe, CDS Index clearing was launched by ICE’s European subsidiary ICE Clear Europe on July 31. It launched Single Name clearing in Dec 2009. By the end of 2009, it had cleared CDS contracts worth EUR 885 billion reducing the open interest down to EUR 75 billion [65]

By the end of 2009, banks had reclaimed much of their market share; hedge funds had largely retreated from the market after the crises. According to an estimate by the Banque de France, by late 2009 the bank JP Morgan alone now had about 30% of the global CDS market.[43]

[edit]Government approvals relating to Intercontinental and its competitor CME

The SEC’s approval for ICE’s request to be exempted from rules that would prevent it clearing CDSs was the third government action granted to Intercontinental in one week. On March 3, its proposed acquisition of Clearing Corp., a Chicago clearinghouse owned by eight of the largest dealers in the credit-default swap market, was approved by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department. On March 5, the Federal Reserve Board, which oversees the clearinghouse, granted a request for ICE to begin clearing.

Clearing Corp. shareholders including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and UBS AG, received $39 million in cash from Intercontinental in the acquisition, as well as the Clearing Corp.’s cash on hand and a 50-50 profit-sharing agreement with Intercontinental on the revenue generated from processing the swaps.

SEC spokesperson John Nestor stated

For several months the SEC and our fellow regulators have worked closely with all of the firms wishing to establish central counterparties…. We believe that CME should be in a position soon to provide us with the information necessary to allow the commission to take action on its exemptive requests.

Other proposals to clear credit-default swaps have been made by NYSE Euronext, Eurex AG and LCH.Clearnet Ltd. Only the NYSE effort is available now for clearing after starting on Dec. 22. As of Jan. 30, no swaps had been cleared by the NYSE’s London- based derivatives exchange, according to NYSE Chief Executive Officer Duncan Niederauer.[66]

[edit]Clearing house member requirements

Members of the Intercontinental clearinghouse will have to have a net worth of at least $5 billion and a credit rating of A or better to clear their credit-default swap trades. Intercontinental said in the statement today that all market participants such as hedge funds, banks or other institutions are open to become members of the clearinghouse as long as they meet these requirements.

A clearinghouse acts as the buyer to every seller and seller to every buyer, reducing the risk of a counterparty defaulting on a transaction. In the over-the-counter market, where credit- default swaps are currently traded, participants are exposed to each other in case of a default. A clearinghouse also provides one location for regulators to view traders’ positions and prices.

[edit]Terms of a typical CDS contract

A CDS contract is typically documented under a confirmation referencing the credit derivatives definitions as published by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association.[67] The confirmation typically specifies a reference entity, a corporation or sovereign that generally, although not always, has debt outstanding, and a reference obligation, usually an unsubordinated corporate bond or government bond. The period over which default protection extends is defined by the contract effective date and scheduled termination date.

The confirmation also specifies a calculation agent who is responsible for making determinations as to successors and substitute reference obligations (for example necessary if the original reference obligation was a loan that is repaid before the expiry of the contract), and for performing various calculation and administrative functions in connection with the transaction. By market convention, in contracts between CDS dealers and end-users, the dealer is generally the calculation agent, and in contracts between CDS dealers, the protection seller is generally the calculation agent. It is not the responsibility of the calculation agent to determine whether or not a credit event has occurred but rather a matter of fact that, pursuant to the terms of typical contracts, must be supported by publicly available information delivered along with a credit event notice. Typical CDS contracts do not provide an internal mechanism for challenging the occurrence or non-occurrence of a credit event and rather leave the matter to the courts if necessary, though actual instances of specific events being disputed are relatively rare.

CDS confirmations also specify the credit events that will give rise to payment obligations by the protection seller and delivery obligations by the protection buyer. Typical credit events include bankruptcy with respect to the reference entity and failure to pay with respect to its direct or guaranteed bond or loan debt. CDS written on North American investment gradecorporate reference entities, European corporate reference entities and sovereigns generally also include restructuring as a credit event, whereas trades referencing North American high yield corporate reference entities typically do not. The definition of restructuring is quite technical but is essentially intended to respond to circumstances where a reference entity, as a result of the deterioration of its credit, negotiates changes in the terms in its debt with its creditors as an alternative to formal insolvency proceedings (i.e., the debt is restructured). This practice is far more typical in jurisdictions that do not provide protective status to insolvent debtors similar to that provided by Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. In particular, concerns arising out of Conseco‘s restructuring in 2000 led to the credit event’s removal from North American high yield trades.[68]

Finally, standard CDS contracts specify deliverable obligation characteristics that limit the range of obligations that a protection buyer may deliver upon a credit event. Trading conventions for deliverable obligation characteristics vary for different markets and CDS contract types. Typical limitations include that deliverable debt be a bond or loan, that it have a maximum maturity of 30 years, that it not be subordinated, that it not be subject to transfer restrictions (other than Rule 144A), that it be of a standard currency and that it not be subject to some contingency before becoming due.

The premium payments are generally quarterly, with maturity dates (and likewise premium payment dates) falling on March 20, June 20, September 20, and December 20. Due to the proximity to the IMM dates, which fall on the third Wednesday of these months, these CDS maturity dates are also referred to as “IMM dates”.


[edit]Physical or cash

As described in an earlier section, if a credit event occurs then CDS contracts can either be physically settled or cash settled.[3]

  • Physical settlement: The protection seller pays the buyer par value, and in return takes delivery of a debt obligation of the reference entity. For example, a hedge fund has bought $5 million worth of protection from a bank on the senior debt of a company. In the event of a default, the bank pays the hedge fund $5 million cash, and the hedge fund must deliver $5 million face value of senior debt of the company (typically bonds or loans, which are typically worth very little given that the company is in default).
  • Cash settlement: The protection seller pays the buyer the difference between par value and the market price of a debt obligation of the reference entity. For example, a hedge fund has bought $5 million worth of protection from a bank on the senior debt of a company. This company has now defaulted, and its senior bonds are now trading at 25 (i.e., 25 cents on the dollar) since the market believes that senior bondholders will receive 25% of the money they are owed once the company is wound up. Therefore, the bank must pay the hedge fund $5 million * (100%-25%) = $3.75 million.

The development and growth of the CDS market has meant that on many companies there is now a much larger outstanding notional of CDS contracts than the outstanding notional value of its debt obligations. (This is because many parties made CDS contracts for speculative purposes, without actually owning any debt that they wanted to insure against default.) For example, at the time it filed for bankruptcy on September 14, 2008, Lehman Brothers had approximately $155 billion of outstanding debt[69] but around $400 billion notional value of CDS contracts had been written that referenced this debt.[70] Clearly not all of these contracts could be physically settled, since there was not enough outstanding Lehman Brothers debt to fulfill all of the contracts, demonstrating the necessity for cash settled CDS trades. The trade confirmation produced when a CDS is traded states whether the contract is to be physically or cash settled.


When a credit event occurs on a major company on which a lot of CDS contracts are written, an auction (also known as a credit-fixing event) may be held to facilitate settlement of a large number of contracts at once, at a fixed cash settlement price. During the auction process participating dealers (e.g., the big investment banks) submit prices at which they would buy and sell the reference entity’s debt obligations, as well as net requests for physical settlement against par. A second stage Dutch auction is held following the publication of the initial mid-point of the dealer markets and what is the net open interest to deliver or be delivered actual bonds or loans. The final clearing point of this auction sets the final price for cash settlement of all CDS contracts and all physical settlement requests as well as matched limit offers resulting from the auction are actually settled. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), who organised them, auctions have recently proved an effective way of settling the very large volume of outstanding CDS contracts written on companies such as Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.[71]

Below is a list of the auctions that have been held since 2005.[72]



Final price as a percentage of par

2005-06-14 Collins & Aikman – Senior 43.625
2005-06-23 Collins & Aikman – Subordinated 6.375
2005-10-11 Northwest Airlines 28
2005-10-11 Delta Air Lines 18
2005-11-04 Delphi Corporation 63.375
2006-01-17 Calpine Corporation 19.125
2006-03-31 Dana Corporation 75
2006-11-28 Dura – Senior 24.125
2006-11-28 Dura – Subordinated 3.5
2007-10-23 Movie Gallery 91.5
2008-02-19 Quebecor World 41.25
2008-10-02 Tembec Inc 83
2008-10-06 Fannie Mae – Senior 91.51
2008-10-06 Fannie Mae – Subordinated 99.9
2008-10-06 Freddie Mac – Senior 94
2008-10-06 Freddie Mac – Subordinated 98
2008-10-10 Lehman Brothers 8.625
2008-10-23 Washington Mutual 57
2008-11-04 Landsbanki – Senior 1.25
2008-11-04 Landsbanki – Subordinated 0.125
2008-11-05 Glitnir – Senior 3
2008-11-05 Glitnir – Subordinated 0.125
2008-11-06 Kaupthing – Senior 6.625
2008-11-06 Kaupthing – Subordinated 2.375
2008-12-09 Masonite [7] – LCDS 52.5
2008-12-17 Hawaiian Telcom – LCDS 40.125
2009-01-06 Tribune – CDS 1.5
2009-01-06 Tribune – LCDS 23.75
2009-01-14 Republic of Ecuador 31.375
2009-02-03 Millennium America Inc 7.125
2009-02-03 Lyondell – CDS 15.5
2009-02-03 Lyondell – LCDS 20.75
2009-02-03 EquiStar 27.5
2009-02-05 Sanitec [8] – 1st Lien 33.5
2009-02-05 Sanitec [9] – 2nd Lien 4.0
2009-02-09 British Vita [10] – 1st Lien 15.5
2009-02-09 British Vita [11] – 2nd Lien 2.875
2009-02-10 Nortel Ltd. 6.5
2009-02-10 Nortel Corporation 12
2009-02-19 Smurfit-Stone CDS 8.875
2009-02-19 Smurfit-Stone LCDS 65.375
2009-02-26 Ferretti 10.875
2009-03-09 Aleris 8
2009-03-31 Station Casinos 32
2009-04-14 Chemtura 15
2009-04-14 Great Lakes 18.25
2009-04-15 Rouse 29.25
2009-04-16 LyondellBasell 2
2009-04-17 Abitibi 3.25
2009-04-21 Charter Communications CDS 2.375
2009-04-21 Charter Communications LCDS 78
2009-04-22 Capmark 23.375
2009-04-23 Idearc CDS 1.75
2009-04-23 Idearc LCDS 38.5
2009-05-12 Bowater 15
2009-05-13 General Growth Properties 44.25
2009-05-27 Syncora 15
2009-05-28 Edshcha 3.75
2009-06-09 HLI Operating Corp LCDS 9.5
2009-06-10 Georgia Gulf LCDS 83
2009-06-11 R.H. Donnelley Corp. CDS 4.875
2009-06-12 General Motors CDS 12.5
2009-06-12 General Motors LCDS 97.5
2009-06-18 JSC Alliance Bank CDS 16.75
2009-06-23 Visteon CDS 3
2009-06-23 Visteon LCDS 39
2009-06-24 RH Donnelley Inc LCDS 78.125
2009-07-09 Six Flags CDS 14
2009-07-09 Six Flags LCDS 96.125
2009-07-21 Lear CDS 38.5
2009-07-21 Lear LCDS 66
2009-11-20 CIT Group Inc. 68.125
2009-12-09 Thomson 77.75
2009-15-09 Hellas II 1.375
2009-12-16 NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine 83.5
2010-01-07 Financial Guarantee Insurance Compancy (FGIC) 26
2010-02-18 CEMEX 97.0
2010-03-25 Aiful 33.875
2010-04-15 McCarthy and Stone 70.375
2010-04-22 Japan Airlines Corp 20.0
2010-06-04 Ambac Assurance Corp 20.0
2010-07-15 Truvo Subsidiary Corp 3.0
2010-09-09 Truvo (formerly World Directories) 41.125
2010-09-21 Boston Generating LLC 40.75
2010-10-28 Takefuji Corp 14.75
2010-12-09 Anglo Irish Bank 18.25
2010-12-10 Ambac Financial Group 9.5

[edit]Pricing and valuation

There are two competing theories usually advanced for the pricing of credit default swaps. The first, referred to herein as the ‘probability model’, takes the present value of a series of cashflows weighted by their probability of non-default. This method suggests that credit default swaps should trade at a considerably lower spread than corporate bonds.

The second model, proposed by Darrell Duffie, but also by John Hull and White, uses a no-arbitrage approach.

[edit]Probability model

Under the probability model, a credit default swap is priced using a model that takes four inputs; this is similar to the rNPV (risk-adjusted NPV) model used in drug development:

  • the “issue premium”,
  • the recovery rate (percentage of notional repaid in event of default),
  • the “credit curve” for the reference entity and
  • the “LIBOR curve”.

If default events never occurred the price of a CDS would simply be the sum of the discounted premium payments. So CDS pricing models have to take into account the possibility of a default occurring some time between the effective date and maturity date of the CDS contract. For the purpose of explanation we can imagine the case of a one year CDS with effective date t0 with four quarterly premium payments occurring at times t1t2t3, and t4. If the nominal for the CDS is N and the issue premium is c then the size of the quarterly premium payments is Nc / 4. If we assume for simplicity that defaults can only occur on one of the payment dates then there are five ways the contract could end:

  • either it does not have any default at all, so the four premium payments are made and the contract survives until the maturity date, or
  • a default occurs on the first, second, third or fourth payment date.

To price the CDS we now need to assign probabilities to the five possible outcomes, then calculate the present value of the payoff for each outcome. The present value of the CDS is then simply the present value of the five payoffs multiplied by their probability of occurring.

This is illustrated in the following tree diagram where at each payment date either the contract has a default event, in which case it ends with a payment of N(1 − R) shown in red, whereR is the recovery rate, or it survives without a default being triggered, in which case a premium payment of Nc / 4 is made, shown in blue. At either side of the diagram are the cashflows up to that point in time with premium payments in blue and default payments in red. If the contract is terminated the square is shown with solid shading.

The probability of surviving over the interval ti − 1 to ti without a default payment is pi and the probability of a default being triggered is 1 − pi. The calculation of present value, givendiscount factor of δ1 to δ4 is then


Premium Payment PV

Default Payment PV


Default at time t1
Default at time t2
Default at time t3
Default at time t4
No defaults

The probabilities p1p2p3p4 can be calculated using the credit spread curve. The probability of no default occurring over a time period from t to t + Δt decays exponentially with a time-constant determined by the credit spread, or mathematically p = exp( − s(tt / (1 − R)) where s(t) is the credit spread zero curve at time t. The riskier the reference entity the greater the spread and the more rapidly the survival probability decays with time.

To get the total present value of the credit default swap we multiply the probability of each outcome by its present value to give

[edit]No-arbitrage model

In the ‘no-arbitrage’ model proposed by both Duffie, and Hull-White, it is assumed that there is no risk free arbitrage. Duffie uses the LIBOR as the risk free rate, whereas Hull and White use US Treasuries as the risk free rate. Both analyses make simplifying assumptions (such as the assumption that there is zero cost of unwinding the fixed leg of the swap on default), which may invalidate the no-arbitrage assumption. However the Duffie approach is frequently used by the market to determine theoretical prices. Under the Duffie construct, the price of a credit default swap can also be derived by calculating the asset swap spread of a bond. If a bond has a spread of 100, and the swap spread is 70 basis points, then a CDS contract should trade at 30. However there are sometimes technical reasons why this will not be the case, and this may or may not present an arbitrage opportunity for the canny investor. The difference between the theoretical model and the actual price of a credit default swap is known as the basis.


Critics of the huge credit default swap market have claimed that it has been allowed to become too large without proper regulation and that, because all contracts are privately negotiated, the market has no transparency. Furthermore, there have even been claims that CDSs exacerbated the 2008 global financial crisis by hastening the demise of companies such as Lehman Brothers and AIG.[73]

In the case of Lehman Brothers, it is claimed that the widening of the bank’s CDS spread reduced confidence in the bank and ultimately gave it further problems that it was not able to overcome. However, proponents of the CDS market argue that this confuses cause and effect; CDS spreads simply reflected the reality that the company was in serious trouble. Furthermore, they claim that the CDS market allowed investors who had counterparty risk with Lehman Brothers to reduce their exposure in the case of their default.

Credit default swaps have also faced criticism that they contributed to a breakdown in negotiations during the 2009 General Motors Chapter 11 reorganization, because bondholders would benefit from the credit event of a GM bankruptcy due to their holding of CDSs. Critics speculate that these creditors were incentivized into pushing for the company to enter bankruptcy protection.[74] Due to a lack of transparency, there was no way to find out who the protection buyers and protection writers were, and they were subsequently left out of the negotiation process.[75]

It was also reported after Lehman’s bankruptcy that the $400 billion notional of CDS protection which had been written on the bank could lead to a net payout of $366 billion from protection sellers to buyers (given the cash-settlement auction settled at a final price of 8.625%) and that these large payouts could lead to further bankruptcies of firms without enough cash to settle their contracts.[76] However, industry estimates after the auction suggested that net cashflows would only be in the region of $7 billion.[76] This is because many parties held offsetting positions; for example if a bank writes CDS protection on a company it is likely to then enter an offsetting transaction by buying protection on the same company in order to hedge its risk. Furthermore, CDS deals are marked-to-market frequently. This would have led to margin calls from buyers to sellers as Lehman’s CDS spread widened, meaning that the net cashflows on the days after the auction are likely to have been even lower.[71]… Senior bankers have argued that not only has the CDS market functioned remarkably well during the financial crisis, but that CDS contracts have been acting to distribute risk just as was intended, and that it is not CDSs themselves that need further regulation, but the parties who trade them.[77]

Some general criticism of financial derivatives is also relevant to credit derivatives. Warren Buffett famously described derivatives bought speculatively as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” In Berkshire Hathaway‘s annual report to shareholders in 2002, he said, “Unless derivatives contracts are collateralized or guaranteed, their ultimate value also depends on the creditworthiness of the counterparties to them. In the meantime, though, before a contract is settled, the counterparties record profits and losses—often huge in amount—in their current earnings statements without so much as a penny changing hands. The range of derivatives contracts is limited only by the imagination of man (or sometimes, so it seems, madmen).”[78] To hedge the counterparty risk of entering a CDS transaction, one practice is to buy CDS protection on one’s counterparty. The positions are marked-to-market daily and collateral pass from buyer to seller or vice versa to protect both parties against counterparty default, but money does not always change hands due to the offset of gains and losses by those who had both bought and sold protection. Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, the clearinghouse for the majority of trades in the US over-the-counter market, stated in October 2008 that once offsetting trades were considered, only an estimated $6 billion would change hands on October 21, during the settlement of the CDS contracts issued on Lehman Brothers’ debt, which amounted to somewhere between $150 to $360 billion.[79] Despite Buffett’s criticism on derivatives, in October 2008 Berkshire Hathaway revealed to regulators that it has entered into at least $4.85 billion in derivative transactions.[80] Buffett stated in his 2008 letter to shareholders that Berkshire Hathaway has no counterparty risk in its derivative dealings because Berkshire require counterparties to make payments when contracts are inititated, so that Berkshire always holds the money.[81] Berkshire Hathaway was a large owner of Moody’s stock during the period that it was one of two primary rating agencies for subprime CDOs, a form of mortgage security derivative dependant on the use of credit default swaps.

The monoline insurance companies got involved with writing credit default swaps on mortgage-backed CDOs. Some media reports have claimed this was a contributing factor to the downfall of some of the monolines.[82][83] In 2009 one of the monolines, MBIA, sued Merrill Lynch, claiming that Merill had misrepresented some of its CDOs to MBIA in order to persuade MBIA to write CDS protection for those CDOs.[84][85][86]

[edit]Systemic risk

The risk of counterparties defaulting has been amplified during the 2008 financial crisis, particularly because Lehman Brothers and AIG were counterparties in a very large number of CDS transactions. This is an example of systemic risk, risk which threatens an entire market, and a number of commentators have argued that size and deregulation of the CDS market have increased this risk.

For example, imagine if a hypothetical mutual fund had bought some Washington Mutual corporate bonds in 2005 and decided to hedge their exposure by buying CDS protection from Lehman Brothers. After Lehman’s default, this protection was no longer active, and Washington Mutual’s sudden default only days later would have led to a massive loss on the bonds, a loss that should have been insured by the CDS. There was also fear that Lehman Brothers and AIG’s inability to pay out on CDS contracts would lead to the unraveling of complex interlinked chain of CDS transactions between financial institutions.[87] So far this does not appear to have happened, although some commentators[who?] have noted that because the total CDS exposure of a bank is not public knowledge, the fear that one could face large losses or possibly even default themselves was a contributing factor to the massive decrease in lending liquidity during September/October 2008.[88]

Chains of CDS transactions can arise from a practice known as “netting”.[89] Here, company B may buy a CDS from company A with a certain annual premium, say 2%. If the condition of the reference company worsens, the risk premium rises, so company B can sell a CDS to company C with a premium of say, 5%, and pocket the 3% difference. However, if the reference company defaults, company B might not have the assets on hand to make good on the contract. It depends on its contract with company A to provide a large payout, which it then passes along to company C. The problem lies if one of the companies in the chain fails, creating a “domino effect” of losses. For example, if company A fails, company B will default on its CDS contract to company C, possibly resulting in bankruptcy, and company C will potentially experience a large loss due to the failure to receive compensation for the bad debt it held from the reference company. Even worse, because CDS contracts are private, company C will not know that its fate is tied to company A; it is only doing business with company B.

As described above, the establishment of a central exchange or clearing house for CDS trades would help to solve the “domino effect” problem, since it would mean that all trades faced a central counterparty guaranteed by a consortium of dealers.

[edit]Tax and accounting issues

The U.S federal income tax treatment of credit default swaps is uncertain.[90] Commentators generally believe that, depending on how they are drafted, they are either notional principal contracts or options for tax purposes,[91] but this is not certain. There is a risk of having credit default swaps recharacterized as different types of financial instruments because they resemble put options and credit guarantees. In particular, the degree of risk depends on the type of settlement (physical/cash and binary/FMV) and trigger (default only/any credit event).[92] If a credit default swap is a notional principal contract, periodic and nonperiodic payments on the swap are deductible and included in ordinary income.[93] If a payment is a termination payment, its tax treatment is even more uncertain.[93] In 2004, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it was studying the characterization of credit default swaps in response to taxpayer confusion,[94] but it has not yet issued any guidance on their characterization. A taxpayer must include income from credit default swaps in ordinary income if the swaps are connected with trade or business in the United States.[95]

The accounting treatment of Credit Default Swaps used for hedging may not parallel the economic effects and instead, increase volatility. For example, GAAP generally require that Credit Default Swaps be reported on a mark to market basis. In contrast, assets that are held for investment, such as a commercial loan or bonds, are reported at cost, unless a probable and significant loss is expected. Thus, hedging a commercial loan using a CDS can induce considerable volatility into the income statement and balance sheet as the CDS changes value over its life due to market conditions and due to the tendency for shorter dated CDS to sell at lower prices than longer dated CDS. One can try to account for the CDS as a hedge under FASB 133[96] but in practice that can prove very difficult unless the risky asset owned by the bank or corporation is exactly the same as the Reference Obligation used for the particular CDS that was bought.


A new type of default swap is the “loan only” credit default swap (LCDS). This is conceptually very similar to a standard CDS, but unlike “vanilla” CDS, the underlying protection is sold on syndicated secured loans of the Reference Entity rather than the broader category of “Bond or Loan”. Also, as of May 22, 2007, for the most widely traded LCDS form, which governs North American single name and index trades, the default settlement method for LCDS shifted to auction settlement rather than physical settlement. The auction method is essentially the same that has been used in the various ISDA cash settlement auction protocols, but does not require parties to take any additional steps following a credit event (i.e., adherence to a protocol) to elect cash settlement. On October 23, 2007, the first ever LCDS auction was held for Movie Gallery.[97]

Because LCDS trades are linked to secured obligations with much higher recovery values than the unsecured bond obligations that are typically assumed the cheapest to deliver in respect of vanilla CDS, LCDS spreads are generally much tighter than CDS trades on the same name.

[edit]Bill failed to limit CDS used for speculation

It is widely accepted that naked CDS are not used for hedging but for speculation. A bill was distributed in U.S. Congress that would give a public authority the power to limit the use of CDS other than for hedging purposes, but the bill did not become law.[98]

[edit]See also


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  75. ^ “Protecting GM from Credit Default Swap Holders”. Firedoglake. May 14, 2009. Retrieved July 14, 2009.
  76. a b “/ Financials — Lehman CDS pay-outs higher than expected”. 2008-10-10. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  77. ^ “Daily Brief”. October 28, 2008. Retrieved November 6, 2008.
  78. ^ Warren Buffett (February 21, 2003). “Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Annual Report 2002” (PDF). Berkshire Hathaway. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  79. ^ Kim Asger Olsen. Pay-up time for Lehman swapsOctober 22, 2008.
  80. ^ Holm, Erik (2008-11-21). “Berkshire Asked by SEC in June for Derivative Data (Update1)”. Bloomberg. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  81. ^ Warren Buffet. “Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Annual Report 2008” (PDF). Berkshire Hatahway. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  82. ^ Ambac, MBIA Lust for CDO Returns Undercut AAA Success (Update2) , Christine Richard, bloomberg, jan 22, 2008. Retrieved 2010 4 29.
  83. ^ Credit Default Swaps: Monolines faces litigious and costly endgame, Aug 2008, Louise Bowman, Retrieved 2010 4 29.
  84. ^ Supreme Court of New York County (2009 Apr). “MBIA Insurance Co. v Merrill Lynch” (PDF). Retrieved 2010 4 23.
  85. ^ MBIA Sues Merrill Lynch , Wall Street Journal, Serena Ng, 2009 May 1. Retrieved 2010 4 23.
  86. ^ UPDATE 1-Judge dismisses most of MBIA’s suit vs Merrill Apr 9, 2010, Reuters, Edith Honan, ed. Gerald E. McCormick
  87. ^ Investing Daily (2008-09-16). “AIG, the Global Financial System and Investor Anxiety”. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  88. ^ Sam Fleming, Daily Mail16 October 2008, 12:00am Data (2008-10-16). “Banks caught in jaws of CDS menace”. This is Money. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  89. ^ Unregulated Credit Default Swaps Led to Weakness. All things Considered, National Public Radio. Oct 31, 2008.
  90. ^ Nirenberg, David Z. & Steven L. Kopp. “Credit Derivatives: Tax Treatment of Total Return Swaps, Default Swaps, and Credit-Linked Notes,” Journal of Taxation, Aug. 1997: 1. Peaslee, James M. & David Z. Nirenberg. Federal Income Taxation of Securitization Transactions: Cumulative Supplement No. 7, November 26, 2007, 85. Retrieved July 28, 2008. Ari J. Brandes. A Better Way to Understand Credit Default Swaps. Tax Notes (July 21, 2008). Earlier version of paper available at: [5].
  91. ^ Peaslee & Nirenberg, 129.
  92. ^ Nirenberg & Kopp, 8.
  93. a b Id.
  94. ^ Peaslee & Nirenberg, 89.
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  97. ^ [6][dead link]
  98. ^ “Bill H.R. 977”. Retrieved March 15, 2011.

[edit]External links

Look up credit default swap in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


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Eco The Dumbest Idea In The World Maximizing Shareholder Value

Steve Denning, Contributor

RADICAL MANAGEMENT: Rethinking leadership and innovation


11/28/2011 @ 1:19PM |9,713 views

24 comments, 22 called-out

About the book: 

Fixing the Game bubbles crashes … Roger Martin

There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.

Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management

“Imagine an NFL coach,” writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, in his important new book, Fixing the Game, “holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.”

Imagine also, to extrapolate Martin’s analogy, that the coach and his top assistants were hugely compensated, not on whether they won games, but rather by whether they covered the point spread. If they beat the point spread, they would receive massive bonuses. But if they missed covering the point spread a couple of times, the salary cap of the team could be cut and key players would have to be released, regardless of whether the team won or lost its games. Suppose also that in order to manage the expectations implicit in the point spread, the coach had to spend most of his time talking with analysts and sports writers about the prospects of the coming games and “managing” the point spread, instead of actually coaching the team.

‘Capitalism At A Tipping Point’ Robert Lenzner Forbes Staff

H-P and Yahoo!: Just the Tip of the Activist Iceberg Richard Levick Contributor

It would hardly be a surprise that the most esteemed coach in this world would be a coach who met or beat the point spread in forty-six of forty-eight games—a 96 percent hit rate. Looking at these forty-eight games, one would be tempted to conclude: “Surely those scores are being ‘managed’?”

Suppose moreover that the whole league was rife with scandals of coaches “managing the score”, for instance, by deliberately losing games (“tanking”), players deliberately sacrificing points in order not to exceed the point spread (“point shaving”), “buying” key players on the opposing team or gaining access to their game plan.

If this were the situation in the NFL, then everyone would realize that the “real game” of football had become utterly corrupted by the “expectations game” of gambling. Everyone would be calling on the NFL Commissioner to intervene and ban the coaches and players from ever being involved directly or indirectly in any form of gambling on the outcome of games, and get back to playing the game.

Which is precisely what the NFL Commissioner did in 1962 when some players were found to be involved betting small sums of money on the outcome of games. In that season, Paul Hornung, the Green Bay Packers halfback and the league’s most valuable player (MVP), and Alex Karras, a star defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, were accused of betting on NFL games, including games in which they played. Pete Rozelle, just a few years into his thirty-year tenure as league commissioner, responded swiftly. Hornung and Karras were suspended for a season.

As a result, the “real game” of football in the NFL has remained quite separate from the “expectations game” of gambling. The coaches and players spend all of their time trying to win games, not gaming the games.

The real market vs the expectations market

In the today’s paradoxical world of maximizing shareholder value, which Jack Welch himself has called “the dumbest idea in the world”, the situation is the reverse. CEOs and their top managers have massive incentives to focus most of their attentions on the expectations market, rather than the real job of running the company producing real products and services.

The “real market,” Martin explains, is the world in which factories are built, products are designed and produced, real products and services are bought and sold, revenues are earned, expenses are paid, and real dollars of profit show up on the bottom line. That is the world that executives control—at least to some extent.

The expectations market is the world in which shares in companies are traded between investors—in other words, the stock market. In this market, investors assess the real market activities of a company today and, on the basis of that assessment, form expectations as to how the company is likely to perform in the future. The consensus view of all investors and potential investors as to expectations of future performance shapes the stock price of the company.

“What would lead [a CEO],” asks Martin, “to do the hard, long-term work of substantially improving real-market performance when she can choose to work on simply raising expectations instead? Even if she has a performance bonus tied to real-market metrics, the size of that bonus now typically pales in comparison with the size of her stock-based incentives. Expectations are where the money is. And of course, improving real-market performance is the hardest and slowest way to increase expectations from the existing level.”

In fact, a CEO has little choice but to pay careful attention to the expectations market, because if the stock price falls markedly, the application of accounting rules (regulation FASB 142) classify it as a “goodwill impairment”. Auditors may then force the write-down of real assets based on the company’s share price in the expectations market. As a result, executives must concern themselves with managing expectations if they want to avoid write-downs of their capital.

In this world, the best managers are those who meet expectations. “During the heart of the Jack Welch era,” writes Martin, “GE met or beat analysts’ forecasts in forty-six of forty-eight quarters between December 31, 1989, and September 30, 2001—a 96 percent hit rate. Even more impressively, in forty-one of those forty-six quarters, GE hit the analyst forecast to the exact penny—89 percent perfection. And in the remaining seven imperfect quarters, the tolerance was startlingly narrow: four times GE beat the projection by 2 cents, once it beat it by 1 cent, once it missed by 1 cent, and once by 2 cents. Looking at these twelve years of unnatural precision, Jensen asks rhetorically: ‘What is the chance that could happen if earnings were not being “managed’?”’ Martin replies: infinitesimal.

The Dumbest Idea In The World: Maximizing Shareholder Value

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In such a world, it is therefore hardly surprising, says Martin, that the corporate world is plagued by continuing scandals, such as the accounting scandals in 2001-2002 with Enron, WorldCom, Tyco International, Global Crossing, and Adelphia, the options backdating scandals of 2005-2006, and the subprime meltdown of 2007-2008. The recent demise of MF Global Holdings and the related ongoing criminal investigation are further reminders that we have not put these matters behind us.

“It isn’t just about the money for shareholders,” writes Martin, “or even the dubious CEO behavior that our theories encourage. It’s much bigger than that. Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism. These theories underpin regulatory fixes instituted after each market bubble and crash. Because the fixes begin from the wrong premise, they will be ineffectual; until we change the theories, future crashes are inevitable.”

“A pervasive emphasis on the expectations market,” writes Martin, “has reduced shareholder value, created misplaced and ill-advised incentives, generated inauthenticity in our executives, and introduced parasitic market players. The moral authority of business diminishes with each passing year, as customers, employees, and average citizens grow increasingly appalled by the behavior of business and the seeming greed of its leaders. At the same time, the period between market meltdowns is shrinking, Capital markets—and the whole of the American capitalist system—hang in the balance.”

How did capitalism get into this mess?

Martin says that the trouble began in 1976 when finance professor Michael Jensen and Dean William Meckling of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester published a seemingly innocuous paper in the Journal of Financial Economics entitled “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure.”

The article performed the old academic trick of creating a problem and then proposing a solution to the supposed problem that the article itself had created. The article identified the principal-agent problem as being that the shareholders are the principals of the firm—i.e., they own it and benefit from its prosperity, while the executives are agents who are hired by the principals to work on their behalf. The principal-agent problem occurs, the article argued, because agents have an inherent incentive to optimize activities and resources for themselves rather than for their principals.

Ignoring Peter Drucker’s foundational insight of 1973 that the only valid purpose of a firm is to create a customer, Jensen and Meckling argued that the singular goal of a company should be to maximize the return to shareholders. To achieve that goal, they academics argued, the company should give executives a compelling reason to place shareholder value maximization ahead of their own nest-feathering.

Unfortunately, as often happens with bad ideas that make some people a lot of money, the idea caught on and has even become the conventional wisdom. During his tenure as CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, Jack Welch came to be seen–rightly or wrongly–as the outstanding  exemplar of the theory, as a result of his capacity to grow shareholder value at GE and magically hit his numbers exactly. When Jack Welch retired from GE, the company had gone from a market value of $14 billion to $484 billion at the time of his retirement, making it, according to the stock market, the most valuable and largest company in the world. In 1999 he was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine. Since Welch retired in 2001, however, GE’s stock price has not fared so well: GE has lost around 60 percent of the market capitalization that Welch “created”.

Before 1976, professional managers were in charge of performance in the real market and were paid for performance in that real market. That is, they were in charge of earning real profits for their company and they were typically paid a base salary and bonus for meeting real market performance targets.

The change had the opposite effect from what was intended

The proponents of shareholder value maximization and stock-based executive compensation hoped that their theories would focus executives on improving the real performance of their companies and thus increasing shareholder value over time.

Yet, precisely the opposite occurred. In the period of shareholder capitalism since 1976, executive compensation has exploded while corporate performance has declined. “Maximizing shareholder value” turned out to be the disease of which it purported to be the cure.

Between 1960 and 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 biggest publicly traded American companies fell by 33 percent. CEOs earned more for their shareholders for steadily less and less relative compensation. By contrast, in the decade from 1980 to 1990 , CEO compensation per dollar of net earnings produced doubled. From 1990 to 2000 it quadrupled.

Meanwhile real performance was declining. From 1933 to 1976, real compound annual return on the S&P 500 was 7.5 percent. Since 1976, Martin writes, the total real return on the S&P 500 was 6.5 percent (compound annual).  The situation is even starker if we look at the rate of return on assets, or the rate of return on invested capital, which according to a comprehensive study by Deloitte’s Center For The Edge are today only one quarter of what they were in 1965.

Although Jack Welch was seen during his tenure as CEO of GE as the heroic exemplar of maximizing shareholder value, he came to be one of its strongest critics. On March 12, 2009, he gave an interview with Francesco Guerrera of the Financial Times and said, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products. Managers and investors should not set share price increases as their overarching goal. … Short-term profits should be allied with an increase in the long-term value of a company.”

The shift to delighting the customer

What to do? Given the numbers of the people and the amount of money involved, rescuing capitalism from these catastrophically bad habits won’t be easy. For most organizations, it will take a phase change. It means rethinking the very basis of a corporation and the way business is conducted, as well as the values of an entire society.

“We must shift the focus of companies back to the customer and away from shareholder value,” says Martin. “The shift necessitates a fundamental change in our prevailing theory of the firm… The current theory holds that the singular goal of the corporation should be shareholder value maximization. Instead, companies should place customers at the center of the firm and focus on delighting them, while earning an acceptable return for shareholders.”

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The Dumbest Idea In The World: Maximizing Shareholder Value

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If you take care of customers, writes Martin, shareholders will be drawn along for a very nice ride. The opposite is simply not true: if you try to take care of shareholders, customers don’t benefit and, ironically, shareholders don’t get very far either.

In the real market, there is opportunity to build for the long run rather than to exploit short-term opportunities, so the real market has a chance to produce sustainability. The real market produces meaning and motivation for organizations. The organization can create bonds with customers, imagine great plans, and bring them to fruition.

“The expectations market,” says Martin, “generates little meaning. It is all about gaining advantage over a trading partner or putting two trading partners together, then tolling them for the service. This structure breeds a kind of amorality in which information is withheld or manipulated and trading partners are treated as vehicles from which to extract money in the short run, at whatever the cost to the relationship.”

By contrast, the real market contributes to a sense of authenticity for individuals. Because individuals can find meaning in their jobs. They are not playing a zero-sum game. They are doing something real and positive for society.

Examples of the shift

Martin cites three examples of firms that are, even within the legal limits of today’s world, focused on the real world of customers and products more than gaming the stock market.

One is Johnson & Johnson [JNJ]. In 1982, when the Tylenol poisonings occurred, “J&J was in a terrible bind. Tylenol represented almost a fifth of the company’s profits, and any decline in its market share would be difficult to reclaim, especially in the face of rampant fear and rumor. Yet, rather than attempt to downplay the crisis—it was after all, likely the work of an individual madman in one tiny part of the country—J&J did just the opposite. Chairman James Burke immediately ordered a halt to all Tylenol production and advertising, distributed warnings to hospitals across the country, and within a week of the first death, announced a nationwide recall of every single bottle of Tylenol on the market. J&J went on to develop tamper-proof packaging for its products; an innovation that would soon become the industry standard.” Burke’s actions were not the heroic act of a single individual, says Martin. The actions flowed from the company credo which is engraved in granite at the entry to company headquarters, which makes crystal clear that customers are first, then employees, and shareholders absolutely last.

Martin contrasts J&J’s handling of the Tylenol crisis with the handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 by BP [BP], which he sees as driven by a short-term concern for BP’s profits.

A second example is Procter & Gamble [PG] which “declares in its purpose statement: ‘We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.’ For P&G, consumers come first and shareholder value naturally follows. Per the statement of purpose, if P&G gets things right for consumers, shareholders will be rewarded as a result.”

A third example is Apple [AAPL]. “Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, seems to delight in signaling to shareholders that they don’t matter much and that they certainly won’t interfere with Apple’s pursuit of its original customer-focused purpose: ‘to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.’ Jobs’s feisty, almost combative demeanor at shareholder meetings is legendary. At the meeting in February 2010, one shareholder asked Jobs, “What keeps you up at night?” Jobs quickly responded, ‘Shareholder meetings.’”

Making needed legal changes

Admonishing CEOs (and investors) to ignore the expectations market and refocus on delighting the customer isn’t going to work, says Martin. It’s as likely to be “as effective as admonishing frat boys to stop chasing girls.” For CEOs, there are massive incentives for staying attuned to it and severe punishments for ignoring it. Investors, analysts, and hedge funds continue to reward firms that meet expectations and punish those that do not. Missing expectations, a dropping stock-price, and real-asset write-downs can together create an unstoppable downward spiral. In the current environment, to simply ignore the expectations market is to court disaster.

One of the great values of the Martin’s book is that he puts his finger on the needed legal changes that can help shift the dynamic of business away from gaming the expectations market and back to doing the real job of delighting customers.

  • One is the repeal of 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which contains what has become known as the “safe harbor” provision. “To move ahead productively,” he writes, “the safe harbor provision should simply be repealed. Executives and their companies should be legally liable for any attempt to manage expectations. Without the safe harbor provisions, there would be no earnings guidance and that would be a great thing.” Making this change would immediately bring the practice of giving guidance to the stock market, and so gaming expectations, to a screeching halt. There is, says Martin, simply no societal value to earnings guidance. The market will know exactly what earnings are going to be at the end of the quarter, in just three or fewer months. Society is not better off to have an executive publicly guess at what that number is going to be. We need to turn executives from the useless, vapid task of managing expectations to the psychologically and economically rewarding business of creating value.
  • A second is the elimination of regulation FASB 142 which forces the real write-downs of real assets based on the company’s share price in the expectations market. The current rule forces executives to concern themselves with managing expectations in order to avoid write-downs. Changing the rule would remove the major sanction that now exists for executives who ignore the expectations market.
  • A third is to restore the focus of executives on the real market and on an authentic life by eliminating the use of stock-based compensation as an incentive. This doesn’t mean that executives shouldn’t own shares. If an executive wants to buy stock as some sort of bonding with the shareholders or for whatever other reasons, that’s just fine. However, executives should be prevented from selling any stock, for any reason, while serving in that capacity—and indeed for several years after leaving their posts. Stock based compensation is a very recent phenomenon, one associated with lower shareholder returns, bubbles and crashes, and huge corporate scandals. In 1970, stock based compensation was less than 1 percent of compensation. By 2000, it was around half of compensation. For the last 35 years, stock-based compensation has been tried. It had the opposite effect of what was intended. We should learn from experience and discontinue it.

Other needed changes

Martin also argues for associated changes:

  • We must restore authenticity to the lives of our executives. The expectations market generates inauthenticity in executives, filling their world with encouragements to suspend moral judgment. They receive incentive compensation to which the rational response is to game the system. And since they spend most of their time trading value around rather than building it, they lose perspective on how to contribute to society through their work. Customers become marks to be exploited, employees become disposable cogs, and relationships become only a means to the end of winning a zero-sum game.
  • We need to address board governance. Boards have become complicit in gaming the expectations market, and the associated inflation of executive compensation.
  • We need to regulate expectations market players, most notably hedge funds. Net, hedge funds create no value for society. They have huge incentives to promote volatility in the expectations market, which is dangerous for us but lucrative for them. So, we need to rein in the power of hedge funds to damage real markets.

What’s next?

In a book that offers so much, one is tempted to ask for more. Perhaps in subsequent writings, Martin will expand and carry his thinking forward.

In future writings, he might document more of the economically disastrous practices that enable firms to meet their quarterly targets, such as  looting the firm’s pension fund or cutting back on worker benefits or outsourcing production to a foreign country in ways that further destroy the firm’s ability to innovate and compete.

He might also spell out the specific management changes that are necessary to delight the customer. The command-and-control management of hierarchical bureaucracy is inherently unable to delight anyone–it was never intended to. To delight customers, a radically different kind of management needs to be in place, with a different role for the managers, a different way of coordinating work, a different set of values and a different way of communicating. This is not rocket science. It’s called radical management.

He might also show how the shift from maximizing shareholder value to delighting the customer involves a major power shift within the organization. Instead of the company being dominated by salesmen who can pump up the numbers and the accountants who can come up with cuts needed to make the quarterly targets, those who add genuine value to the customer have to re-occupy their rightful place.

The Dumbest Idea In The World: Maximizing Shareholder Value

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He might also build on the theme that the shift from maximizing shareholder value to delighting the customer doesn’t involve sacrifices for the shareholders, the organizations or the economy. That’s because delighting the customer is not just profitable: it’s hugely profitable.

Bottom-line: capitalism is at risk

American capitalism hangs in the balance, writes Martin. His book gives a clear explanations as to why this is so and what should be done to save it.

A large number of rent-collectors and financial middlemen making vast amounts of money are keeping the current system in place. The fact that what they are doing is destroying the economy will not sway their thinking. As Upton Sinclair noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Is change possible? Martin believes so, quoting Vince Lombardi: “We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”

Other “impossible” changes have been accomplished. “Not long ago, it seemed fanciful that public smoking would be restricted and tobacco companies would sponsor public service ads that discourage smoking,” wrote Deepak Chopra and David Simon in 2004. “But this shift in awareness occurred when a critical mass of people decided they would no longer tolerate a behavior that harmed many while benefited a few.”

For instance, the Aspen Institute’s Corporate Values Strategy Group has been working  on promoting long-term orientation in business decision making and investing. In 2009, twenty-eight leaders representing business, investment, government, academia, and labor (including Warrent Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway [BRK.A, BRK.B], Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM [IBM] and Jim Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank) joined with the Institute to endorse a bold call to end the focus on value-destroying short-term-ism in our financial markets and create public policies that reward long-term value creation for investors and the public good.

Ultimately, the change will happen, not just because it’s right, but because it makes more money. Once investors realize what is going on, the economics will drive the change forward.

The recognition that maximizing shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world is an obvious but still a radical idea. Like all obvious, radical ideas, in the first instance it will be rejected. Then it will be ridiculed. Finally it will be self-evident and no one will be able to remember why anyone ever thought otherwise.

Buy the Martin’s book. Read it. Implement it. The very future of our society “hangs in the balance”.

Roger L. Martin:  Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL. Harvard Business Review Press 2011.


Steve Denning’s most recent book is: The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management (Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Follow Steve Denning on Twitter @stevedenning

‘Capitalism At A Tipping Point’ Robert Lenzner Forbes Staff

H-P and Yahoo!: Just the Tip of the Activist Iceberg Richard Levick Contributor


Main | William Black: Not With A Bang, But A Whimper: Bank Of America’s Derivatives Death Rattle »

HOLY BAILOUT – Federal Reserve Now Backstopping $75 Trillion Of Bank Of America’s Derivatives Trades

UPDATE – Chcek out regulator William Black’s blistering reaction to this story HERE.

This story from Bloomberg just hit the wires this morning. Bank of America is shifting derivatives in its Merrill investment banking unit to its depository arm, which has access to the Fed discount window and is protected by the FDIC.

This means that the investment bank’s European derivatives exposure is now backstopped by U.S. taxpayers.  Bank of America didn’t get regulatory approval to do this, they just did it at the request of frightened counterparties.  Now the Fed and the FDIC are fighting as to whether this was sound.  The Fed wants to “give relief” to the bank holding company, which is under heavy pressure.

This is a direct transfer of risk to the taxpayer done by the bank without approval by regulators and without public input.  You will also read below that JP Morgan is apparently doing the same thing with $79 trillion of notional derivatives guaranteed by the FDIC and Federal Reserve.

What this means for you is that when Europe finally implodes and banks fail, U.S. taxpayers will hold the bag for trillions in CDS insurance contracts sold by Bank of America and JP Morgan.  Even worse, the total exposure is unknownbecause Wall Street successfully lobbied during Dodd-Frank passage so that no central exchange would exist keeping track of net derivative exposure.

This is a recipe for Armageddon.  Bernanke is absolutely insane.  No wonder Geithner has been hopping all over Europe begging and cajoling leaders to put together a massive bailout of troubled banks.  His worst nightmare is Eurozone bank defaults leading to the collapse of the large U.S. banks who have been happily selling default insurance on European banks since the crisis began.



Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.

Three years after taxpayers rescued some of the biggest U.S. lenders, regulators are grappling with how to protect FDIC- insured bank accounts from risks generated by investment-banking operations. Bank of America, which got a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis, had $1.04 trillion in deposits as of midyear, ranking it second among U.S. firms.

“The concern is that there is always an enormous temptation to dump the losers on the insured institution,” said William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. “We should have fairly tight restrictions on that.”


The Moody’s downgrade spurred some of Merrill’s partners to ask that contracts be moved to the retail unit, which has a higher credit rating, according to people familiar with the transactions. Transferring derivatives also can help the parent company minimize the collateral it must post on contracts and the potential costs to terminate trades after Moody’s decision, said a person familiar with the matter.

Keeping such deals separate from FDIC-insured savings has been a cornerstone of U.S. regulation for decades, including last year’s Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street regulation.

U.S. Bailouts

Bank of America benefited from two injections of U.S. bailout funds during the financial crisis. The first, in 2008, included $15 billion for the bank and $10 billion for Merrill, which the bank had agreed to buy. The second round of $20 billion came in January 2009 after Merrill’s losses in its final quarter as an independent firm surpassed $15 billion, raising doubts about the bank’s stability if the takeover proceeded. The U.S. also offered to guarantee $118 billion of assets held by the combined company, mostly at Merrill.

Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.

That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.

Moving derivatives contracts between units of a bank holding company is limited under Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act, which is designed to prevent a lender’s affiliates from benefiting from its federal subsidy and to protect the bank from excessive risk originating at the non-bank affiliate, said Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

“Congress doesn’t want a bank’s FDIC insurance and access to the Fed discount window to somehow benefit an affiliate, so they created a firewall,” Omarova said. The discount window has been open to banks as the lender of last resort since 1914.

Continue reading at Bloomberg…

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to End the Federal Reserve and the Bailout Madness (Videos)

Eric Blair
Activist Post

As the Super Committee failed to agree on a measly $1 trillion in budget cuts, Bloomberg recently reportedyet another secret bank bailout totaling $7.7 trillion courtesy of the private Federal Reserve bank.  This disclosure is in addition to the first-ever Congressional audit of the Fed that revealed a startling $16 trillion in secret bailouts.

This brings the grand total of previously unknown theft to $23.7 trillion which, interestingly enough, is the exact figure Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, estimated in July 2009.

As Americans are being told that they need to tighten their belts and that Congress must do the same or the country will fall into economic ruin, these private bank bailouts, nearly double the size of the national debt, are handed out without any benefit to the public.

Indeed, it is of great detriment to the public who bear the brunt of the inflationary and tax burdens, as well as reduced public benefits forced by the failed Super Committee.  Furthermore, it has been recently disclosed that the people’s FDIC will now backstop some $75 trillion in derivatives at Bank of America alone. And just today, they threw in a fresh new bailout of Europe that is just another temporary fix.  When will the people tire of bailing out a clearly broken monetary system?

The blatant raping of the American people couldn’t be more obvious.  The once-fringe Tea Party activists who were spawned from their anger over a meager $700 billion TARP bailout have now seemingly swelled into what appears to be a global “Occupy” movement.  Regardless of their political differences, they both agree that the system of perpetual bailouts on the backs of Americans must end.

Perhaps the only two genuine public servants left in Congress are Ron Paul (R-TX) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); Paul being the early inspiration for the Tea Party, and Kucinich an early sympathizer with the Occupiers.  Together they have clearly identified the Federal Reserve System as the disease, and have both proposed pragmatic solutions to cure the ills of the hijacked economy.

Before detailing their exact proposals, many people claim that the Federal Reserve System has a 100-year charter that will expire in 2013.  However, the original Federal Reserve Act only allowed for a 20-year charter until the law was changed in 1927 (6 years before the Fed was up for renewal) to allow perpetual renewal of federal corporations where charters could only be “dissolved by Act of Congress or until forfeiture of franchise for violation of law.” (Source)

Regardless, given the increased rate of awareness of the Federal Reserve’s private, secretive, monopolistic, and destructive structure over the economy, their days are likely numbered.  Perhaps that is the reason for the mass looting they, and their international member banks, are rapidly engaged in.  In other words, they’re raiding the last crumbs of the cookie jar before Daddy comes to punish them.

Ron Paul, a leading proponent for “Ending the Fed” has put forward legislation to legalize competing currencies, which he believes is the first step toward breaking the monopolistic control over currency by the Fed.  As with most of Paul’s legislation, it is undoing laws instead of writing them.  The Free Competition in Currency Act (HR 1098) will essentially do three things: 1) repeal legal tender laws to remove the monopoly control of the Federal Reserve, 2) legalize private mints to issue coins to be controlled by anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit laws, and, 3) remove taxes from precious metal coins to ensure fair competition among new currencies.

Below Paul introduces the bill and explains its importance on the House floor in 2009:


Derivatives Ownership Even More Concentrated Than Ever

As I noted in 2009, 5 banks held 80% of America’s derivatives risk.

Since then, the percent of derivatives held by the top 5 banks has only increased.

As Tyler Durden notes:

The latest quarterly report from the Office Of the Currency Comptroller is out [shows] that the top 4 banks in the US now account for a massively disproportionate amount of the derivative risk in the financial system. Specifically, of the $250 trillion in gross notional amount of derivative contracts outstanding (consisting of Interest Rate, FX, Equity Contracts, Commodity and CDS) among the Top 25 commercial banks (a number that swells to $333 trillion when looking at the Top 25 Bank Holding Companies), a mere 5 banks (and really 4) account for 95.9% of all derivative exposure …. the top 4 banks: JPM with $78.1 trillion in exposure, Citi with $56 trillion, Bank of America with $53 trillion and Goldman with $48 trillion, account for 94.4% of total exposure. As historically has been the case, the bulk of consolidated exposure is in Interest Rate swaps ($204.6 trillion), followed by FX ($26.5TR), CDS ($15.2 trillion), and Equity and Commodity with $1.6 and $1.4 trillion, respectively. And that’s your definition of Too Big To Fail right there: the biggest banks are not only getting bigger, but their risk exposure is now at a new all time high and up $5.3 trillion from Q1 as they have to risk ever more in the derivatives market to generate that incremental penny of return.

OCC%201 Amount and Concentration of Derivatives Still Threaten Global Economy

Amazingly, the top 5 banks have virtually 100% of all credit derivatives held by American banks (see the second to last line in the above table).

Dwarfing the World Economy

The amount of derivatives dwarfs the size of the world economy. As Bloomerg reported in May:

Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Asset Management’s emerging markets group, said another financial crisis is inevitable because the causes of the previous one haven’t been resolved.

“There is definitely going to be another financial crisis around the corner because we haven’t solved any of the things that caused the previous crisis,” Mobius said …“Are the derivatives regulated? No. Are you still getting growth in derivatives? Yes.”

The total value of derivatives in the world exceeds total global gross domestic product by a factor of 10, said Mobius, who oversees more than $50 billion. With that volume of bets in different directions, volatility and equity market crises will occur, he said.

The global financial crisis three years ago was caused in part by the proliferation of derivative products tied to U.S. home loans that ceased performing, triggering hundreds of billions of dollars in writedowns and leading to the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008.

Huge Amount of Derivatives Are Dangerous

Credit default swaps were largely responsible for bringing down Bear Stearns, AIG (and see this), WaMu and other mammoth corporations.

And unexpected changes in interest rates could cause a major bloodbath in interest rate derivatives.

And, no, there have not been any reforms or attempts to rein in derivatives, and the Dodd-Frank financial legislation was really just a p.r. stunt which didn’t really change anything.

But the big banks and their minions claim that the huge amounts of derivatives themselves is unimportant because these are only “notional” values, and – after netting – the notional values are deflated to much more modest numbers.

But as Durden – who has a solid background in derivatives – notes:

At this point the economist PhD readers will scream: “this is total BS – after all you have bilateral netting which eliminates net bank exposure almost entirely.” True: that is precisely what the OCC will say too. As the chart below shows, according to the chief regulator of the derivative space in Q2 netting benefits amounted to an almost record 90.8% of gross exposure, so while seemingly massive, those XXX trillion numbers are really quite, quite small… Right?

Netting Amount and Concentration of Derivatives Still Threaten Global Economy

…Wrong. The problem with bilateral netting is that it is based on one massively flawed assumption, namely that in an orderly collapse all derivative contracts will be honored by the issuing bank (in this case the company that has sold the protection, and which the buyer of protection hopes will offset the protection it in turn has sold). The best example of how the flaw behind bilateral netting almost destroyed the system is AIG: the insurance company was hours away from making trillions of derivative contracts worthless if it were to implode, leaving all those who had bought protection from the firm worthless, a contingency only Goldman hedged by buying protection on AIG. And while the argument can further be extended that in bankruptcy a perfectly netted bankrupt entity would make someone else whole on claims they have written, this is not true, as the bankrupt estate will pursue 100 cent recovery on its claims even under Chapter 11, while claims the estate had written end up as General Unsecured Claims which as Lehman has demonstrated will collect 20 cents on the dollar if they are lucky.

The point of this detour being that if any of these four banks fails, the repercussions would be disastrous. And no, Frank Dodd’s bank “resolution” provision would do absolutely nothing to prevent an epic systemic collapse.

Prior to Fukushima, nuclear industry engineers said nuclear was safe.

Ron Paul is an advocate for returning to Constitutional money made of, or backed by, precious metals.  Equally angry and aware of the heart of economic problems, Dennis Kucinich has introduced the NEED Act which will dissolve the Fed into the Treasury and return the power to issue currency back to Congress as outlined in the Constitution.

Kucinich explains why his bill is important in a recent video:

Although Kucinich’s legislation doesn’t call for currency to be backed by gold or other precious metals — and public trust for Geithner and the U.S. government’s handling of the economy are at all-time lows — seizing control from the Fed seems like a necessary early step to effectively transfer to something new.

As explained by author and documentary filmmaker, Bill Still, the Treasury still handles the coinage of U.S. currency and issues this money free of interest.  This means that, technically, the entire U.S. debt could be erased by debt-free coins minted by the treasury. Crisis averted, prosperity for all.

Yet, these are just the early steps for getting the monetary system back on track. Perhaps the most acceptable longer term solution is what John F. Kennedy attempted to do with Executive Order 11110 which gave the Treasury the power to issue silver certificates to be backed by, and redeemable in, silver.  This concept is the ideal blend of both Paul and Kucinich’s ideas, and the most Constitutional way to handle modern money.

Please comment and share this, and let’s get on with solutions instead of more bailouts and taxpayer servitude.


1% US banks gamble $5 million per US household; $532 trillion total

Reuters and provide prima facie evidence that the US 1% runs Wall Street as rigged-casino gambling to transfer wealth from the 99% to themselves. The amount of money fraudulently gambled is not millions of dollars, not billions, not even tens of trillions, but over five hundred trillion ($532,000,000,000,000).

Look at Demonocracy’s images to get an idea of this magnitude of money.

Let this sink in: $532 trillion means that the 1% US banksters gamble over $5 million dollars for every US household and $1.7 million for every American.

It also means that the 1% has cooperation from “leadership” in Congress, law enforcement, and almost all corporate media to have this gambling as the core of the 99%’s mortgages and pension funds, with the criminal fraud of representing this as “investments,” “regulated,” and “fair.”

Ending global poverty would be accomplished with an annual investment of $100 billion a year for ten years. This would save the lives of a million children who die from preventable poverty each month, is less than 0.7% of the developed countries’ GNI, has reduced population growth rates in every historical case, and is the best way the CIA concludes to reduce terrorism. The annual amount to end poverty is 0.02% of what the top five US banks gamble every year.

Excerpts from Reuters:

(Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, were partners for years at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud, a Reuters inquiry shows…. Reuters reported in December that under Holder and Breuer, the Justice Department hasn’t brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved in mortgage servicing, even though copious evidence has surfaced of apparent criminal violations in foreclosure cases.

Excerpt from

OCC’s Quarterly Report on Bank Trading and Derivatives Activities: Third Quarter 2011
December 2011, OCC (U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Administrator of National Banks)

The OCC’s quarterly report on trading revenues and bank derivatives activities is based on Call Report information provided by all insured U.S. commercial banks and trust companies, reports filed by U.S. financial holding companies, and other published data. The notional amount of derivatives held by insured U.S. commercial banks decreased $1.4 trillion, or 0.6%, from the second quarter of 2011 to $248 trillion. Notional derivatives are 5.7% higher than at the same time last year. Derivatives activity in the U.S. banking system continues to be dominated by a small group of large financial institutions. Five large commercial banks represent 96% of the total banking industry notional amounts. Insured commercial banks have more limited legal authorities than do their holding companies.

Note: Graphs in this report show that the holding companies for the top five banks also control massive amounts of derivates totaling $326 trillion! The holding companies JPMorgan Chase, BofA, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs have over $311 trillion in derivates, 95% of the total U.S. market. So these banks and their holding companies combined own $532 trillion in derivates, equivalent to roughly $75,000 for every person on the planet. What are the bankers doing? If the above link fails, click here.

After 15 years of my own research after US political leadership reneged on all promises (public and private) to end poverty after we led to create the Microcredit Summit in 1997, here’s my best explanation of what’s driving economics:

How an economics teacher presents Occupy’s economic argument, victory


The Real “Margin” Threat: $600 Trillion In OTC Derivatives, A Multi-Trillion Variation Margin Call, And A Collateral Scramble That Could Send US Treasurys To All Time Records…

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 06/05/2011 21:42 -0400

While the dominant topic of conversation when discussing margin hikes (or reductions) usually reverts to silver, ES (stocks) and TEN (bonds), what everyone so far is ignoring is the far more critical topic of real margin risk, in the form of roughly $600 trillion in OTC derivatives. The issue is that while the silver market (for example) is tiny by comparison, it is easy to be pushed around, and thus exchanges can easily represent the illusion that they are in control of counterparty risk (after all, that was the whole point of the recent CME essay on why they hiked silver margins 5 times in a row). Nothing could be further from the truth: where exchanges are truly at risk is when it comes to mitigating the threat of counterparty default for participants in a market that is millions of times bigger than the silver market: the interest rate and credit default swap markets. As part of Dodd-Frank, by the end of 2012, all standardised over-the-counter derivatives will have to be cleared through central counterparties. Yet currently, central clearing covers about half of $400 trillion in
interest rate swaps, 20-30 percent of the $2.5 trillion
in commodities derivatives, and about 10 percent of $30 trillion in
credit default swaps. In other words, over the next year and a half exchanges need to onboard over $200 trillion notional in various products, and in doing so, counterparites, better known as the G14 (or Group of 14 dealers that dominate derivatives trading including Bank of America-Merrill Lynch,
Barclays Capital, BNP Paribas, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche
Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, RBS,
Societe Generale, UBS and Wells Fargo Bank) will soon need to post billions in initial margin, and as a brand new BIS report indicates, will likely need significant extra cash to be in compliance with regulatory requirements. Not only that, but once trading on an exchange, the G14 “could face a cash shortfall in very volatile markets when daily margins are increased, triggering demands for several billions of dollars to be paid within a day.” Per the BIS “These margin calls could represent as much as 13 percent of a G14 dealer’s current holdings of cash and cash equivalents in the case of interest rate swaps.” Below we summarize the key findings of a just released discussion by the BIS on the “Expansion of central clearing” and also present a parallel report just released by BNY ConvergEx’ Nicholas Colas who independetly has been having “bad dreams” about the possibility of what the transfer to an exchange would mean in terms of collateral posting (read bank cash payouts) and overall market stability, and why a multi-trillion margin call could result in the biggest buying spree in US Treasurys… Ever.

First, for those who are unfamiliar, here is what happens when an exchange (or a Central Counterparties) proceeds to trade OTC derivatives with any given counterparty (from the BIS):

CCPs typically rely on four different controls to manage their counterparty risk: participation constraints, initial margins, variation margins and non-margin collateral.

A first set of measures are participation constraints, which aim to prevent CCPs from dealing with counterparties that have unacceptably high probabilities of default.

The second line of defense is initial margins in the form of cash or highly liquid securities collected from counterparties. These are designed to cover most possible losses in case of default of a counterparty. More specifically, initial margins are meant to cover possible losses between the time of default of a counterparty,8 at which point the CCP would inherit its positions, and the closeout of these positions through selling or hedging. On this basis, our hypothetical CCP sets initial margins to cover 99.5% of expected possible losses that could arise over a five-day period. CCPs usually accept cash or high-quality liquid securities, such as government bonds, as initial margin collateral.

As the market values of counterparties’ portfolios fluctuate, CCPs collect variation margins, the third set of controls. Counterparties whose  portfolios have lost market value must pay variation margins equal to the size of the loss since the previous valuation. The CCP typically passes on the variation margins it collects to the participants whose portfolios gained in value. Thus, the exchange of variation margins compensates participants for realised profits/losses associated with past price movements while initial margins protect the CCP against potential future exposures. Variation margins, typically paid in cash, are usually collected on a daily basis, although more than one intraday payment may be requested if prices are unusually volatile.

Finally, if a counterparty defaults and price movements generate losses in excess of the defaulter’s initial margin before its portfolio can be closed out, then the CCP would have to rely on a number of additional (“non-margin”) resources to absorb the residual loss. The first of these is a default  fund. All members of the CCP post collateral to this fund. The defaulting dealer’s contribution is used first, but after this other members would incur losses. The default fund contribution of the defaulting dealer would be mutualised among the non-defaulting dealers according to a predetermined formula. Some additional buffers may then be available, such as a third-party guarantee or additional calls on the capital of CCP members.

Otherwise, the final buffer against default losses is the equity of the CCP. In order to calculate initial and variation margins, CCPs rely on timely price data that give an accurate indication of liquidation values. Clearing OTC derivatives that could become unpredictably illiquid in a closeout scenario could impose an unacceptable risk on the CCP.

Table 1 summarises the risk management practices of SwapClear, ICE Trust US and ICE Clear Europe, which are currently the main central clearers of IRS and CDS.

The gist of the BIS paper focuses not so much on the inboarding costs and concerns of migrating hundreds of trillions of products to CCP – a topic evaluated much more in depth by Nick Colas – the BIS does instead look at a hypothetical example of what may happen in the case of a “risk flaring” episode, and how much variation margin G14’s may need to post:

As shown in the left-hand panels of Graph 2, estimated initial margins can vary significantly with prevailing levels of market volatility, especially for CDS. The upper left-hand panel shows, for example, that Dealer 7 would need to post $2.1 billion of collateral to clear its hypothetical IRS portfolio in an environment of low market volatility, similar to that prevailing before the recent financial crisis. This would grow by around 50%, to $3.2 billion, if volatility increased to the “medium” level seen early in the crisis, just before the rescue of Bear Stearns. And it would grow by around 150%, to $5.3 billion, if volatility increased to the “high” level seen at the peak of the crisis, amidst the negative market reaction to the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and before government recapitalisation of banks began in the United Kingdom. In comparison, the bottom left-hand panel shows that initial margin requirements for the hypothetical CDS portfolio of Dealer 7 would increase by around 160% or 325% from $0.6 billion if the prevailing level of market volatility increased from low to medium or high. The total initial margins that the CCP requires clearing members to post are $33 billion (low), $70 billion (medium) and $105 billion (high) for IRS and $6 billion (low), $20 billion (medium) and $35 billion (high) for CDS.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that G14 dealers would have much difficulty finding sufficient collateral to post as initial margin. The diamonds in the left-hand panels show collateral requirements relative to dealers’ unencumbered assets, with different colours again representing different levels of market volatility. Even the requirements based on high levels of volatility do not exceed 3% of the unencumbered assets of any dealer for which it was possible to estimate this figure. Although many unencumbered assets held by dealers do not presently qualify as acceptable collateral for initial  margins, some of these could be swapped for assets that do qualify.

By contrast, dealers may need to increase the liquidity of their assets as central clearing is extended. The centre panels of Graph 2 show similar patterns in potential variation margin calls as prevailing levels of market volatility change. In the worst case, variation margins could be several  billions of dollars, which would have to be paid in cash within a day. These margin calls could represent as much as 13% of a G14 dealer’s current  holdings of cash and cash equivalents in the case of IRS. A five-day sequence of large variation margin calls that could be expected with a probability of one in 200 would equate to around 28% of current cash and cash equivalents in the worst case.

These results also have direct implications for the liquidity provisions of CCPs, as they would have to pay variation margins in the case of default of  a clearing member. Access to central bank funds in distressed circumstances would help to ensure that CCPs could make substantial variation  margin payments in a timely manner.

With a probability of one in 10,000, non-margin resources at risk from the failure of one particular dealer, two particular dealers or any dealer with sufficiently adversely affected portfolios would respectively be 20%, 37% and 42% of total initial margins for IRS, and 36%, 46% and 65% of total initial margins for CDS. If prevailing levels of volatility were high, these figures would equate to $21 billion, $39 billion and $44 billion for IRS, and $13 billion, $16 billion and $23 billion for CDS. By comparison, the G14 dealers contributing to default funds had equity of around $1.5 trillion as of 30 June 2010.

Alas, the problem is that the bulk of this “equity” is, for lack of a better word, worthless, as it is based on such assets as intangibles, and MTM-locked up assets, whose true value is far, far lower than where banks carry these. And of course, the need to sell them would come precisely at a time when everyone else would be selling. Which means that in the event of a market lockup, there would be no one on the other side of the trade, meaning the entire CCP experiment would likely collapse spectacularly, as nowhere near enough cash is available.

Next, we look at one of the “percentile probability” charts to determine just where the system is weakest, because these uber-6 sigma events tend to become the norm when TSHTF. According to the BIS, the absolute worst case scenario from a risk management standpoint is a 0.002% probability event, at which dealers could see $160 billion in total margin shortfalls across the IRS and CDS book. And there are those who wonder why banks are stockpiling cash for a rainy day…

The BIS issues a rather ominous warning at this point:

Even after incorporating expected shortfalls into initial margin requirements, however, a sizeable gap remains between the total margin shortfalls (relative to total initial margins) that could be expected with very low probabilities for CDS and equivalent shortfalls for IRS. CCPs clearing CDS may wish to make an adjustment to default fund contributions to ensure that this is taken into account.

Will dealers do this? Of course not.

While there is much more in the full BIS paper extract (found here), we were less than impressed with the methodology used to construct hypothetical CDS and IRS portfolios. In a nutshell, the BIS assumed a hedged book and matched-maturity positions: something, which every OTC trader knows, absolutely never happens, as the whole purpose of derivatives is to take low margin risk positions that coincide with the herd, and thus, not hedge (otherwise what is the point?). As such, we believe, that the full potential shortfall on the up to $600 trillion in gross notional is the full net exposure in the market at any time. Which we are convinced is well over the $160 billion 0.002% case (according to some estimates, between CDS (this one is easy – just look at weekly DTCC data) and IRS (this one is far more complicated), the net notional at risk at any given moment is anywhere between $2 and 8 trillion. And this is capital that the G-14 supposedly have handy for a rainy day?

And next, moving away from dry academia, we shift to one of our favorite authors, BNY’s Nicholas Colas, who coinicdentally, discussed precisely this issue in his Friday edition of his Mornina Markets Briefing:

Bad Nightmares and Good Collateral

Summary: The rulemaking around Dodd-Frank is far from over, but one area of new regulation drawing a lot of attention is what to do about over-the-counter derivates trading. It is a huge market – some $600 trillion at the end of last year – and dominated by interest rate contracts, where the notional value is $465 trillion. Just a little perspective – the entire value of the S&P 500 is $12 trillion. If even a portion of this trading moves to a quasi-exchange structure, it will require significantly more collateral than is currently used to support this market. That is strongly bullish for sovereign debt, should these changes come to pass. This dynamic got us wondering what “good collateral” really means anymore. U.S. dollars and Treasury securities are the bedrock of trading collateral, but those assets might not work as well for this function in the next financial crisis as they have in the past. The reason is that sovereign debt is increasingly losing its “risk-free asset” status as developed countries – not just the U.S., mind you – issue more debt to stimulate their economies and avoid taking the pain for previous mistakes.

My longest lasting repeat nightmare, which this year celebrates its third decade festering in my psyche, is that I have failed a class in business school and therefore don’t actually have my degree. For the first 10 years after graduating I kept my diploma under my bed, so vivid was that particular dream. The actual class that causes this lingering worry was ‘The Pricing of Illiquid Securities,” focusing primarily on exotic mortgage backed bonds. It was part fixed income analysis, part options math, and wholly difficult to understand. I almost failed it. Almost. Thankfully it was pass/fail, and the transcript clearly has a “P.”

But pricing illiquid assets has become a popular form of reality TV, from PBS’ Antiques Roadshow to Pawn Stars to Auction Kings . The formula is largely the same – walk in with something obscure, and an expert will tell you what it’s worth and/or give you cold, hard cash for the item. The analysis is a combination of authentication, historical sleuthing and market analysis of likely buyers and the price they will pay. The head of a rare doll might fetch $10,000. An entire motorcycle, even if owned by a minor celebrity, might only be $5,000. Every item is different and has to be appraised on its own history and merits.

There has been a recent flurry of activity in one capital markets dedicated to oddball illiquid securities – the pricing and trading of over-the-counter derivatives such as interest rate contracts. The reason for the attention is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which gave the Securities & Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission the power to restructure the ways in which OTC derivatives trade and settle. The new rules aren’t out yet, and likely won’t be available until July, according to various press accounts. That said, there are a few “Hard points” to consider:

  • The global market for OTC derivatives is huge. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the notional amount of total contracts was $601 trillion at the end of 2010.
  • It is primarily an interest rate market. Of the $601 trillion, just over 75% ($465 trillion) is tied up in interest rate contracts, most of which are swaps.
  • This interest rate swaps market is still growing. The poster child of troublesome OTC derivatives, Credit Default Swaps, is down to just $30 trillion in notional value from $42 trillion in December 2008. At the same time, the market for interest rate contracts continues to grow, up to the previously  mentioned $465 trillion from $433 trillion in December 2008.

The reason all is this is significant is simple: a change in how these instruments trade, from strictly OTC to something that more closely resembles an “exchange” could involve market participants posting consistent and predetermined collateral in order to clear trades. That’s not the way it is done now. The major banks that drive this market have freedom to determine what collateral is needed both to initiate a trading relationship and to keep it going. See here for more details:

All this brings up a whole host of interesting issues, such as how much collateral the major players in OTC derivatives will have to pony up in order to keep trading. It is impossible to come up with a number at this point, given that the rules are still being written and the market structures to support a new trading regime are not yet assembled. July 2011 was the initial target date for proposed rules, but it appears to be slipping. See

Underneath this bubbling surface of regulatory confusion, however, there is an equally interesting existential topic: what is “good” collateral, anyway? In some ways, it is probably easier for a pawn shop to determine the appropriate price for a used electric guitar than it is for an exchange to decide what assets a market participant needs to post in order to transact buy/sell orders. In the spirit of a thumbnail case study, we went to the CME Group website and pulled what kinds of assets they consider “Good Collateral” and the haircuts they give certain types of assets. Before we review that data, however, it makes sense to consider what makes some collateral better than others. A quick list:

  • Good collateral should be something that everyone agrees is valuable. Basically, it is anything that you would rush to pick up off the street before someone else got to it. Gold, developed country currency, and fixed income instruments are all good collateral.
  • It shouldn’t vary too much in price, regardless of market conditions. Ideally it would appreciate slightly in value when financial troubles strike, since that is most likely when counterparties fail and you need the collateral to ensure a trade can clear.
  • It should be very liquid. Again, markets only really worry about the value of collateral when things are going south. That’s not the time to find out that South Florida condo real estate isn’t anyone’s idea of solid collateral.

The attached chart shows some assets that the CME considers “Good Collateral” and the haircuts it gives to those assets. The bigger the haircut, the more of the asset you have to post to support your positions. You can find them here: A few observations:

  • U.S. Government and agency paper is “King of the Hill.” Only two assets get no haircut: U.S. dollar cash and U.S. Treasury bills. Agency debt is a 3% haircut, and longer dated Treasuries are 3.5-5.0%.
  • Then comes developed country currencies and debt, at 5-9% haircuts.
  • Gold and the Mexican peso aren’t often put in the same risk category, but they are here. Both receive a 15% haircut, which means that in the eyes of the CME they have equivalent appeal as collateral.
  • At the far end of the equation are the Turkish lira (20%) and equities (30%).

Two things pop out to me from this quick analysis:

  • If there ever is an exchange-like trading mechanism set up for OTC derivatives, there is going to be a real run on U.S. government paper. The CME’s list of assets and haircuts tells the story – Treasuries are the most efficient way to fund collateral. The notional amount of interest rate swaps alone – some $465 trillion – is enough to swamp the $14.3 trillion of total government debt outstanding, let alone the $9.7 trillion that is actually available for purchase.
  • The whole notion of good collateral is very much anchored in the thought that U.S. sovereign debt is “risk free.” Whether or not that is true in the absolute sense is irrelevant. Remember that collateral needs to be at least crisis-resistant and preferably negatively correlated to asset prices during financial stress. With the U.S. government currently at loggerheads over how to deal with the Federal Debt Ceiling and the most likely path is to simply issue a lot more government paper, the time could be coming where Treasuries no longer fulfill the purpose of “Good Collateral” during crisis. They are just as likely to be the cause of a financial storm rather than provide shelter from the rain.

Bottom line: instead of wondering how to nudge the silver market (lower) or the ES and TEN contracts (higher), perhaps it is time for the key exchanges, which are obviously captured by the very same G14s on whose tithes their existence depends, to actually proactively engage in some risk-mitigation when it comes to the one biggest threat: not that of the measly several billion dollar silver market, but of the $600 trillion IRS and CDS market, which is and continues to be the biggest ticking timebomb in capital markets.  And on the other hand, if anyone is wondering what will cause the biggest run on US government bonds… ever… then as soon as every dealer is forced to be on a CPP, all one needs to do is a massive “risk-flaring” collapse which sends everyone scrambling to provide collateral. And since there is a 40-to-1 ratio of notional outstanding in OTC derivatives to total US debt, well, readers can do the math.

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Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:46 | Link to Comment philgramm
philgramm's picture

600,000,000,000,000? Seriously? It’s like a video game. Yay!!!!!!!!

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:00 | Link to Comment CPL
CPL's picture

Total worldwide derivatives market is around 1.4 Quadrillion dollars.

So when the governments of the world mention printing trillions to save themselves, it’s true that it’s just a drop in the bucket.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:10 | Link to Comment cat2
cat2's picture

Unwinding that is truly the end game.  Based on past performance it will be bailed out with QE printing.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:25 | Link to Comment Michael
Michael's picture

G14 (or Group of 14 dealers that dominate derivatives trading including Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, BNP Paribas, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, RBS, Societe Generale, UBS and Wells Fargo Bank)

I’m glad they narrowed it down to just about 14 with their m&a activity.

It will make the guillotine processing facility job go that much smother.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:23 | Link to Comment cara leaf
cara leaf's picture

Here is the $64 question:

If Dodd-Frank had been in effect, would it have prevented the ’08 Crash.

I say….ummmm…No.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:45 | Link to Comment Transformer
Transformer's picture

And here’s the $128 question.  What happens to this $1.4 quadrillion mess when Hyperinflationary Depression comes a knockin?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 08:17 | Link to Comment TwoShortPlanks
TwoShortPlanks's picture

The system crashes and a new one is invented.

Mind-you, the real owners of this ICU-Bound dying fiat system left the building. They’ll just skim while it’s still breathing. But when they bothered to clean-out their Petty-Cash draw (US$1 Billion) you know it’s gonna tank.
On 8 January 2001, an Extraordinary General Meeting of the BIS decided to restrict the right to hold shares in the BIS exclusively to central banks and approved the mandatory repurchase of all 72,648 BIS shares held by private shareholders as of that date against payment of compensation of CHF 16,000 per share. The former private shareholders were informed by means of the Notes to Private Shareholders dated 15 September 2000 and 10 January 2001, which described the transaction in more detail; a further Note was sent on 27/28 November 2002 following the Tribunal’s 22 November 2002 decision.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 08:35 | Link to Comment mayhem_korner
mayhem_korner's picture

It feeds a family of four for two weeks…

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:26 | Link to Comment High Plains Drifter
High Plains Drifter's picture

is it possible to unwind such a mess?    i heard a lot of talk a few years ago about this stuff and it was called the black hole of finance. it is easy to see why?  it is something that cannot be fixed.  even greenie himself said he did not understand it.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:39 | Link to Comment BlackholeDivestment
BlackholeDivestment's picture

Black Hole? Never heard of it. Ah haa haa haaa!!!

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:31 | Link to Comment Greyhat
Greyhat's picture

They can not unwind it, thats why they “save Greece”. Its all about the CDS contracts. They try to buy time.…

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 07:08 | Link to Comment YHC-FTSE
YHC-FTSE's picture

Exactly. I was wondering when we’ll be touching on this topic again, and it’s far worse than I remembered. There is no way to fix this, ever. We’ll need another planet full of suckers to shift this mess.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:00 | Link to Comment Doode
Doode's picture

I spoke with folks in charge of handling all of those positions at a major bank pondering why the numbers were so freakeshly high a few years back – it turns out this number is very deceptive. There is no central clearing house for derivatives so both buy and sell transactions are recorded as separate derivaties. The result that when a bank buys a derivative it records it as a transaction – then to unload that very same derivative they issue a hedge which is yet another separate derivative. Therefore net is 0 (spread), but on books it looks like they have 2 times the exposure – one on a buy side and one on a sell side. Now, the same derivative is recorded at each bank and each time it changes hands so the actual number the same derivative is recorded is equal 2 times the number of transactions this derivative had. Imagine if all that GE stock traded was always recorded as 100 shares bought and 100 shares sold as 200 shares in risk exposure – that is what is happening here. The actual market is much much smaller and does not represent nearly the problem one would derive from the absolute number itself – it is of several orders of magnitude lower than the absolute number.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:23 | Link to Comment Amish Hacker
Amish Hacker's picture

Yes, but when there is a triggering event and your counterparty defaults, you’ll find that notional value becomes all too real.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:49 | Link to Comment traderjoe
traderjoe's picture

+ aig.

We were hours or days from a collapse of the
system if AIG went under. And what have they fixed since then?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:32 | Link to Comment High Plains Drifter
High Plains Drifter's picture

AIG is not fixed. it is the gift that keeps on giving. we don’t have any idea what was going on with that company, that is for sure.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:16 | Link to Comment Cheater5
Cheater5's picture

Totally agree with you.  Except for one thing.  When you sell a share after the trade clears you dont own any remaining exposure.  Since derivatives are contractural liabilities and are not generally novated when a trade occurs that goes through an intermediary it is booked as you have indicated – ie, in the case of CDS, contract written to the intermediary from “protection selling client” and contract written by the intermediary to “protection buying client.”  Net/Net if you look at the intermediary banks book, they should be flat (with obviously their commisions, fees, etc. as a possitive).  And that is true up until the “protection selling client” goes belly up without posting enough collateral (which he is unlikely to be able to secure if SHTF systematically – ie not with one single name).  At this point the intermediary bank is still on the hook (and must post collateral) to the “protection buying client.”

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:23 | Link to Comment bingocat
bingocat's picture

Presumably that is why people think it would be a good thing that they all get cleared on an exchange. Banks don’t want that because people like JPM make a LOT of money off the fact that trades are ‘customized for you, the client, and therefore we require a higher spread.’ The fear is that if trades are put through an exchange, the price transparency will kill their profits. This is not necessarily a valid fear – clearing is not the same thing as execution.

But if it all goes on the exchange, then the offsetting risks will all net out, and it will simply be the net open position of each party vis-a-vis the clearing exchange. This will wake a lot of people up, and this is the real reason why companies want special dispensation to not have to post so much collateral.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 06:58 | Link to Comment Highrev
Highrev's picture


Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:50 | Link to Comment Concentrated po…
Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.'s picture

Once upon a time a man told a small village, “I will buy monkeys for $10 each.”

Since there were many monkeys in the forest, the villagers caught them and sold them to the man.

As the supply of monkeys diminished, the villagers’ efforts slowed, so the man offered them $20 each.

They renewed their efforts but the supply of monkeys diminished further, so he increased his price to $25.

Soon no one could even find a monkey in the forest.

The man increased his price to $50, but announced, “Since I must go to the city on business, I authorize my assistant to buy monkeys on my behalf.”

As soon as his boss was gone, the assistant told the villagers, “My boss has collected lots of monkeys. I’ll sell them to you for $35 and then, when he returns, you can sell them to him for $50.”

The villagers rounded up all the money they could and bought as many monkeys as possible. Then they had monkeys everywhere…

… but they never saw the man or his assistant again.

And now you understand the workings of the stock market!

Moral of the story:  Promises to pay have lots of fine print and monkeys do not equal gold.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:27 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

That is SO AWESOME!!!!

Mind if I steal this?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:43 | Link to Comment terryfuckwit
terryfuckwit's picture

great analogy

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 08:49 | Link to Comment 4horse
4horse's picture

monkeybusiness. yes

yet here to be seen, timestamped, are the same hourly everyday ZH nitpickers engaged in what is no longer mere communal grooming but, me no butts, the vacuous foreplay of something far more obscene . . . and constantly coming

fucked. one-at-a-time. while being caged

yes, by all means stall-crawl-and-caterwaul in your incessant goose-goose, grunt-grunt and alltalk

here is it so easily seen– yeh. obscene –you all make your living with your mouths

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 09:05 | Link to Comment Concentrated po…
Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.'s picture

is that a haiku?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:06 | Link to Comment decon
decon's picture

After reading this it should be clear to everyone that the world’s central banks will do anything, anything! to try and control interest rates!

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:43 | Link to Comment Dolemite
Dolemite's picture

PMs stocks and oil heading lower?

This would certainly support the Treasuries to the moon thesis 😉

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:56 | Link to Comment Monedas
Monedas's picture

Troll alert ! Trying to talk silver down becuz you’re short ? “Clever trick Captain !”….Das Boot. Monedas 2011

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:01 | Link to Comment Dolemite
Dolemite's picture

Lol I wish I had that kind of power, or ability to see the future.

No, I am just a guy who looks at charts and puts in limit orders with stop losses if I am wrong.

I merely offer my opinion and trade it accordingly. (and for the record I am long physical silver… just short the paper for the time being)

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:52 | Link to Comment Votewithabullet
Votewithabullet's picture

Danke monedas for the troll alert. I might have missed it otherwise. Even though the avatar has your name alongside, adding it again at the bottom  and with the year…pure genius.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 06:33 | Link to Comment Monedas
Monedas's picture

I am over my head with this crowd….I’m just a peasant hoarder from the hinterland….but I do try to protect the PMs with “Capa y Espada” (with my cape and my sword) ! Monedas 2011 Genius is a little over the top, but thanks !

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:45 | Link to Comment Manthong
Manthong's picture

If you drink the whole bottle, you deserve to puke your guts out.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 03:33 | Link to Comment iNull
iNull's picture

Bukowski would disagree.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 06:08 | Link to Comment Reptil
Reptil's picture

Belushi (John) too 🙂

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 08:43 | Link to Comment Manthong
Manthong's picture

New paradigm I guess, and this is what we got now (0:37).

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:49 | Link to Comment RobotTrader
RobotTrader's picture

Like I said, the commodities are holding up well for now, especially copper which should be getting destroyed with the weak economic data.

The slightest whiff of weakness in copper, gold, oil, etc. could easily send stocks into an epic crash.

If that happens, they you could see the 10-yr. yield completely collapse to world record lows.

By that time, Interactive Brokers will be offering negative margin rates on listed big board stocks to entice more speculators to belly up to the NYSE casino.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:58 | Link to Comment Spitzer
Spitzer's picture

And how long do you expect this run to treasuries to last ?3 to 6 months ?

Copper is not getting destroyed, the TSX is up on days when the dow is down over 100 points, gold goes up no matter what, even in the summer.

Things are a changin.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:23 | Link to Comment DoctoRx
DoctoRx's picture

A good Fight Club entry, Robo.  Tho you’re wrong about gold.  And technically you overstated things re “the slightest whiff of weakness”.  It’ll take more than a whiff.  But as biflation bites in a deflationary direction, the 10 year has massive downside (yield) potential.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:52 | Link to Comment phungus_mungus
phungus_mungus's picture

a trillion….

from here on out everything will be known simple, as, a $$$shitload$$$

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:49 | Link to Comment Belrev
Belrev's picture

This $600T is a misleading discussion. If you credit default swap or interest rate swap contracts are each for $1B notional, then what is the total number of these contracts, what do they net out to? The notional catches the eye, but there is not as much wipe out power under it as people are led to beleive.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:55 | Link to Comment phungus_mungus
phungus_mungus's picture

Its not real money anyways…. is it….

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:14 | Link to Comment cat2
cat2's picture

The owners of that (influencial rich folks with washington lobbists) will want the value paid to them in $.  Fire up the presses.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:21 | Link to Comment Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

The money may be fiat, but the anarchy unleashed from pandora’s box if everything “collapsed spectacularly” would be no illusion.

It would be Greece, Libya, Yemen, Syria, ad infinitim, on a roid rage.

And, that could be either hemorrhoid or steriod, which ever tickles your fancy.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:55 | Link to Comment Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden's picture

Thank you for pointing out gross vs. net notional 101 (which incidentally worked out how in Lehman Ch.11 when gross was net?). Regardless did you read this part: “we believe, that the full potential shortfall on the up to $600
trillion in gross notional is the full net exposure in the market at any
time. Which we are convinced is well over the $160 billion 0.002% case
(according to some estimates, between CDS (this one is easy – just look
at weekly DTCC data) and IRS (this one is far more complicated), the net
notional at risk at any given moment is anywhere between $2 and 8
And this is capital that the G-14 supposedly have handy for a
rainy day?”

Probably not since it took about 6 minutes form the moment the article appeared until your comment…

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:57 | Link to Comment redguard
redguard's picture


Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:05 | Link to Comment Dapper Dan
Dapper Dan's picture

It takes me 10 to 15 minutes to reply to a post,  spell check and all.

Tyler replys in less then 10 sec.

Check the time post on TD’s reply. You got a delay button?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:16 | Link to Comment cat2
cat2's picture

Well 6 minutes or so.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:28 | Link to Comment Belrev
Belrev's picture

Tyler, I am not disagreeing with your. But $2 to $8 Trillion of actual wipe out potential is shall we say “manageable” by the Central Bank standards. And they will not be deterred in defending their powerbase and life style.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:34 | Link to Comment Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden's picture

It will add up eventually. Dumping $5 trillion in USD in the market overnight will leave a mark.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:06 | Link to Comment Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

Would tend to agree, even though the US with the largest GDP, approximately 14 trillion. Dumping $5 trillion overnight would more than just make a mark.

Could be the beginning of an event horizon presaging the implosion of the whole turd fest.

“over the next year and a half exchanges need to onboard over $200 trillion notional in various products, and in doing so, counterparites, better known as the G14  will soon need to post billions in initial margin, and as a brand new BIS report indicates, will likely need significant extra cash to be in compliance with regulatory requirements. Not only that, but once trading on an exchange, the G14 “could face a cash shortfall in very volatile markets when daily margins are increased, triggering demands for several billions of dollars to be paid within a day.” Per the BIS “These margin calls could represent as much as 13 percent of a G14 dealer’s current holdings of cash and cash equivalents in the case of interest rate swaps.”

And, from that I have to suspect it’s no coincidence that I read a recommendation somewhere suggesting that it was best to be in cash for the next six months. Of course that means that just possibly these turds are using my cash to back up their bets.

Of course, I’m just a paranoid schizophrenic that sees conspiracies around every corner, but if the proletariate were to start pulling cash from accounts, would there be enough to cover the margin calls for these contracts?

I realize drawing a straight line between these two points would take a hyperbolic curve, but nothing gets published without a hidden agenda behind it, except for Tyler, of course.

At the least, the FED has been pumping money into the banks to help, but even the FED would have to balk at entering $35 trillion at the keyboard at a moments notice.

My only question is, why would they only need to post billions in initial margin when they’re onboarding some $200 trillion in notionals? The rubber just ain’t hittin’ the road on that one.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:14 | Link to Comment bigwavedave
bigwavedave's picture

Just a skid mark. Embarassing only if you drop off your own laundry. Which these guys dont…

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:34 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

It aint the skid. It’s the snapped back or the busted driveshaft universal that will pole vault that overvalued pig of a car out of the pothole … er… abyss.

The wing loading must be a bitch for that piggie to fly. Anywhere except straight down.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:54 | Link to Comment Monetative Easing
Monetative Easing's picture

The “G14” nets down IRS exposures on a pretty frequent basis.  I appreciate what this article is trying to say but it seems to overstate the risks in the rates swap market.

And Dodd/Frank is a bloated piece of crap meant to benefit the CME and its benefactors (google “Chris Dodd’s wife AKA Jackie Clegg).  Or better yet, I will supply you a link:

Turns out that Ms. Dodd is on the board of the CME (and was at the time that Dodd authored his bill).   The CME stands to finally garner some fees that it has been missing since the OTC market took off.

Interest rate swaps never were a problem during the financial crisis.  That fell to structured mortgage products, their derivative offshoots and CDS which is far more risky than interest rate swaps.  No, the only problem with the interest rate swap market is that it created formidable competition with the exchanges.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:34 | Link to Comment cara leaf
cara leaf's picture

Would Dodd-Frank have prevented the financial meltdown?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:42 | Link to Comment Monetative Easing
Monetative Easing's picture

No.  Dodd-Frank is essentially creating a bunch of brand new TBTF entities in the form of CCPs.  The only thing it does is more clearly disclose where the exposures lie.  However the daisy-chain exposures still exist.  Furthermore, it will completely alter the liquidity in some markets and cause some end-users to run more risk because of its prohibitive treatment of certain types of hedges.

Dodd-Frank isn’t a solution.  Its a bloated, ill conceived piece of legislation written by lobbyists for the CME and other exchanges.

This is not to say these markets shouldn’t be regulated.  But the U.S. congress is populated with people whose only objective is to enrich their campaigns and their benefactors so legislation is not designed to strengthen markets.  Instead its written to strengthen the hands of groups of players within markets.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:47 | Link to Comment terryfuckwit
terryfuckwit's picture

could it just mean more complex lies and frauds from the G14… regulation hasn’t stopped any of the suicide practices to date..

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:43 | Link to Comment High Plains Drifter
High Plains Drifter's picture

yes let us also not forget that the slickster dodd,  also got a sweatheart mortgage deal from his friends over at countryslide.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 04:02 | Link to Comment euclidean
euclidean's picture

Jesus H Dodd, ME. What an incestuous bunch of criminals you have running the country! A real 2011 Bonney and Clyde. A Director of CBOT to boot! It’s lucky the US has laws to take care of these folks. Really. They are taken care of pretty well.

Might be quicker if you can tell me if you have ANY independent law abiding Senators with integrity … aarrrgh forget it, who am I kidding.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:47 | Link to Comment DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

The line in the article that got me:

“And there are those who wonder why banks are stockpiling cash for a rainy day…”

I am stockpiling everrything I can for a rainy day.

Great article.  I know very little about the huge derivatives subject.  But, I was able to learn a more here.

+ $1540

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 07:18 | Link to Comment chubbar
chubbar's picture

I’ve read an article that addressed this notational issue (sorry no link) and the conclusion IIRC was the total net on all derivatives (1.2 quad at the time I believe) came in around 16-18 trillion net. That number seems close to what Tyler is putting out for the net on the 600 trillion for the Interest swaps,etc.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 07:21 | Link to Comment bonddude
bonddude's picture

“Brooksley Borne…White Courtesy Telephone for …Brooksley Borne”

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:12 | Link to Comment chump666
chump666's picture

Also collateral, CDS are priced on assumption re: collateral values.  They are extraordinary risky plays.  Now Asia is involved in the counterparty CDS risk on their property markets…

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:14 | Link to Comment euclidean
euclidean's picture

Now, see what you made TD do? What is not misleading is that every 1% movement in the $600T market is what is the real liability to the losing counterparty. So the gist of the story remains valid applicable to $600T, representing the collective pool of liability – albeit leveraged substantially from notional contracts. Margin requirements operate on the $600T, which (contrary to CME) would be linked with market volatility and liquidity.

It leads me to think that (a) before 2012 will come a defeat of the FD requirements and the freeballing of the G14 continues = onwards and upwards to another crash, or (b) all this deliberate fun and games with margins will end on the day collateral is actually posted (haha, and so Santa comes bearing gifts for the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny). Since the banking cartel will not seek to impose any restrictions on itself, I put money on the FD bill being laughed out of town.

Until the next big fall, any volatility that creates >1% swing on $600T means there exists a few someone’s on the hook for >$6T. We’ll find out eventually since it is highly unlikely to go unnoticed.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:59 | Link to Comment silvertrain
silvertrain's picture

Even buffet said they were weapons of mass destruction..

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:05 | Link to Comment Spitzer
Spitzer's picture

Birkshire would have gone bankrupt in 2008 if not for the bailouts. ^That goes to show how much Buffet knows about economics……

He knows fuck all. And as for his stupid farm land inflation hedge idea, Gonzalo Lira filled that full of holes the other day.…

Warren Buffet lives and die’s with fiat.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:48 | Link to Comment I am a Man I am…
I am a Man I am Forty's picture

buffett doesn’t need credit if he is farming, lira’s main points, buffett has lost his edge anyway, him and munger, no minds are as sharp at 80 plus

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:35 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

Wanna bet? Granny lost her edge somewhere past 86. She lived peacefully till 94.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:40 | Link to Comment I am a Man I am…
I am a Man I am Forty's picture

i’m talking judgment on investing decisions, hirings, etc., being able to tell if some ceo u hired is front running you, not just mentally alert and can hold a conversation

good for ur granny just the same, for all i know she rant hft quant hedge fund

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:25 | Link to Comment Chicken_Little
Chicken_Little's picture

and don’t forget that Blythe Masters is being said she’s one of the 3 that created these things. She reminds me of the queen egg laying alien in the Aliens movies. And where is she now? Instead of being blown out into space, she’s JP Morgan’s commodities chief and surely behind most of the manipulations. Jim Sinclair, Jim Willie, and many others called these things well before Warren did. Even Bob Moriarty said recently that there aren’t 10 people that understand these things. I’m no expert in these things, but here’s what I can gather from a layman’s view. These are insurance policies outside of regulation (OTC) that require no collateral. They are only as good as the counterparty has the ability to pay. In the AIG thing, AIG Financial Division should have been split apart and Joe Cassano put in jail. He’s only one of many that belong in jail. The big Wall Street and international banks that caused this should have been allowed to fail thus cleaning the system of these crooks and all their derivitaves. Now these big banks are bigger and the Fed and ECB and BOE are helping them steal from us. OTC derivatives will be the un-doing of most of the global finance structure. Until these derivatives are cleared, this is the gorilla in the room that nobody sees. Sorry for my rant and I think most ZH’ers see this gorilla.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:37 | Link to Comment cara leaf
cara leaf's picture

Warren Buffet propped up Goldman.  Definitely one of the good guys.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:34 | Link to Comment cara leaf
cara leaf's picture

Warren Buffet propped up Goldman.  Definitely one of the good guys.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:44 | Link to Comment cara leaf
cara leaf's picture

Do as I say, not as I do.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 21:56 | Link to Comment Arius
Arius's picture

we are tosted…good luck trading!

titanic comes to mind…

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 03:37 | Link to Comment iNull
iNull's picture

Eh. Too early. Check out Dan Eric. This is just wave four. Still need the wave five. August my friendos. Then things get biblical.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:04 | Link to Comment buzzsaw99
buzzsaw99's picture

And there are those who wonder why banks are stockpiling cash for a rainy day…

They have stockpiled borrowed reserves as they are incentivized[sic] to do. Loss reserves have been given out as bonuses. Counterparty risk will be dealt with AIG style. Buffett and every other derivative gambler is whining about Dodd Frank so don’t expect that to remain law or to be enforced in the case of non-repealment[sic].

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:05 | Link to Comment chump666
chump666's picture

Very good post.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:02 | Link to Comment buzzsaw99
buzzsaw99's picture

Fascinating piece nonetheless.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:51 | Link to Comment Hansel
Hansel's picture

If the run to treasuries occurs as suggested in this article, delivery fails will also skyrocket.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:47 | Link to Comment Amish Hacker
Amish Hacker's picture is a good site for following this.

In the bond meltup of ’08, there was massive naked shorting going on, conveniently overlooked by regulators. Imho, yes, we’ll see this again if the margin problems laid out in the article come to pass.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:08 | Link to Comment BlackholeDivestment
BlackholeDivestment's picture

You have probably seen this guy’s movie etc… but if not, it’s pretty good. and he posts ”failure to deliver”.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:07 | Link to Comment user2011
user2011's picture

Well, I am glad that I am numb to those numbers already.   I know we are fucked, whether we are fucked by a 600 lb gorilla or 5000 lb elephant.   We are just fucked.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:23 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

An irate silverback is good enough.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:10 | Link to Comment Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

Maybe they should institute late afternoon, early morning, circuit breaker coffee breaks.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:33 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

3600 point days? For what? A week?

Then what?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:09 | Link to Comment Slap That Taco
Slap That Taco's picture

Great article-helps to explain the “why” of the Treasury conundrum.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:13 | Link to Comment Seasmoke
Seasmoke's picture

no question Derivatives are what will destroy the market once and for all

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:18 | Link to Comment Dr. No
Dr. No's picture

Not sure who would buy treasuries rather than just hold cash. In a panic push up of prices would treasuries actually exceed their face and coupons? HFTs might be so stupid. Kinda of like wopr and nuke war.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:52 | Link to Comment buzzsaw99
buzzsaw99's picture

I inferred the ir down draft theory differently (forced buying) but the exact mechanism which forced the spread compression wasn’t exactly clear. I believe zh reported that the fed was selling ir puts, perhaps eventually those on the other side of the trade get blown out of the water and try to cover in a dearthy bond market? It goes like this in my mind – something breaks, somebody gets their tit caught in a wringer, then everyone elses titties get sucked in too, the fed doesn’t try to help and so it gets all crack of doom up in the bond markets for certain people.

[/talking out my ass]

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:37 | Link to Comment BlackholeDivestment
BlackholeDivestment's picture

Buzz, don’t forget to at least post ”Ichiban” ta go with the side order, it’s number one on weekends, don’t cha know?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:28 | Link to Comment chump666
chump666's picture

Now talking of Asia, someone have a spread for TEPCO CDS’s?  ZH?

japan govt bails out that rotten company, what do you think it will do to Asian risk spreads? …It will blow them out to hell.  Good example of the above UST/CDS/margin call

from wires:

*Further deterioration in Tepco’s financial situation could adversely affect their financials and therefore trigger their action to cover losses, which will likely take place in the JGB market as well.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:28 | Link to Comment Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden's picture

Points upfront

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:34 | Link to Comment MacGruber
MacGruber's picture

I love the concept of the OTC exchange. It’s the equivelent of stressing the importance of documenting genocide. Why not just stop the genocide? How about forcing these gambling houses to just cancel a few hundred trillion in contracts? Oh shit, sorry, logic.

Amazing analysis though, I learn a lot each read.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:31 | Link to Comment Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

“These aren’t the $600 trillion dollar OTC derivatives you’re looking for.”

Darth Vader

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:15 | Link to Comment Bárðarbunga
Bárðarbunga's picture

That was Obi-Wan.

Next time wave your hand as you’re saying it.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:37 | Link to Comment Chicken_Little
Chicken_Little's picture

OTC works when the parties have the ability to pay. When they don’t as in AIG , the taxpayers pay and are the unwilling counterparties. Sure it’s not my money that the fed prints up and gives to them, but go to the grocery store and gas pumps and utility bills you pat outside of “core” inflation. Wake up people, money printing and these OTC derivatives are killing us.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:29 | Link to Comment chinaguy
chinaguy's picture

The whole article……

Black Swan = “the net notional at risk at any given moment is anywhere between $2 and 8 trillion.”

Borrowed from all CBs – & off loaded to future generations – no problem

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:35 | Link to Comment Steroid
Steroid's picture

Did I miss something? Since when Mexican Peso as good as gold?

Should I ask since when gold is as good as the Mexican Peso?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:57 | Link to Comment topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

They are neither good nor bad. It is purely about volatility.

Gold is considered about as volatile as the mexican peso, if the dollar is your reference point.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:00 | Link to Comment Ahmeexnal
Ahmeexnal's picture

When the USD collapses, commerce will have to find alternate currencies: gold, silver, canadian dollars….and mexican pesos. Canada has less than 4 tons of gold. Mexico has around 100 tons of gold. Guess which currency will sink with the USD and which one will survive.…

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 11:50 | Link to Comment Bicycle Repairman
Bicycle Repairman's picture

“They are neither good nor bad. It is purely about volatility.”

Volatility is the wrong measure.  Survivability is.  Sure the Mexican peso has more gold backing than the CDN.  But why not cut out the middle man entirely?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 07:50 | Link to Comment LudwigVon
LudwigVon's picture

Since when Mexican Peso as good as gold?

When one is considering collateral. And when HSP is validated and the Mexican Peso isSilver backed, I, for one, agree with the CME that Gold is equivalent to Silver when considering historical monetary metals. Perhaps the CME might enter the new Zim currency as well at that same 15% discount to FRN’s.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:32 | Link to Comment monopoly
monopoly's picture

That is way too much too print. Even for Bernank. I have seen this number before and will admit have a hard time understanding it all, but I know what I have to do and am ready.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:38 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

It’s all Binary. Ones and Zeros.

It will hold off the run on the bank of all banks until the cotton harvest catches up in sufficient to match the imaginary printing press.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:42 | Link to Comment Downtoolong
Downtoolong's picture

Gold and the Mexican peso aren’t often put in the same risk category, but they are here.


Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:44 | Link to Comment whisperin
whisperin's picture


I would think those banks etc. who drive down their duration on some of these may escape some of the fallout. If they can wipe out any long term duration in their derivatives they should survive long enough to see how the regulatory apparatus is really going to work. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be putting up any monies until the amount of margin (initially) were set in stone so I could look at the other counterparties as well. I think the safest bet is none at all.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:47 | Link to Comment Dr Zaius
Dr Zaius's picture

“…the only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess.”  – WOPR

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 02:05 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

That movie packed all theaters in our mall standing room only with lines 6 across snaking across both levels and a 9 hour wait.

Even today I still watch it with some sense of wonder.

However, I think the SAC is out of the Nuclear business as it used to be. Those were the days we all were living 32 minutes from either hell or peace delivered within 30 minutes.

“Greed is Good” is the other line from that time I remember as well.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:04 | Link to Comment Chicken_Little
Chicken_Little's picture

I can’t quote the source from 3 years ago, but they said if all the OTC derivatives were called and made whole by the parties able to pay, only 60 trillion would be left unfunded. Huh? WTF? Weapons of financial destruction is an easy comment. What should have happened in 2008 was Bush declaring a financial emergency and declaring all derivatives null and void. Then the big Wall Street banks would have failed and the regional banks supported by the FDIC and the system cleaned. No more bullion banks, no more Blythe Masters and GS doing “Gods work”. I’m so tired of Dick Cheney’s and Hank Paulson’s and the rest of them. Sorry about this rant, a little Off Topic.


Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:47 | Link to Comment cherry picker
cherry picker's picture

A whole new set of acronyms and words have been developed so derivatives will take on a whole new meaning, but the scam is the same and as old as the hills.

The old saying, “if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck it is probably a duck” applies to financial instruments whose descriptions are too large for the mind to grasp..

The suckers who get into the derivatives, even though they may have made billions, will end up losing that and much more.

Easy come, easy go holds as much truth now then when the phrase was coined.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:00 | Link to Comment Caviar Emptor
Caviar Emptor's picture

Yu can bet the line, take the odds or make “proposition bets”. The latter describes derivatives in their simplest form.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:56 | Link to Comment Caviar Emptor
Caviar Emptor's picture

I don’t profess to be an expert in the derivatives markets. Not even close.

But to me there’s a key piece of the puzzle missing in the discussion.

If ever there is an exchange-like trading mechanism set up for OTC derivatives, there is going to be a real run on U.S. government paper. 

The “run” on treasuries will have to be paid for with something, unless the Treasury is just going to give paper away. Where are the funds for these hundreds of trillions going to come from? So the next problem will be raising the cash. That would effectively render the group of 14 insolvent. Enter the Fed. They would have to set up a program such that hundreds of trillions of new crispy dollar bills would be available to purchase treasuries with. Sound familiar? This is in essence QE-Quantum-Xtra-HiTest. The Fed would purchase Treasury paper from PDs at concessionary rates sufficient to allow the PDs to retain enough to post collateral with. A mega program! The Fed’s balance sheet would be gargantuan. They would have to buy Treasuries at par, making interest rates effectively zero and real rates in the negative double digits. It’s truly QE to infinity. And that friends would stoke up biflation to the moon and collapse the real economy in the manner it is heading toward collapse now, just faster. And once again gold would be the clear winner.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:58 | Link to Comment holdbuysell
holdbuysell's picture

You answered my basic question on the ‘run on treasuries’ terminology in that it means a ‘run to buy’ rather than a ‘run to sell’.

You ask a good question: where do they get the initial money to buy the treasuries that would be the collateral?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:22 | Link to Comment trav7777
trav7777's picture

dump everything else or borrow it.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 11:57 | Link to Comment Bicycle Repairman
Bicycle Repairman's picture

Borrow it.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:24 | Link to Comment steveo
steveo's picture

It wouldnt be that big, just the margin has to be covered with known collateral.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:51 | Link to Comment Nate H
Nate H's picture

600 Trillion, in real exposure is probably about 20 trillion.  Most of that is forex swaps and stuff of large notional, little risk between big banks.  Alot, but not what it seems by a longshot.  (total money supply as debt is around 250-300 trillion in OECD -financial stuff largely offsetting)

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:23 | Link to Comment Chicken_Little
Chicken_Little's picture

So I was off by 40 trillion. So there’s only 20 trillion in derivatives that can’t be settled with current funds. Okay right. With alot of the financial problems in the world going on where these bomb contracts are getting close to having to pay off, where’s the money coming from? Greece never had the requirements to enter the Euro but GS helped them hide their balance sheet. JP Morgan is also to blame in other countries. These big banks need to fail. Sorry for rant #2.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:53 | Link to Comment ugly_avatar_Muir
ugly_avatar_Muir's picture

This seems like an excellent read.

But I must get some sleep.

I’ll read first thing….

As always thx ZH.


p.s. enjoy new avatar all

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 22:49 | Link to Comment holdbuysell
holdbuysell's picture

Sorry…a bit confused on the whole ‘run on treasuries’ point.

If collateral is desired to be in treasuries, then the run on them results in the massive buying of them as collateral or the massive selling of them to make good when TSHTF? What is the starting point?

The article seems to indicate that the run on them would be a massive buying spree to ensure enough collateral?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:16 | Link to Comment Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

Basically it’s just a way for the FED to cover up the fact that they entered $35 trillion at the keyboard and loaned it to the G-14 at negative interest rates.

No need to tell the proles about anything.

Magically the black hole is moved onto the backs of the American taxpayers via the Treasury, um…, I mean the American taxpayers grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:53 | Link to Comment topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

Yeah he is using the term “run on________” incorrectly.

His english is almost impeccable, but occasionally this bulgarian makes a small slip.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:10 | Link to Comment Destinapp
Destinapp's picture

Didn’t Geithner exempt a large part of this market?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:14 | Link to Comment pitz
pitz's picture

Just buy gold you motherfuckers.  They’ll start a QE3, QE4, QEx to try and knock treasuries down if any of this ever happened…

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:49 | Link to Comment DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Yes, just buy gold.  Especially if you do not own any in your physical possesion.

+ $1540

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:27 | Link to Comment trav7777
trav7777's picture

forcing people to scramble to buy treasuries to post as collateral on illusory bets would be incredibly deflationary in monetarist terms.

All that competition for paper; the USG could fund for nothing

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:15 | Link to Comment phyregold
phyregold's picture

Okay so for idiots like me,

Massive run on bonds good or bad?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:17 | Link to Comment pitz
pitz's picture

Just more fuel for a collapse.  The higher the highs…the lower the lows…

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:16 | Link to Comment Rick64
Rick64's picture

G14 dealers have more tricks then a clowns pocket. The collateral is the problem, remember REPO 105 that Lehman used which turned out to be fraudulent. If the G14 is forced to buy treasuries then a big problem will be solved for the FED and Treasury.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:22 | Link to Comment steveo
steveo's picture

Good, maybe my 401k wont be forced to buy treasuries

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:36 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

If you are a Federal Employee, this summer’s looting by dear old Uncle Sam might just leave you with a voucher IOU instead of a 401k you can spend.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:55 | Link to Comment Dr Zaius
Dr Zaius's picture

Yeah, but look on the bright side.  GS will very likely set up a market for the IOUs.  You’ll be fine.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:55 | Link to Comment DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

I cashed in my IRA in late 2008.  I paid the txes and penalties, but have slept well ever since.

I do not know if you can cash in a 401k.  If so, I would recommend doing it…

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:28 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

We cashed out ours earlier this year. The numbers were pitfully small and minus a good sized contribution… It became my first Silver Pile.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:14 | Link to Comment Caviar Emptor
Caviar Emptor's picture

We could extend the “good-bank, bad-bank” model to “good-century, bad-century” where toxic derivative risk gets a time spread. That way we kick the can to the 22nd century as a gift.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:20 | Link to Comment Pure Evil
Pure Evil's picture

I’ll buy that for a dollar!


Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:23 | Link to Comment malek
malek's picture

As part of Dodd-Frank, by the end of 2012, all standardised over-the-counter derivatives will have to be cleared through central counterparties.

I thought I had read that doesn’t apply to existing contracts.
If higher margins are required starting 2013, doesn’t that only mean that after their regular termination, less of those derivatives will be renewed by the sellers?

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:29 | Link to Comment ebworthen
ebworthen's picture

As long as the military is strong and in control any risk will be shifted to the U.S. middle class and their assets.

Those homeland security units had better start buying the Hummer mounted microwave guns and sonic control devices:

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:45 | Link to Comment blindman
blindman's picture

@ “The attached chart shows some assets that the CME considers “Good Collateral” and the haircuts it gives to those assets. The bigger the haircut, the more of the asset you have to post to support your positions. You can find them here: A few observations:
•U.S. Government and agency paper is “King of the Hill.” Only two assets get no haircut: U.S. dollar cash and U.S. Treasury bills. Agency debt is a 3% haircut, and longer dated Treasuries are 3.5-5.0%.
•Then comes developed country currencies and debt, at 5-9% haircuts.
•Gold and the Mexican peso aren’t often put in the same risk category, but they are here. Both receive a 15% haircut, which means that in the eyes of the CME they have equivalent appeal as collateral.
•At the far end of the equation are the Turkish lira (20%) and equities (30%).

Two things pop out to me from this quick analysis:
•If there ever is an exchange-like trading mechanism set up for OTC derivatives, there is going to be a real run on U.S. government paper. The CME’s list of assets and haircuts tells the story – Treasuries are the most efficient way to fund collateral. The notional amount of interest rate swaps alone – some $465 trillion – is enough to swamp the $14.3 trillion of total government debt outstanding, let alone the $9.7 trillion that is actually available for purchase.
•The whole notion of good collateral is very much anchored in the thought that U.S. sovereign debt is “risk free.” Whether or not that is true in the absolute sense is irrelevant. Remember that collateral needs to be at least crisis-resistant and preferably negatively correlated to asset prices during financial stress. With the U.S. government currently at loggerheads over how to deal with the Federal Debt Ceiling and the most likely path is to simply issue a lot more government paper, the time could be coming where Treasuries no longer fulfill the purpose of “Good Collateral” during crisis. They are just as likely to be the cause of a financial storm rather than provide shelter from the rain.”
comment: cme maybe should reevaluate hierarchy of collateral. and if they
do … wow on au. etc..
John Exter’s Inverted Pyramid of Assets…

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:48 | Link to Comment topcallingtroll
topcallingtroll's picture

This is one of the reasons I predict ten year treasurys trading at a yield of 2.1 percent in about two years.

Of course most bull markets move in a way to keep most people away from them and they never benefit.

Who is willing to ride this bull?

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:59 | Link to Comment blindman
blindman's picture

@”Who is willing to ride this bull?”
king world news…
explains the fail of economic repression as monetary
policy at this stage. fugly ongoing

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:25 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

Only those who are able to wear size 26 jeans and a foot wide one inch thick belt buckle. They still have the beef necessary to hang on.

The rest of us old obese fucks will be tossed out of the building with the rest of the garbage.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 01:46 | Link to Comment blindman
blindman's picture

wait a minute, we have em’ out numbered.

Mon, 06/06/2011 – 00:30 | Link to Comment blindman
blindman's picture

if this scheme results in a global run on treasuries,
meaning purchase as collateral for global casino
speculating, does that mean the us will have to find
more creative ways to waste money and resources? this
just sounds too good to be true; and no one will ever have
to pay any taxes, right? i think i’m learning to hallucinate
while i eat fast food and drive .

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:39 | Link to Comment Peak Everything
Peak Everything's picture

Every time I think I understand the depth of our shithole ZH grabs a shovel. Thanks, I think.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:38 | Link to Comment HungrySeagull
HungrySeagull's picture

A movie suggestion is:

“The Hudsucker Proxy”

Aint no building tall enough to accomodate a entire board’s desire to off load suicidal thoughts.

Sun, 06/05/2011 – 23:52 | Link to Comment Peak Everything
Peak Everything's picture

Thanks for movie tip. Downloading now.


1.2 Quadrillion in unregulated Derivatives
Paladin Offline
Registered: 07/10/08
Posts: 185
Loc: San Antonio, TX ***
The Size of Derivatives Bubble = $190K Per Person on Planet
16 October 2008, By Tom Foremski must read financial analysis from DK Matai, Chairman of the ACTA Open.The Invisible One Quadrillion Dollar Equation — Asymmetric Leverage and Systemic Risk
According to various distinguished sources including the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland — the central bankers’ bank — the amount of outstanding derivatives worldwide as of December 2007 crossed USD 1.144 Quadrillion, ie, USD 1,144 Trillion. The main categories of the USD 1.144 Quadrillion derivatives market were the following:1. Listed credit derivatives stood at USD 548 trillion;2. The Over-The-Counter (OTC) derivatives stood in notional or face value at USD 596 trillion and included:a. Interest Rate Derivatives at about USD 393+ trillion;

b. Credit Default Swaps at about USD 58+ trillion;

c. Foreign Exchange Derivatives at about USD 56+ trillion;

d. Commodity Derivatives at about USD 9 trillion;

e. Equity Linked Derivatives at about USD 8.5 trillion; and

f. Unallocated Derivatives at about USD 71+ trillion.

Quadrillion? That is a number only super computing engineers and astronomers used to use, not economists and bankers! For example, the North star is “just” a couple of quadrillion miles away, ie, a few thousand trillion miles. The new “Roadrunner” supercomputer built by IBM for the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has achieved a peak performance of 1.026 Peta Flop per second — becoming the first supercomputer ever to reach this milestone. One Quadrillion Floating Point Operations (Flops) per second is 1 Peta Flop/s, ie, 1,000 Trillion Flops per second. It is estimated that all the data found on all the websites and stored on computers across the world totals more than One Exa byte of memory, ie, 1,000 Quadrillion bytes of data.

Whilst outstanding derivatives are notional amounts until they are crystallised, actual exposure is measured by the net credit equivalent. This is normally a lower figure unless many variables plot a locus in the wrong direction simultaneously. This could be because of catastrophic unpredictable events, ie, “Black Swans”, such as cascades of bankruptcies and nationalisations, when the net exposure can balloon and become considerably larger or indeed because some extremely dislocating geo-political or geo-physical events take place simultaneously. Also, the notional value becomes real value when either counterparty to the OTC derivative goes bankrupt. This means that no large OTC derivative house can be allowed to go broke without falling into the arms of another. Whatever funds within reason are required to rescue failing international investment banks, deposit banks and financial entities ought to be provided on a case by case basis. This is the asymmetric nature of derivatives and here lies the potential for systemic risk to the global economic system and financial markets if nothing is done.

Let us think about the invisible USD 1.144 quadrillion equation with black swan variables — ie, 1,144 trillion dollars in terms of outstanding derivatives, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), real estate, world stock and bond markets coupled with unknown unknowns or “Black Swans”. What would be the relative positioning of USD 1.144 quadrillion for outstanding derivatives, ie, what is their scale:

1. The entire GDP of the US is about USD 14 trillion.

2. The entire US money supply is also about USD 15 trillion.

3. The GDP of the entire world is USD 50 trillion. USD 1,144 trillion is 22 times the GDP of the whole world.

4. The real estate of the entire world is valued at about USD 75 trillion.

5. The world stock and bond markets are valued at about USD 100 trillion.

6. The big banks alone own about USD 140 trillion in derivatives.

7. Bear Stearns had USD 13+ trillion in derivatives and went bankrupt in March. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers and AIG have all ‘collapsed’ because of complex securities and derivatives exposures in September.

8. The population of the whole planet is about 6 billion people. So the derivatives market alone represents about USD 190,000 per person on the planet.

The Impact of Derivatives

1. Derivatives are securities whose value depends on the underlying value of other basic securities and associated risks. Derivatives have exploded in use over the past two decades. We cannot even properly define many classes of derivatives because they are highly complex instruments and come in many shapes, sizes, colours and flavours and display different characteristics under different market conditions.

2. Derivatives are unregulated, not traded on any public exchange, without universal standards, dealt with by private agreement, not transparent, have no open bid/ask market, are unguaranteed, have no central clearing house, and are just not really tangible.

3. Derivatives include such well known instruments as futures and options which are actively traded on numerous exchanges as well as numerous over-the-counter instruments such as interest rate swaps, forward contracts in foreign exchange and interest rates, and various commodity and equity instruments.

4. Everyone from the large financial institutions, governments, corporations, mutual and pension funds, to hedge funds, and large and small speculators, uses derivatives. However, they have never existed in history with the overarching, exorbitant scale that they now do.

5. Derivatives are unravelling at a fast rate with the start of the “Great Unwind” of the global credit markets which began in July 2007 and particularly after the collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in September this year.

6. When derivatives unravel significantly the entire world economy would be at peril, given the relatively smaller scale of the world economy by comparison.

7. The derivatives market collapse could make the housing and stock market collapses look incidental.

Three Historical Examples

1. The so-called rogue trader Nick Leeson who made a huge derivatives bet on the direction of the Japanese Nikkei index brought on the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995.

2. The collapse of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), a hedge fund that had a former derivatives and bond dealer from Salomon Brothers and two Nobel Prize winners in Economics as principals, collapsed because of huge leveraged bets in currencies and bonds in 1998.

3. Finally, a lot of the problems of Enron in 2000 were brought on by leveraged derivatives and using derivatives to hide problems on the balance sheet.

The Pitfall

The single conceptual pitfall at the basis of the disorderly growth of the global derivatives market is the postulate of hedging and netting, which lies at the basis of each model and of the whole regulatory environment hyper structure. Perfect hedges and perfect netting require functioning markets. When one or more markets become dysfunctional, the whole deck of cards could collapse swiftly. To hope, as US Treasury Secretary Mr Henry Paulson does, that an accounting ruse such as transferring liabilities, however priced, from a private to a public agent will restore the functionality of markets implies a drastic jump in logic. Markets function only when:

1. There is a price level at which demand meets supply; and more importantly when

2. Both sides believe in each other’s capacity to deliver.

Satisfying criterion 1. without satisfying criterion 2. which is essentially about trust, gets one nowhere in the long term, although in the short term, the markets may demonstrate momentary relief and euphoria.


In the context of the USD 700 billion rescue plan — still being finalised in Washington, DC — the following is worth considering step by step. Decision makers are rightly concerned about alleviating immediate pressure points in the global financial system, such as, the mortgage crisis, decline in consumer spending and the looming loss of confidence in financial institutions. However, whilst these problems are grave, they are acting as a catalyst to another more massive challenge which may have to be tackled across many nation states simultaneously. As money flows slow down sharply, confidence levels would decline across the globe, and trust would be broken asymmetrically, ie, the time taken to repair it would be much longer. Unless there is government action in concert, this could ignite a chain-reaction which would swiftly purge trillions and trillions of dollars in over-leveraged risky bets. Within the context of over-leverage, the biggest problem of all is to do with “Derivatives”, of which CDSs are a minor subset. Warren Buffett has said the derivatives neutron bomb has the potential to destroy the entire world economy, and is a “disaster waiting to happen.” He has also referred to derivatives as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Counting one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one Quadrillion. The numbers we are dealing with are absolutely astronomical and from the realms of super computing we have stepped into global economics. There is a sense of no sustainability and lack of longevity in the “Invisible One Quadrillion Dollar Equation” of the derivatives market especially with attendant Black Swan variables causing multiple implosions amongst financial institutions and counterparties! The only way out, albeit painful, is via discretionary case-by-case government intervention on an unprecedented scale. Securing the savings and assets of ordinary citizens ought to be the number one concern in directing such policy.


To reflect further on this, please respond within Facebook’s ATCA Open discussion board.

We welcome your thoughts, observations and views. Thank you.

Best wishes

DK Matai

Chairman, ATCA Open

— ATCA, The Philanthropia, mi2g, HQR —

This is an “ATCA Open and Philanthropia Socratic Dialogue.”

The “ATCA Open” network on Facebook is for professionals interested in ATCA’s original global aims, working with ATCA step-by-step across the world, or developing tools supporting ATCA’s objectives to build a better world.

The original ATCA — Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance — is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies — bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of the original ATCA network is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

The Philanthropia, founded in 2005, brings together over 1,000 leading individual and private philanthropists, family offices, foundations, private banks, non-governmental organisations and specialist advisors to address complex global challenges such as countering climate chaos, reducing radical poverty and developing global leadership for the younger generation through the appliance of science and technology, leveraging acumen and finance, as well as encouraging collaboration with a strong commitment to ethics. Philanthropia emphasises multi-faith spiritual values: introspection, healthy living and ecology. Philanthropia Targets: Countering climate chaos and carbon neutrality; Eliminating radical poverty — through micro-credit schemes, empowerment of women and more responsible capitalism; Leadership for the Younger Generation; and Corporate and social responsibility.

Buffett and Gross talk about $516 trillion in this Market Watch article.

But this $516 trillion where Buffet is talking about are only the (OTC) derivatives which have grown 15% to $596 trillion at the end of December 2007 according to this Bank of International Settlements (BIS) article from 22 May 2008:

So, if you also take the $548 trillion credit derivatives into account you still get around a 1.2 quadrillion USD stated in article above!

Can’t look at PDF at the moment so for people who want to check it out at the BIS,

Semiannual OTC derivatives statistics at end-June 2008:

Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.
-Thomas Jefferson


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Global Derivatives – $1.4 QUADRILLION, Up 22% Worldwide…

While it may seem intuitive that the world’s stack of derivatives has shrunk during this crisis, in fact it is still growing on its exponential curve according to mi2g a London based digital banking, security, and risk management company.

G20 Summit must focus on Derivatives, Off-Balance-Sheet Vehicles.

8 Bubbles Quadrillion Play Grows 22% to $206k per person-on-planet

London, UK – 19th March 2009, 10:30 GMT

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

As the April G20 summit in London approaches, it is worth noting that the trans-national play of derivatives has grown from USD 1.144 Quadrillion to USD 1.405 Quadrillion, ie, +22% worldwide. This is a staggering increase and most of it is seen in the Over-The-Counter (OTC) category as opposed to exchange traded derivatives. As a result, the global size of the derivatives bubble which was calculated last year at USD 190k per person-on-planet, has risen to USD 206k per person-on-planet. The ever rising commitment of governments for the repeated bailouts of financial institutions is partially linked to various flavours of derivatives exposure settlements and “black hole” losses emanating from off-balance-sheet vehicles.

The traditional argument has been to discount derivatives altogether: “On one side of the equation there is a loss, on the other side there is a gain. Nothing disappears. It is just one big shuffle of wealth and assets.” However, if this is the case, why has the US tax-payer had to bail out AIG repeatedly in excess of a hundred and fifty billion dollars so that AIG could settle the Credit Default Swap (CDS) and other derivatives claims of the largest trans-national financial institutions in the world?

In the ATCA briefing, “The Invisible One Quadrillion Dollar Equation” published in September 2008 we discussed the main categories of the quadrillion dollar derivatives market as quoted by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. Since then the quantum has grown significantly in certain crucial categories and the latest revised numbers follow:

1. Listed credit derivatives stood at USD 542 trillion, about the same as before; however

2. Over-The-Counter (OTC) derivatives stood in notional or face value at USD 863 trillion (UP +44%) and include:

a. Interest Rate Derivatives at about USD 458+ trillion (UP +16%);
b. Credit Default Swaps at about USD 57+ trillion (DOWN -1%);
c. Foreign Exchange Derivatives at about USD 62+ trillion (UP +10%);
d. Commodity Derivatives at about USD 13+ trillion (UP +44%);
e. Equity Linked Derivatives at about USD 10+ trillion (UP +17%); and
f. Unallocated Derivatives at about USD 81+ trillion (UP +14%).

The myth of the single bubble behind The Great Unwind — manifest as the global credit crunch — has essentially been dumped in the last few months and subprime mortgage default, a USD 1.5 trillion challenge within the USD 5 trillion mortgage based assets envelope, is seen as a component of a much larger overwhelming global crisis with unprecedented scale, speed, severity and synchronicity. The global crisis has wiped a staggering USD 50 trillion off the value of financial assets — currency, equity and bond markets worldwide — last year, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The truth that there are as many as “Eight Bubbles” [ATCA] at play and in the process of bursting together is understood to a greater extent now than in the past. We have gone from being able to “rescue the world” with less than USD 1 trillion in October 2008 to USD 11.6 trillion commitments in the US alone along with a further announcement of USD 1.2 trillion of quantitative easing by the US Fed in March 2009. There is a realisation worldwide including the G7 + BRIC + MISSAT that this is a USD 20 trillion problem and growing. As time goes by, the full extent of the collateral damage from the Quadrillion Play and 8 Bubbles burst is being revealed.

The bursting process is taking the form of deleverage on an unprecedented scale. Even 1929 pales in comparison because the industrial production collapse witnessed over five successive years in the 1930s in the US is now taking place in five to six months, most notably in Japan. At a follow on recent ATCA roundtable we posed the following questions for Socratic dialogue:

I. If the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen from above 14,000 to below 7,500 as a result of some of the 8 bubbles collapsing, ie a 6,500 points drop or 46% decline, where will the equities market reach by 2010 as other larger bubbles burst?

II. If the world government bond market is around USD 35 trillion, how can governments rescue the eight bubbles bursting step by step with an ever larger quantum and momentum?

III. How can Quantitative Easing (QE) defy the laws of financial gravity without devaluing paper currencies significantly?

IV. What ought to be the focus at the G20 Summit in April to bring about stability in regard to the rising derivatives exposures and use of off-balance-sheet vehicles?

We discussed “Eight Bubbles” in play worldwide in November 2008 and their approximate scale, based on latest information in 2009, is as follows:

1. Subprime Mortgage linked Loans & Assets (USD 1.5 trillion) within Mortgage backed Assets (USD 5 trillion);
2. China, India, Eastern Europe and other Emerging Market Loans (USD 5 trillion);
3. Commodities (Commodity Derivatives at about USD 13 trillion);
4. Corporate bonds (USD 18 trillion);
5. Commercial (USD 22 trillion) and Residential property (USD 45 trillion);
6. Credit Cards Outstanding Debt (USD 4.5 trillion);
7. Currencies (Foreign Exchange Derivatives at about USD 62 trillion); and
8. Credit Default Swaps (USD 57 trillion) as a subset of all Derivatives (USD 1,405 Trillion).

The relative scale of the world’s financial engine is as follows:

1. The entire GDP of the US is about USD 14 trillion and falling.
2. The entire US money supply is also about USD 14 trillion with rising Quantitative Easing in trillions.
3. The GDP of the entire world is USD 45 trillion and falling. USD 1,405 trillion is 31 times world GDP.
4. The real estate of the entire world is valued at about USD 65 trillion.
5. The world stock and bond markets are valued at about USD 70 trillion.
6. The trans-national universal model financial institutions own about USD 150 trillion in derivatives.
7. The population of the whole planet is 6.8 billion people. So the derivatives market represents about USD 206,000 per person on the planet. .

Assuming a 10% conservative default or decline in asset value, this could be a USD 100 trillion challenge on the base of a Quadrillion. USD 50 trillion of asset decline is already manifest. What are the likely outcomes? “Four Scenarios” have already been suggested by ATCA. We are keen to receive your answers and solutions. Please note that the numbers quoted are a rough guide.

$1.4 quadrillion equals $206,000 in derivative exposure for every man, woman, and child on the planet. We’re not just talking about us relatively rich and spoiled Americans, we’re talking about the true masses.

Is it just me or does that figure seem INSANE? As in WHY would the people of the planet allow so much derivative exposure? What it the need? What is the purpose?

I think I can answer that in one word – GREED.

Or I can give you the lengthier but still condensed version that goes thusly:

In the old, old days when blacksmiths stored gold for people and issued “gold receipts,” they figured out that they could issue more “receipts” than they had gold in their possession, thus effectively printing their own money in excess of their actual holdings. This worked as long as not everyone came to claim their gold at once, and thus the fractional reserve banking concept was born.

Eventually the gold was completely done away with (President Nixon 1971 in the U.S.) and a fiat money (by decree) fractional reserve system has survived so far, now only 38 years young. Over the years the reserve requirement has gone down. This has allowed LEVERAGE to increase. But recently the largest banks have virtually done away with reserves altogether (now even barrowed reserves) and thus fractional reserve lending had reached its limits. What’s a central banker to do? Create derivatives that in essence move some of the leverage off their balance sheets.

As the world now knows, there are many types of derivatives. Many are derived from debt, a lot are credit default swaps (an unregulated form of insurance), and many are based upon interest rates. To be fair, although we are talking unfathomable sums of notional value, it is true that if they all were to go bad at once that the NET result would be a loss far less than the notional value. But what would happen is that some players would be protected while many others would not. Those who are not, like AIG, would not survive.

So, how much money are we talking about here? Well, the latest figures I have show Global GDP is running a little more than $60 trillion a year, so $1.4 quadrillion would equate to about 23 times world GDP (they show $45 trillion and 31 times GDP… I do not know which is correct – either way is unbelievable).

I know that those numbers sound meaningless, but mi2G did a nice graphic showing how how much a trillion dollars in 100 dollar bills would look, How big is $1 Trillion?

They also did an even better series of graphics to visualize how large a stack of pennies would be if there were a quadrillion of them! How big is 1 Quadrillion? Make sure you flip through the series.

The OCC (Comptroller of the Currency) just released their 4th quarter derivatives report for the United States. I did an article on that, but want to show a couple of the many outrageous charts illustrating how many of these derivatives are located in our top banks, and the leverage found within.

Below is a current chart of the holdings of our largest banks:

That’s $87 TRILLION that JPMorgan holds in derivatives, many times their net worth. And that’s more than $30 TRILLION that Goldman Sachs holds, they are leveraged to extreme proportions.

This next chart shows the holdings for the 5 largest U.S. banks. Note that each category derivative is multiples of their Risk Based Capital:

The leverage deployed is absolutely insane and guaranteed to fail. The central bankers will tell you they have it all under control – they do not. They have created such a monster that they have permeated the entire globe with credit (debt). Every nook and cranny that can be filled with debt has been (Death by Numbers). We have pulled ALL our future earnings into the here and now and this shadow banking system is how they did it – all at arms length.

Those who follow my work know how exponential growth ends. If you need a refresher, please Spend some Time with the Good Dr. Bartlett…

Since they can’t keep it under control, they keep it out of sight, hiding as “level 3 assets” which they get to mark to THEIR model of value (wish I could do that – and pay myself large bonuses for my fantasy). Their latest? Change the accounting rules so that they are not forced to mark-to-market. Change the rules, hide and obscure – get the taxpayer on the hook for their sins. They use their “money” to buy and control politicians, thus they are safe… for now



indy sitting on pallets of dollarsdollars


Yes! Indeed lets talk about pallets!

Over at Page the problem of the average persons inability to visualise or comprehend terms like million, billion, and trillion has been approached useing graphic images that are familiar to everyone.

I was so impressed by this approach that I decided to adopt the scale and continue it up to 1 quadrillion in order that this figure could be quantified in the mind of our readers.

I have published the whole article here in full because when tested the impact (level of understanding) on various “guinea pigs”, they continually refered to previous images in order to understand the scale…Mmmm…Switching sites to review is not conducive to “understanding” especially if you have a dialup connection…Indy

All this talk about “stimulus packages” and “bailouts”…

A billion dollars…

A hundred billion dollars…

Eight hundred billion dollars…

One TRILLION dollars…

What does that look like ?I mean, these various numbers are tossed around like so many doggie treats, so I thought I’d take Google Sketchup out for a test drive and try to get a sense of what exactly a trillion dollars looks like.

We’ll start with a $100 dollar bill. Currently the largest U.S. denomination in general circulation. Most everyone has seen them, slighty fewer have owned them. Guaranteed to make friends wherever they go.

$100 dollars.
A packet of one hundred $100 bills is less than 1/2″ thick and contains $10,000. Fits in your pocket easily and is more than enough for week or two of shamefully decadent fun.

$10,000 Dollars
Believe it or not, this next little pile is $1 million dollars (100 packets of $10,000). You could stuff that into a grocery bag and walk around with it.

$1,000,000 (one million dollars)
While a measly $1 million looked a little unimpressive, $100 million is a little more respectable. It fits neatly on a standard pallet…

$100 million dollars
And $1 BILLION dollars… now we’re really getting somewhere…

Next we’ll look at ONE TRILLION dollars. This is that number we’ve been hearing so much about. What is a trillion dollars ?Well, it’s a million million. It’s a thousand billion. It’s a one followed by 12 zeros. You ready for this? It’s pretty surprising.

$1,000000000000 : A TRILLION dollars
original article @ Page

RHS1: OK…This is were Page Tutor terminates its graphic representation at a trillion dollars it is also the maximum in the human scale.

Below is an image of the tallest man made structure in the world.

Burj Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
is currently the world’s tallest man-made structure.
It was topped-out at 818 m (2,684 ft) on 17 January 2009..

$1,000000000000000000 : A QUADRILLION dollars.
  • The Red object (bottom left) is the building in the photograph above.
  • The scale is approx; correct “near enough”.
  • There are 20 layers in this pile
  • Each layer is 100 pallets high.
  • Estimating a pallet is 3 feet high (see $100 million dollars; above.)
  • One trillion is 2 pallets high.
  • We have a stack 6000 feet high.
What can I say? Pheew! Thats nearly a mile and half high…As the “Bankenstein derivative monster” is estimated at between 1.2 to 1.6 quadrillion on this scale its about 9000 feet…Approx 2 miles high…We are talking surrealistic…

Let me put it this way all the physical banknotes in the entire world, all currencies, are estimated at 4 trillion dollars, value off; Which equals *8 PALLETS HIGH* 24 ft high…The “Bankenstein derivative monster” is 9000 feet high…The “TARP” bailout is not even 2 pallets or 6 feet high…Errrr.

Having understood the scale of the “”Bankenstein derivative monster” you can now no doubt appreciate the problem.

If you scale to a quinillion (or whatever word is used) the next level up… Then if you climbed to the top of the pile of money…You could maybe work for NASA washing the space station windows from the outside, of course you would need oxygen and a space suit -O)


The Coming Derivatives Crisis That Could Destroy The Entire Global Financial System

Most people have no idea that Wall Street has become a gigantic financial casino.  The big Wall Street banks are making tens of billions of dollars a year in the derivatives market, and nobody in the financial community wants the party to end.  The word “derivatives” sounds complicated and technical, but understanding them is really not that hard.  A derivative is essentially a fancy way of saying that a bet has been made.  Originally, these bets were designed to hedge risk, but today the derivatives market has mushroomed into a mountain of speculation unlike anything the world has ever seen before.  Estimates of the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market go from $600 trillion all the way up to $1.5 quadrillion.  Keep in mind that the GDP of the entire world is only somewhere in the neighborhood of $65 trillion.  The danger to the global financial system posed by derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.  For now, the financial powers that be are trying to keep the casino rolling, but it is inevitable that at some point this entire mess is going to come crashing down.  When it does, we are going to be facing a derivatives crisis that really could destroy the entire global financial system.

Most people don’t talk much about derivatives because they simply do not understand them.

Perhaps a couple of definitions would be helpful.

The following is how a recent Bloomberg article defined derivatives….

Derivatives are financial instruments used to hedge risks or for speculation. They’re derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in the weather or interest rates.

The key word there is “speculation”.  Today the folks down on Wall Street are speculating on just about anything that you can imagine.

The following is how Investopedia defines derivatives….

A security whose price is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is merely a contract between two or more parties. Its value is determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates and market indexes. Most derivatives are characterized by high leverage.

A derivative has no underlying value of its own.  A derivative is essentially a side bet.  Usually these side bets are highly leveraged.

At this point, making side bets has totally gotten out of control in the financial world.  Side bets are being made on just about anything you can possibly imagine, and the major Wall Street banks are making a ton of money from it.  This system is almost entirely unregulated and it is totally dominated by the big international banks.

Over the past couple of decades, the derivatives market has multiplied in size.  Everything is going to be fine as long as the system stays in balance.  But once it gets out of balance we could witness a string of financial crashes that no government on earth will be able to fix.

The amount of money that we are talking about is absolutely staggering.  Graham Summers of Phoenix Capital Research estimates that the notional value of the global derivatives market is $1.4 quadrillion, and in an article for Seeking Alpha he tried to put that number into perspective….

If you add up the value of every stock on the planet, the entire market capitalization would be about $36 trillion. If you do the same process for bonds, you’d get a market capitalization of roughly $72 trillion.

The notional value of the derivative market is roughly $1.4 QUADRILLION.

I realize that number sounds like something out of Looney tunes, so I’ll try to put it into perspective.

$1.4 Quadrillion is roughly:




It is hard to fathom how much money a quadrillion is.

If you started counting right now at one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one quadrillion dollars.

Yes, the boys and girls down on Wall Street have gotten completely and totally out of control.

In an excellent article that he did on derivatives, Webster Tarpley described the pivotal role that derivatives now play in the global financial system….

Far from being some arcane or marginal activity, financial derivatives have come to represent the principal business of the financier oligarchy in Wall Street, the City of London, Frankfurt, and other money centers. A concerted effort has been made by politicians and the news media to hide and camouflage the central role played by derivative speculation in the economic disasters of recent years. Journalists and public relations types have done everything possible to avoid even mentioning derivatives, coining phrases like “toxic assets,” “exotic instruments,” and – most notably – “troubled assets,” as in Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, aka the monstrous $800 billion bailout of Wall Street speculators which was enacted in October 2008 with the support of Bush, Henry Paulson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Obama Democrats.

Most people do not realize this, but derivatives were at the center of the financial crisis of 2008.

They will almost certainly be at the center of the next financial crisis as well.

For many, alarm bells went off the other day when it was revealed that Bank of America has moved a big chunk of derivatives from its failing Merrill Lynch investment banking unit to its depository arm.

So what does that mean?

An article posted on The Daily Bail the other day explained that it means that U.S. taxpayers could end up holding the bag….

This means that the investment bank’s European derivatives exposure is now backstopped by U.S. taxpayers. Bank of America didn’t get regulatory approval to do this, they just did it at the request of frightened counterparties. Now the Fed and the FDIC are fighting as to whether this was sound. The Fed wants to “give relief” to the bank holding company, which is under heavy pressure.

This is a direct transfer of risk to the taxpayer done by the bank without approval by regulators and without public input.

So did you hear about this on the news?

Probably not.

Today, the notional value of all the derivatives held by Bank of America comes to approximately $75 trillion.

JPMorgan Chase is holding derivatives with a notional value of about $79 trillion.

It is hard to even conceive of such figures.

Right now, the banks with the most exposure to derivatives are JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and HSBC Bank USA.

Morgan Stanley also has tremendous exposure to derivatives.

You may have noticed that these are some of the “too big to fail” banks.

The biggest U.S. banks continue to grow and they continue to get even more power.

Back in 2002, the top 10 U.S. banks controlled 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets.  Today, the top 10 U.S. banks control 77 percent of all U.S. banking assets.

These banks have gotten so big and so powerful that if they collapsed our entire financial system would implode.

You would have thought that we would have learned our lesson back in 2008 and would have done something about this, but instead we have allowed the “too big to bail” banks to become bigger than ever.

And they pretty much do whatever they want.

A while back, the New York Times published an article entitled “A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives“.  That article exposed the steel-fisted control that the “too big to fail” banks exert over the trading of derivatives.  Just consider the following excerpt from the article….

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

So what institutions are represented at these meetings?

Well, according to the New York Times, the following banks are involved: JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup.

Why do those same five names seem to keep popping up time after time?

Sadly, these five banks keep pouring money into the campaigns of politicians that supported the bailouts in 2008 and that they know will bail them out again when the next financial crisis strikes.

Those that defend the wild derivatives trading that is going on today claim that Wall Street has accounted for all of the risks and they assume that the issuing banks will always be able to cover all of the derivative contracts that they write.

But that is a faulty assumption.  Just look at AIG back in 2008.  When the housing market collapsed AIG was on the wrong end of a massive number of derivative contracts and it would have gone “bust” without gigantic bailouts from the federal government.  If the bailouts of AIG had not happened, Goldman Sachs and a whole lot of other people would have been left standing there with a whole bunch of worthless paper.

It is inevitable that the same thing is going to happen again.  Except next time it may be on a much grander scale.

When “the house” goes “bust”, everybody loses.  The governments of the world could step in and try to bail everyone out, but the reality is that when the derivatives market comes totally crashing down there won’t be any government on earth with enough money to put it back together again.

A horrible derivatives crisis is coming.

It is only a matter of time.

Stay alert for any mention of the word “derivatives” or the term “derivatives crisis” in the news.  When the derivatives crisis arrives, things will start falling apart very rapidly.


Here is an old newspaper story sent to me from Ron:



By NATHANIEL C. NASH, Special to the New York Times
Published: June 7, 1987

Top officials at the Treasury Department have concluded that the Government should encourage creation of very large banks that could better compete with financial institutions in Japan and Europe.


The Treasury plan, which would permit the acquisition of banks by large industrial companies, was also endorsed by Alan Greenspan, in an interview before President Reagan nominated him this week to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.


Mr. Greenspan said the plan would provide multibillion-dollar pools of investment capital for a banking industry that was ”severely undercapitalized.”…No formal policy or legislative agenda has been adopted by the Administration, but George D. Gould, Under Secretary of the Treasury, said in interviews that he favored creating 5 to 10 giant banks that would rival in size the largest banks in Japan, West Germany, Britain and France. The Two Laws Involved


Formation of such large banks has been hampered by two of the nation’s principal banking laws: the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934, which separates underwriting and commercial banking, and the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, which prohibits nonbanking companies from owning banks.


The only avenue left open to banks has been to merge among themselves. But state laws have historically prohibited interstate banking, and only recently have state legislatures begun to open their borders to out-of-state banks. These deals have usually involved a large out-of-state bank’s buying a smaller institution. Mergers, interstate or otherwise, among the giant banks could raise antitrust questions, and none of the few such deals attempted ever progressed very far.


ΩΩAfter 1987, the number of independent banks have collapsed by over 50% and are still in rapid decline.  The amount of banking debt and systems has more than quadrupled over this same time period.  So the concentration of finances is much, much greater.  The gleeful period of easy lending from 2002-2006 caused a tremendous surge in M1 money and this is the money that continues to vanish as both businesses and private borrowers continue to default on loans—most of which should never have been made in the first place.


ΩΩThe big 5 international banks created by these Greenspan-sponsored reforms created were Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Lehman and Citigroup.  These guys were, in turn, the creators of the Derivatives Beast.  There are now fewer of these giants as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers went down totally while Bank of America and Citicorp were rescued at tremendous cost to the taxpayers, as we shall see in the news below.  First, we go visit the nearly-useless OCC, the Office of the Controller of the Currency, an agency launched after the Civil War to prevent hyperinflation caused by the government printing too much money.


ΩΩCertainly, the creation of new money via loans was barely regulated by the Federal Reserve which was run by the odious criminal, Greenspan.  He loved the fact that the US now had half a dozen barely-regulated international banks that sucked down immense amounts of Japanese carry trade loans and translated these into lending for the US consumers and businesses and of course, the creation of the Derivatives Beast and using AIG to ‘insure’ the Derivatives Beast meant easy, easy lending at lower and lower interest rates, flooding the economy with a tsunami of new ‘money’ that didn’t create ‘inflation’ thanks to all of this being sucked into vast, immense FOREX holdings created by our dire trade rivals who used this to keep their own currencies weak so they could flood the US with their manufactured goods and this, in turn, destroyed our own industrial base….WHEW.  Say all of that three times in quick succession!


OCC: OCC’s Quarterly Report on Bank Derivatives Activities

ΩΩOK: the global credit collapse and Great Depression briefly caused the Derivatives Beast to not grow at an astonishing rate.  It actually leveled off somewhat.  But look closely and we see it has resumed growing again!  This is a classic ‘hockey stick graph’ leading to a sudden surge to infinity followed by the death, doom and destruction of whatever tries this miracle. NOTHING IN THE UNIVERSE grows faster and faster to infinity.  Physical and even imaginary things suddenly break and implode when they reach a point of no return.


ΩΩOnce one has a philosophy that hockey stick graphs are totally evil and are signs of terrible things in the future, it is much easier to look at a system and say, ‘Ooops, time to restrain and rebalance this system before it explodes!’  Of course, we look at this graph above and shriek, ‘What the hell are they thinking???  They are insane!’  I mean, this graph is talking about derivative deals that are over 210 TRILLION.  These were less than $40 trillion in 1998!  It grew more than five times bigger in less than 12 years!  How insane is this?  In another decade, will this be over $1,000 trillion, that is, a quadrillion???  And what impact will this have on inflation in the future?

ΩΩThese stupid 5 gigantic banks that were all bailed out by the taxpayers in 2009 don’t just ‘dominate’ the derivatives mess, they ARE the derivatives mess!  If they hold over 90% of the derivatives, this is a BAD THING.  And should CEASE IMMEDIATELY.  Alas, energy for banking reforms is collapsing due to our corrupt Congress.  I was fooled by Obama who, during the election, had Volcker by his side all the time.  Once the ballots were cast, Volcker was cast aside and replaced by the tax cheater, Geithner.  All pushes to fix this mess vanished.

ΩΩALL of these big monsters who hold nearly all of the derivatives have seen their EXPOSURE drop.  So, where did this exposed crap migrate to?  Take a wild guess: into our own backyards.  We, not the big 5 banks, now have the credit risk exposure.  Who owns AIG?  We do, not the Big 5.  This is a con job, of course.  Infuriating.  But the point we must understand here is simple: business and consumers both want cheap, easy credit to return.  And any hook or crook (very crooked crooks!) system that can be devised is fine with most people.  Fixing things so our system is recapitalized is NOT being pushed and is NOT popular, either.

ΩΩAnd here it is: Goldman Sachs is making oodles of loot trading on derivatives!!!!  They make lots and lots of money this way which is why the Derivatives Beast is growing again: it is a vehicle for bankers to get much, much richer.  And the micro-second derivatives back and forth worthless trading flooding our markets is all fake, crooked and hooked to the Derivatives Beast and is the most worthless way to get rich but boy, does it work like a charm!


ΩΩBack in 2007, I was so alarmed by this monster, I called for slaying the Derivatives Beast altogether and resuming the older banking methods.  Instead, the Fed and Treasury protected this insane creature and now it will stomp all over us, even more thoroughly.  The immense overhang it has created is now bigger than all the wealth on earth.  But the Chinese won’t pay for this creature, they are capitalized!  We, on the other hand, are not capitalized and so we are much, much more exposed and remember: if an international banking consortium uses any country as its home base, the inhabitants will be forced to pay off the Derivative Beast, not the bankers.


Asia Times Online :: Asian news and current affairs

Post-Apocalyptic zombie finance

By Spengler

By 2014, International Monetary Fund official John Lipsky remarked March 21, the debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of the Group of Seven countries will reach 100%, and the governments of the industrial world will carry the highest debt burden since shortly after the end of World War II.


That is bad news; (No shit, Sherlock!!!) worse news is that governments are shoveling money into the world banking system to finance the debt expansion. Following the great bank bailout of 2008, the global banking system is socialized de facto, shifting its resources towards government debt and away from private sector financing.


Governments averted a financial apocalypse in 2009 by bailing out the bankrupt banking system. But who will bail out the governments? The answer for the time being is that they will bail themselves out at the expense of the private economy.


ΩΩSo far, governments in the West are being bailed out by Asia.  And this is being done so Asia can continue to rapidly expand its own industrial base.  This savage business gets worse and worse over time due to the self-feedback system of this debt expansion: you get more credit from export powers via letting them export even more to your own home base.  So as capital vanishes, the need for debt shoots upwards and the system continues to get more and more unbalanced.


ΩΩAnd worse: China desires very much that the G7 nations that hammered on China for a decade, suffer this fate!  HAHAHA, says the Dragon, counting its pfennings in a dark cave.  Well, what do we expect?  Mary Poppins?


Fed Reveals Bear Stearns Assets It Swallowed in Firm’s Rescue –

The Fed’s vehicle known as Maiden Lane LLC has securities backed by mortgages from lenders including Washington Mutual Inc. and Countrywide Financial Corp., loans that were made with limited borrower documentation. More than $1 billion of them are backed by “jumbo” mortgages written by Thornburg Mortgage Inc., which now carry the lowest investment-grade rating. Jumbo loans were larger than government-sponsored mortgage buyers such as Fannie Mae could finance — $417,000 at the time.


“The Fed absorbed that risk on its balance sheet and is now seen to be holding problematic, legacy assets,” said Vincent Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who was the central bank’s monetary- affairs director from 2001 to 2007. “There is both an impairment to its balance sheet and its reputation.”… .

…Central bankers also created moral hazard, or a perception for investors that any financial firm bigger than Bear Stearns wouldn’t be allowed to fail, said David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors Inc. in Vineland, New Jersey.


Policy makers’ resolve was tested months later by runs against the largest financial companies. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed into bankruptcy in September 2008. The ensuing panic caused the Fed to take even more emergency measures to push liquidity into markets and institutions. It rescued American International Group Inc. from collapse and allowed Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley to convert into bank holding companies, putting them under greater oversight by the central bank….


…For example, 94 percent of the mortgages in one security, called WAMU 06-A13 2XPPP, required limited documentation from borrowers, meaning the lender often didn’t ask customers for proof of their incomes. Almost 10 percent of the borrowers whose mortgages make up the security have been foreclosed on, and almost a quarter are more than two months late with payments, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.


The portfolio also includes $618.9 million of securities backed by Countrywide, mortgages now rated CCC, eight levels below investment grade. All the underlying loans are adjustable- rate mortgages, with about 88 percent requiring only limited borrower documentation, according to Bloomberg data. About 33.6 percent of the borrowers are at least 60 days late. Countrywide is now part of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp….


…Assets in Maiden Lane II totaled $34.8 billion, according to the Fed, which set their current market value in its weekly balance sheet at $15.3 billion. That means Maiden Lane II assets are worth 44 cents on the dollar, or 44 percent of their face value, according to the Fed.


Maiden Lane III, which has $56 billion of assets at face value, is worth $22.1 billion, or 39 cents on the dollar, according to the Fed’s weekly balance sheet. A similar calculation for the Bear Stearns portfolio couldn’t be made because of outstanding derivatives trades.


ΩΩThe Fed pretended they are open and are happily supplying us with this horrible information.  But Bloomberg News had to sue in court to force the Fed to cough up basic information.  Why the secrecy?


ΩΩWell, the Fed is a bank, too!  It has to pretend to be capitalized with assets,  not taking on infinite losses.  A negative bank doesn’t last very long in the real world, this is why we have the word, ‘Bankrupt’ to explain going too deep in the red and then capsizing and dying rather suddenly.  This old Northern Italian word means ‘smashing the bench’ which is what happened when a moneychanger suddenly had no cash on hand to settle accounts and enraged savers beat the banker to death with the bench.  Literally.  Not figuratively. Now, let’s leave the wretched shattered benches of the Federal Reserve and visit poor Ireland.  Like Iceland, the Irish people woke up to discover they, not the bankers, are supposed to fix this mess by starving to death to pay off foreign depositors and foreign bond holders:


Adam M. sent me this email:  Elaine,

Ireland is falling down the black hole….. darker than Guinness stout….More trouble in Ireland….. the govt is going to be overwhelemed by all this in the end. After all it is a small population country and this debt is
huge. Can potatoe famine be far behind? Instead of liquidating the debt, they are trying to save a rotting whale…… just like the US has. The stench is unbearable.

Ireland to launch €81bn bad loan bank

By John Murray Brown in Dublin

Ireland will on Tuesday begin operating a new “bad bank” to house €81bn in bad property loans left over from the financial crisis and set out new capital requirements that are expected to see the further nationalisation of its banking sector.  Irish bank shares fell sharply on Monday amid fears that the new financial requirements could prove crippling.


Irish banks face shortfall of €32bn


Ireland’s banks face a capital shortfall of up to €32bn, the country’s regulator and finance ministry said on Tuesday, with the Irish government liable for up to three-quarters of that figure.  The black hole, equivalent to about 20 per cent of gross domestic product, is far bigger than expected. It emerged after the country’s new bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency, announced the acquisition of €16bn ($21.5bn, £14.3bn) of mostly real estate loans, setting it on the road to become Ireland’s biggest property owner.

But NAMA paid only €8.5bn for the loans, applying a bigger discount than expected – a reflection of their poor quality.  The Irish government, which has already nationalised one bank, Anglo Irish, is now widely expected to end up as the majority owner of every big bank in the country, bar Bank of Ireland. Even Bank of Ireland, which must raise €2.66bn as part of the regulator’s capital demands, is expected to end up with the government as a near-40 per cent shareholder, compared with 16 per cent today.

Analysts said Allied Irish, which has an equity shortfall of €7.4bn, compared with a market capitalisation of just €1.2bn, could end up more than 70 per cent government owned.  Up to €24bn of the combined capital shortfall – which includes up to €18.3bn at Anglo Irish and a combined €3.6bn at the building societies – could end up funded by the government, with €8.3bn of that due to Anglo Irish this week. The burden outstrips the whole of Ireland’s €18.7bn fiscal deficit this year….

…The regulator’s capital shortfall calculation is based on a requirement that banks increase their capital ratios – to 7 per cent for tier one equity, and 8 per cent for core tier one by the end of the year – as Ireland seeks to insulate its banks from the impact of ongoing loan losses.


One of the comments was that the losses would be the equivalent of several years worth of taxes of the people. At 100% rates!!! And for what????  They all played the game. Piling on the state debt is not going to solve anything but make the books look better at the lenders.


Irish GDP was very large for a country of 1/10the the number of people of Canada, almost 180 bn Euros in 2008. A lot of this was money laundering no doubt. So per capita GDP was very high.  It is now falling, heavily…. 12%?? last year alone. There is a long way to go.. down.  They are still dreaming if they thing this govt bailout is the end of it.


They just went wild with lending:

Irish property developers speculated billions of Euros in overvalued land parcels such as urban brownfield and greenfield sites. They also speculated in agricultural land which, in 2007, had an average value of €23,600 per acre ($32,000 per acre or €60,000 per hectare)[30] which is several multiples above the value of equivalent land in other European countries.[citation needed] Lending to builders and developers has grown to such an extent that it equals 28% of all bank lending, or “the approximate value of all public deposits with retail banks. Effectively, the Irish banking system has taken all its shareholders’ equity, with a substantial chunk of its depositors’ cash on top, and handed it over to builders and property speculators…..By comparison, just before the Japanese bubble burst in late 1989, construction and property development had grown to a little over 25 per cent of bank lending.[31]


It was just a big ponzi scheme and has gone bust….And what do they produce???  Nice whiskey. Racehorses.  Its Iceland 10x over. Or more. Todays news….. even worse..

The Irish Times – Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Banks move will double national debt, Bruton warns

MARIE O’HALLORAN…It was the “final bill of reckless economic management that we’ve had to put up with for 10 years”.  He added: “Today’s decisions will bring to €40 billion the amount that the Irish taxpayer will be asked to put into Anglo Irish Bank, which was run in a truly buccaneering way by Seán FitzPatrick and his colleagues.

”The money “has gone into a black hole. Despite the rapid deterioration, every day we look at Anglo, it gets worse. But despite that the policy remains the same. There is no budging in the Government’s policy. The policy is that the taxpayer should be first over the hill to rescue this bank, not those who invested in it. And I can’t understand why this policy isn’t changing as the evidence comes out of what an abnormal bank Anglo Irish was, to the extent that it is jeopardising our future as a nation.”…

….“Its creditors take over and try to recover as much as they can. That’s what happens in capitalism. When people make investments that go sour, they take the consequences. . . . I have heard time and again it argued by spokesmen for the Government that to fail to protect bondholders in these banks would amount to an Irish default by the Irish people on its obligations. That is simply not true.”


Thats something, it like Canada adding 500 bn$ to its national debt….Or in the UK it would be a much bigger number….850 bn$ worth, but then there are more people. But in proportion about the same.

The US however is in a different league altogether….. 12.8 trillion as a matter of fact, 5+ trillion of which is mortgage debt taken off the books onto the govt shoulders … but even though totally 100% liable the US govt has not yet added this debt to their total 13 trillion $ … for some reason. There has been debate about this…. but it would be to much of a shock to the us citizens to see it in writing.

The U.S. government placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship in September 2008: “This means that the U.S. Taxpayer now stands behind $5 trillion of GSE debt,” according to the Congressional Research Service.The problem is that $5 trillion of so-called agency paper is not treated as if it is a debt of Uncle Sam for accounting purposes, says Richard Suttmeier, chief market strategist at Niagara International Capital   “Get it on the balance sheet – that’s where it belongs,” Suttmeier says. “Add it to the $14.2 trillion in [federal] debt and let’s move on.”


End of email.  Thank you, Adam.  Wow.  Scary stuff and remember: this is OUR future, too.  There is some more Irish news we should all read carefully since it is an exact mirror image of what is wrong with the US:


Irish Banks Need $43 Billion on ‘Appalling’ Lending (Update4) –

Ireland’s banks need $43 billion in new capital after “appalling” lending decisions left the country’s financial system on the brink of collapse. .

The fund-raising requirement was announced after the National Asset Management Agency said it will apply an average discount of 47 percent on the first block of loans it is buying from lenders as part of a plan to revive the financial system. The central bank set new capital buffers for Allied Irish Banks Plc and Bank of Ireland Plc and gave them 30 days to say how they will raise the funds. .

“Our worst fears have been surpassed,” Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said in the parliament in Dublin yesterday. “Irish banking made appalling lending decisions that will cost the taxpayer dearly for years to come.”


ΩΩThe entire concept of a second mortgage is odious.  One does this only when one is in special circumstances such as buying a new home while temporarily living still in the old one or building a new house and using the collateral of the old house to fund the construction of the new house.  I have done this in the past for these reasons.  But to my horror, I saw ads on TV during the credit bubble, telling people to take on a second mortgage not even to fix their own homes but to go on vacation!  Or do other fun but non-profitable things.


ΩΩI knew, back then, this would all end badly. This is the infamous ‘Home ATM Machine’ business.  The reason 50% of more people getting government lending aid go bankrupt anyway within just one year of getting rescued is obvious: they are deep in debt not due to mortgages but due to secondary debts dumped on their garbage dump homes!  NO ONE can fix this except the Goddess of Zero who simply wipes everyone out.


ΩΩThis is why caution has to be applied to all financial systems: if they are not closely supervised and controlled, they go first to infinity and then to zero.  A terrible problem.  Easily solved via restraints and controls.  Note how the OCC which was supposed to prevent too many dollars being made via debt, was turned into a toothless tiger that simply passively notes the collapse of the value of our currency due to too much easy debt.


ΩΩSure, we have little inflation except in important commodities but this is due to the Goddess of Zero slashing away at the mountain of debt, using the default tool to fix this mess in a very brutal way.  Unfortunately, the bankers still control our ‘democracy’ so they are moving all their losses onto our books and far from things going to zero, it is actually heading towards infinity: infinite debts owed by the taxpayers who want to continue stupidly cutting taxes while increasing credit based on virtually no capital at all!  Sheesh.


ΩΩWe got to collectively grow up and figure out that Santa Claus is a con artist



The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash

The Black-Scholes equation was the mathematical justification for the trading that plunged the world’s banks into catastrophe


In the Black-Scholes equation, the symbols represent these variables: σ = volatility of returns of the underlying asset/commodity; S = its spot (current) price; δ = rate of change; V = price of financial derivative; r = risk-free interest rate; t = time. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

It was the holy grail of investors. The Black-Scholes equation, brainchild of economists Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, provided a rational way to price a financial contract when it still had time to run. It was like buying or selling a bet on a horse, halfway through the race. It opened up a new world of ever more complex investments, blossoming into a gigantic global industry. But when the sub-prime mortgage market turned sour, the darling of the financial markets became the Black Hole equation, sucking money out of the universe in an unending stream.

  1. Seventeen Equations that Changed the World
  2. by Ian Stewart
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Anyone who has followed the crisis will understand that the real economy of businesses and commodities is being upstaged by complicated financial instruments known as derivatives. These are not money or goods. They are investments in investments, bets about bets. Derivatives created a booming global economy, but they also led to turbulent markets, the credit crunch, the near collapse of the banking system and the economic slump. And it was the Black-Scholes equation that opened up the world of derivatives.

The equation itself wasn’t the real problem. It was useful, it was precise, and its limitations were clearly stated. It provided an industry-standard method to assess the likely value of a financial derivative. So derivatives could be traded before they matured. The formula was fine if you used it sensibly and abandoned it when market conditions weren’t appropriate. The trouble was its potential for abuse. It allowed derivatives to become commodities that could be traded in their own right. The financial sector called it the Midas Formula and saw it as a recipe for making everything turn to gold. But the markets forgot how the story of King Midas ended.

Black-Scholes underpinned massive economic growth. By 2007, the international financial system was trading derivatives valued at one quadrillion dollars per year. This is 10 times the total worth, adjusted for inflation, of all products made by the world’s manufacturing industries over the last century. The downside was the invention of ever-more complex financial instruments whose value and risk were increasingly opaque. So companies hired mathematically talented analysts to develop similar formulas, telling them how much those new instruments were worth and how risky they were. Then, disastrously, they forgot to ask how reliable the answers would be if market conditions changed.

Black and Scholes invented their equation in 1973; Robert Merton supplied extra justification soon after. It applies to the simplest and oldest derivatives: options. There are two main kinds. A put option gives its buyer the right to sell a commodity at a specified time for an agreed price. A call option is similar, but it confers the right to buy instead of sell. The equation provides a systematic way to calculate the value of an option before it matures. Then the option can be sold at any time. The equation was so effective that it won Merton and Scholes the 1997 Nobel prize in economics. (Black had died by then, so he was ineligible.)

If everyone knows the correct value of a derivative and they all agree, how can anyone make money? The formula requires the user to estimate several numerical quantities. But the main way to make money on derivatives is to win your bet – to buy a derivative that can later be sold at a higher price, or matures with a higher value than predicted. The winners get their profit from the losers. In any given year, between 75% and 90% of all options traders lose money. The world’s banks lost hundreds of billions when the sub-prime mortgage bubble burst. In the ensuing panic, taxpayers were forced to pick up the bill, but that was politics, not mathematical economics.

The Black-Scholes equation relates the recommended price of the option to four other quantities. Three can be measured directly: time, the price of the asset upon which the option is secured and the risk-free interest rate. This is the theoretical interest that could be earned by an investment with zero risk, such as government bonds. The fourth quantity is the volatility of the asset. This is a measure of how erratically its market value changes. The equation assumes that the asset’s volatility remains the same for the lifetime of the option, which need not be correct. Volatility can be estimated by statistical analysis of price movements but it can’t be measured in a precise, foolproof way, and estimates may not match reality.

The idea behind many financial models goes back to Louis Bachelier in 1900, who suggested that fluctuations of the stock market can be modelled by a random process known as Brownian motion. At each instant, the price of a stock either increases or decreases, and the model assumes fixed probabilities for these events. They may be equally likely, or one may be more probable than the other. It’s like someone standing on a street and repeatedly tossing a coin to decide whether to move a small step forwards or backwards, so they zigzag back and forth erratically. Their position corresponds to the price of the stock, moving up or down at random. The most important statistical features of Brownian motion are its mean and its standard deviation. The mean is the short-term average price, which typically drifts in a specific direction, up or down depending on where the market thinks the stock is going. The standard deviation can be thought of as the average amount by which the price differs from the mean, calculated using a standard statistical formula. For stock prices this is called volatility, and it measures how erratically the price fluctuates. On a graph of price against time, volatility corresponds to how jagged the zigzag movements look.

Black-Scholes implements Bachelier’s vision. It does not give the value of the option (the price at which it should be sold or bought) directly. It is what mathematicians call a partial differential equation, expressing the rate of change of the price in terms of the rates at which various other quantities are changing. Fortunately, the equation can be solved to provide a specific formula for the value of a put option, with a similar formula for call options.

The early success of Black-Scholes encouraged the financial sector to develop a host of related equations aimed at different financial instruments. Conventional banks could use these equations to justify loans and trades and assess the likely profits, always keeping an eye open for potential trouble. But less conventional businesses weren’t so cautious. Soon, the banks followed them into increasingly speculative ventures.

Any mathematical model of reality relies on simplifications and assumptions. The Black-Scholes equation was based on arbitrage pricing theory, in which both drift and volatility are constant. This assumption is common in financial theory, but it is often false for real markets. The equation also assumes that there are no transaction costs, no limits on short-selling and that money can always be lent and borrowed at a known, fixed, risk-free interest rate. Again, reality is often very different.

When these assumptions are valid, risk is usually low, because large stock market fluctuations should be extremely rare. But on 19 October 1987, Black Monday, the world’s stock markets lost more than 20% of their value within a few hours. An event this extreme is virtually impossible under the model’s assumptions. In his bestseller The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an expert in mathematical finance, calls extreme events of this kind black swans. In ancient times, all known swans were white and “black swan” was widely used in the same way we now refer to a flying pig. But in 1697, the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh found masses of black swans on what became known as the Swan River in Australia. So the phrase now refers to an assumption that appears to be grounded in fact, but might at any moment turn out to be wildly mistaken.

Large fluctuations in the stock market are far more common than Brownian motion predicts. The reason is unrealistic assumptions – ignoring potential black swans. But usually the model performed very well, so as time passed and confidence grew, many bankers and traders forgot the model had limitations. They used the equation as a kind of talisman, a bit of mathematical magic to protect them against criticism if anything went wrong.

Banks, hedge funds, and other speculators were soon trading complicated derivatives such as credit default swaps – likened to insuring your neighbour’s house against fire – in eye-watering quantities. They were priced and considered to be assets in their own right. That meant they could be used as security for other purchases. As everything got more complicated, the models used to assess value and risk deviated ever further from reality. Somewhere underneath it all was real property, and the markets assumed that property values would keep rising for ever, making these investments risk-free.

The Black-Scholes equation has its roots in mathematical physics, where quantities are infinitely divisible, time flows continuously and variables change smoothly. Such models may not be appropriate to the world of finance. Traditional mathematical economics doesn’t always match reality, either, and when it fails, it fails badly. Physicists, mathematicians and economists are therefore looking for better models.

At the forefront of these efforts is complexity science, a new branch of mathematics that models the market as a collection of individuals interacting according to specified rules. These models reveal the damaging effects of the herd instinct: market traders copy other market traders. Virtually every financial crisis in the last century has been pushed over the edge by the herd instinct. It makes everything go belly-up at the same time. If engineers took that attitude, and one bridge in the world fell down, so would all the others.

By studying ecological systems, it can be shown that instability is common in economic models, mainly because of the poor design of the financial system. The facility to transfer billions at the click of a mouse may allow ever-quicker profits, but it also makes shocks propagate faster.

Was an equation to blame for the financial crash, then? Yes and no. Black-Scholes may have contributed to the crash, but only because it was abused. In any case, the equation was just one ingredient in a rich stew of financial irresponsibility, political ineptitude, perverse incentives and lax regulation.

Despite its supposed expertise, the financial sector performs no better than random guesswork. The stock market has spent 20 years going nowhere. The system is too complex to be run on error-strewn hunches and gut feelings, but current mathematical models don’t represent reality adequately. The entire system is poorly understood and dangerously unstable. The world economy desperately needs a radical overhaul and that requires more mathematics, not less. It may be rocket science, but magic it’s not.

Ian Stewart is emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick. His new book 17 Equations That Changed the World is published by Profile (£15.99)


Gloom, Boom & Doom’s Faber expects global economic collapse (6:43)

Dec. 8 – Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom, Boom and Doom Report, says there will be a global market collapse and the entire derivatives market will one day cease to exist.


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