The Econophysics Blog

This blog is dedicated to exploring the application of quantiative tools from mathematics, physics, and other natural sciences to issues in finance, economics, and the social sciences. The focus of this blog will be on tools, methodology, and logic. This blog will also occasionally delve into philosophical issues surrounding quantitative finance and quantitative social science.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Finally Waking Up to the Credit Derivatives Mess

Regulars to The Econophysics Blog know that, since day one of the current crises, I've been pointing out the role that credit derivatives have played in creating and worsening the credit/mortgage crises -- a fact that was obscured or under-reported by the mainstream financial press and 'experts.' There is an article in The Economist that basically confirms the case I've been making -- along with some new fears -- about the toxicity of credit derivatives: CDOh no!: With trades scarce and losses mounting, it is going to be a harsh winter (Nov. 8, 2007).

According to the very interesting and comprehensive article, the AAA tranches of CDOs (collaterised-debt obligations: a vehicle used to package credit derivatives) have been substantially downgraded in value (see the chart of the ABX index -- and index of credit derivatives -- below) with fears of more downgrades to come. This would wreak havoc on already shaky financial markets.

There is also the question of accounting for these credit derivatives. The recommended method is to stick it in a category called "Level 3" which assesses "fair value" using "assumptions that market participants would use." But is that a good way to assign "fair value"? This situation is made worse by the fact that Level 3 securities have grown so much that they "now exceed shareholder equity" of many banks. No wonder many investment and commercial banks (as well as insurers, hedge funds, etc.) have been accused of not marking down their credit derivatives sufficiently.

Things can get much worse: AAA rated securities are relied on by a diverse range of investors -- from old age pensioners and municipal goverments to high flying hedge funds and banks. If AAA rated securities take a bigger hit because of their links to credit derivatives -- and/or other type of credit linked instruments (linked to consumer loans, for example) start sliding -- things can get really ugly ... much uglier than it is now.

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