Buffett's "time bomb" goes off on Wall Street(CDS)

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Buffett's "time bomb" goes off on Wall Street(CDS)

Postby bigearth » Sun Sep 28, 2008 8:56 am

various people have sounded dark notes about the CDS market..

now it looks like the chickens are coming home to roost..

this shit is a LONG way from over..

Buffett's "time bomb" goes off on Wall Street
Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:42pm EDT

By James B. Kelleher - Analysis

CHICAGO (Reuters) - On Main Street, insurance protects people from the effects of catastrophes.

But on Wall Street, specialized insurance known as a credit default swaps are turning a bad situation into a catastrophe.

When historians write about the current crisis, much of the blame will go to the slump in the housing and mortgage markets, which triggered the losses, layoffs and liquidations sweeping the financial industry.

But credit default swaps -- complex derivatives originally designed to protect banks from deadbeat borrowers -- are adding to the turmoil.

"This was supposedly a way to hedge risk," says Ellen Brown, the author of the book "Web of Debt."

"I'm sure their predictive models were right as far as the risk of the things they were insuring against. But what they didn't factor in was the risk that the sellers of this protection wouldn't pay ... That's what we're seeing now."

Brown is hardly alone in her criticism of the derivatives. Five years ago, billionaire investor Warren Buffett called them a "time bomb" and "financial weapons of mass destruction" and directed the insurance arm of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) to exit the business.


Recent events suggest Buffett was right. The collapse of Bear Stearns. The fire sale of Merrill Lynch & Co Inc (MER.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). The meltdown at American International Group Inc (AIG.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). In each case, credit default swaps played a role in the fall of these financial giants.

The latest victim is insurer AIG, which received an emergency $85 billion loan from the U.S. Federal Reserve late on Tuesday to stave off a bankruptcy.

Over the last three quarters, AIG suffered $18 billion of losses tied to guarantees it wrote on mortgage-linked derivatives.

Its struggles intensified in recent weeks as losses in its own investments led to cuts in its credit ratings. Those cuts triggered clauses in the policies AIG had written that forced it to put up billions of dollars in extra collateral -- billions it did not have and could not raise.

EASY MONEY

When the credit default market began back in the mid-1990s, the transactions were simpler, more transparent affairs. Not all the sellers were insurance companies like AIG -- most were not. But the protection buyer usually knew the protection seller.

As it grew -- according to the industry's trade group, the credit default market grew to $46 trillion by the first half of 2007 from $631 billion in 2000 -- all that changed.

An over-the-counter market grew up and some of the most active players became asset managers, including hedge fund managers, who bought and sold the policies like any other investment.

And in those deals, they sold protection as often as they bought it -- although they rarely set aside the reserves they would need if the obligation ever had to be paid.


In one notorious case, a small hedge fund agreed to insure UBS AG (UBSN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), the Swiss banking giant, from losses related to defaults on $1.3 billion of subprime mortgages for an annual premium of about $2 million.

The trouble was, the hedge fund set up a subsidiary to stand behind the guarantee -- and capitalized it with just $4.6 million. As long as the loans performed, the fund made a killing, raking in an annualized return of nearly 44 percent.

But in the summer of 2007, as home owners began to default, things got ugly. UBS demanded the hedge fund put up additional collateral. The fund balked. UBS sued.

The dispute is hardly unique. Both Wachovia Corp (WB.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) are involved in similar litigation with firms that promised to step up and act like insurers -- but were not actually insurers.

"Insurance companies have armies of actuaries and deep pools of policyholders and the financial wherewithal to pay claims," says Mike Barry, a spokesman at the Insurance Information Institute.

"SLOPPY"

Another problem: As hedge funds and others bought and sold these protection policies, they did not always get prior written consent from the people they were supposed to be insuring. Patrick Parkinson, the deputy director of the Fed's research and statistic arm, calls the practice "sloppy."

As a result, some protection buyers had trouble figuring out who was standing behind the insurance they bought. And it put investors into webs of relationships they did not understand.

"This is the derivative nightmare that everyone has been warning about," says Peter Schiff, the president of Euro Pacific Capital at the author of "Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse."


"They booked all these derivatives assuming bad things would never happen. It was like writing fire insurance, assuming no one is ever going to have a fire, only now they're turning around and watching as the whole town burns down."

(Editing by Andre Grenon)


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Postby bigearth » Sat Oct 11, 2008 9:22 am

bigearth wrote:this shit is a LONG way from over..


bought a helmet, yet?

Traders' worst fears realised at Lehmans auction

Hundreds of billions set to change hands as credit default swaps are reconciled

By Stephen Foley in New York
Saturday, 11 October 2008


Derivatives traders were yesterday nervously picking their way through the wreckage of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in what was the biggest test to date of the unregulated $60 trillion (£35.4 trillion) credit default swaps market.

Investors who had placed bets on Lehman's creditworthiness held an auction aimed at clarifying who owes what to whom after the investment bank went bust four weeks ago, and analysts believe that several hundreds of billions of dollars will change hands.

Credit default swaps are a kind of insurance, which investors used to protect themselves in the event that Lehman defaulted on its bonds. Unlike traditional insurance, however, any financial firm could write a credit default swap contract so banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and traditional fund managers are among those now being required to make investors whole.

The auction set a price for Lehman bonds of 8.625 cents on the dollar. Financial firms that sold credit default swaps, therefore, owe 91.375 cents on the dollar – more than Wall Street had been factoring in. That figure increased nerves about whether everyone in the chain will actually be able to pay the amount that they owe, something that will become clear over the coming days. Participants said the auction went smoothly and efficiently.

The insurance giant AIG was one of the biggest sellers of Lehman Brothers credit default swaps, and it faces big losses as a result. It had to be bailed out by the US government three days after the Lehman bankruptcy filing, and has so far been extended $123bn in loans from the US taxpayer. What investors and regulators fear most is a failure to pay by one link in the chain could cause a cascade of losses through the system.

Analysts say the amount of money that has to change hands could be more than $200bn. Some estimates put the value of outstanding credit default swaps on Lehman Brothers debt at $400bn, although some of these trades have already been netted out because some investors both sold and bought CDS contracts. Exact figures are not available because a CDS is a private contract and is not traded on an exchange, but the payout will certainly be the biggest in the 10-year history of the market.

CDS issuance has exploded in recent years as investors have used the instruments not just to insure bonds that they hold, but also to bet on the creditworthiness of companies. The growth of the market has been so fast that Wall Street has not had time to invent a central trading mechanism.


The New York branch of the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, summoned market participants to a meeting yesterday to discuss creating just such a mechanism. IntercontinentalExchange, the electronic trading platform that is now one of the most popular places to buy and sell oil, said yesterday it had set up a joint venture to create a CDS settlement system. Its announcement came three days after CME Group, which runs the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for derivatives trading, said it was joining forces with hedge fund Citadel to set up a similar system.

Deutsche Borse and NYSE Euronext have also expressed interest, suggesting there could be ferocious competition between exchanges if CDS trading is forced into the regulated arena.

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. it's good to have cynicism but not be cynical
. the more truth you live with, in your life, the stronger you are
. intelligence is merely an attitude to knowledge and learning
bigearth
 
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Postby bigearth » Sun Oct 12, 2008 10:19 am

bigearth wrote:bought a helmet, yet?


better make that a bunker..


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
Sunday, 12 October 2008



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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. is it a wise man, who knows that he is not wise
. it's good to have cynicism but not be cynical
. the more truth you live with, in your life, the stronger you are
. intelligence is merely an attitude to knowledge and learning
bigearth
 
Posts: 234
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2008 8:44 am
Blog: View Blog (0)


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