Derivatives Ownership Even More Concentrated Than Ever
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.
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 write downs 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 ap.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?
…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. In the future, financial engineers’ claims about derivatives may very be viewed the same.
(If each state had its own public bank, we would all have enough money. We wouldn't be in this mess!)