Sunday, February 17, 2008

Arcane Market Is Next to Face Big Credit Test

Years of a healthy economy and few corporate defaults led many banks to write more credit insurance, finding it a low-risk way to earn income because failures were few. Speculators have also flooded into the credit insurance market recently because these securities make it easier to bet on the health of a company than using corporate bonds.

Both factors have resulted in a market of credit swaps that now far exceeds the face value of corporate bonds underlying it. Commercial banks are among the biggest participants — at the end of the third quarter of 2007, the top 25 banks held credit default swaps, both as insurers and insured, worth $14 trillion, the currency office said, up $2 trillion from the previous quarter.

JPMorgan Chase, with $7.8 trillion, is the largest player; Citibank and Bank of America are behind it with $3 trillion and $1.6 trillion respectively.

Credit default swaps are going to blow sky high. If 10% of credit default swaps blow up, it would wipe out $4.5 trillion in capital. A mere 1% hit would wipe out $450 billion. We don't know when, but we do know the fuse is lit. Source