Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Next Big Blow-up:Junk Bonds and Credit Default Swaps

From Bloomberg:

It's Friday, March 14, and hedge fund adviser Tim Backshall is trying to stave off panic. Backshall sits in the Walnut Creek, California, office of his firm, Credit Derivatives Research LLC, at a U-shaped desk dominated by five computer monitors.

Bear Stearns Cos. shares have plunged 50 percent since trading began today, and his fund manager clients, some of whom have their cash and other accounts at Bear, worry that the bank is on the verge of bankruptcy. They're unsure whether they should protect their assets by purchasing credit-default swaps, a type of insurance that's supposed to pay them face value if Bear's debt goes under.

Backshall, 37, tells them there are two rubs: The price of the swaps is skyrocketing by the minute, and the banks selling the insurance are also at risk of collapsing. If Bear goes down, he tells them, it may take other banks with it.

``There's always the danger the bank selling you the protection on Bear will fail,'' Backshall says. If that were to happen, his clients could spend millions of dollars for worthless insurance....MORE

HT: Naked Capitalism who writes:

A story on Bloomberg this morning uncharacteristically lacks a news hook but gives a good deal of color on counterparty risk in the credit default swaps market.

The story argues that the other shoe may finally drop in the $62 trillion CDS market due to rising junk bond defaults. We've long seen that market as a disaster in the making. With economic exposures estimated at 2% of notional amount, $1,2 trillion is at risk, making it larger than the subprime market. Thus the $150 billion in losses estimated by BNP Paribas analyst Andera Cicione is plausible.