Friday, May 21, 2010

Naked Truth on Default Swaps


Great column on credit-default swaps by Floyd Norris. - MT
The New York Times - Should people be able to bet on your death? How about your financial failure?
In the United States Senate, Wall Street won one this week when the Senate voted down a proposal to bar the so-called naked buying of credit-default swaps. If that were the law, you could not use swaps to bet a company would fail. The exception would be if you already had a stake in the company succeeding, such as owning a bond issued by the company.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Germany announced new rules to bar just such betting — but only if the creditors were euro area governments.
None of this argument would be taking place if regulators had done their jobs years ago and classified credit-default swaps as insurance. 
Credit-default swaps are, in reality, insurance. The buyer of the insurance gets paid if the subject of the swap cannot meet its obligations. The seller of the swap gets a continuing payment from the buyer until the insurance expires. Sort of like an insurance premium, you might say.
But the people who dreamed up credit-default swaps did not like the word insurance. It smacked of regulation and of reserves that insurance companies must set aside in case there were claims. So they called the new thing a swap.

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