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Submitted by Tyler Durden on 12/24/2012 09:07 -0500

There is much debate whether when it comes to the total notional size of outstanding derivatives, it is the gross notional that matters (roughly $600 trillion), or the amount which takes out biletaral netting and other offsetting positions (much lower). We explained previously how gross is irrelevant… until it is, i.e. until there is a breach in the counterparty chain and suddenly all net becomes gross (as in the case of the Lehman bankruptcy), such as during a financial crisis, i.e., the only time when gross derivative exposure becomes material (er, by definition). But a bigger question is what is the actual collateral backing this gargantuan market which is about 10 times greater than the world’s combined GDP, because as the “derivative” name implies all this exposure is backed on some dedicated, real assets, somewhere. Luckily, the IMF recently released a discussion note titled “Shadow Banking: Economics and Policy” where quietly hidden in one of the appendices it answers precisely this critical question. The bottom line: $600 trillion in gross notional derivatives backed by a tiny $600 billion in real assets: a whopping 0.1% margin requirement! Surely nothing can possibly go wrong with this amount of unprecedented 1000x systemic leverage.

From the IMF:

Over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets straddle regulated systemically important financial institutions and the shadow banking world. Recent regulatory efforts focus on moving OTC derivatives contracts to central counterparties (CCPs). A CCP will be collecting collateral and netting bilateral positions. While CCPs do not have explicit taxpayer backing, they may be supported in times of stress. For example, the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act allows the Federal Reserve to lend to key financial market infrastructures during times of crises. Incentives to move OTC contracts could come from increasing bank capital charges on OTC positions that are not moved to CCP (BCBS, 2012).

 

The notional value of OTC contracts is about $600 trillion, but while much cited, that number overstates the still very sizable risks. A better estimate may be based on adding “in-the-money” (or gross positive value) and “out-of-the money” (or gross negative value) derivative positions (to obtain total exposures), further reduced by the “netting” of related positions. Once these are taken into account, the resulting exposures are currently about $3 trillion, down from $5 trillion (see table below; see also BIS, 2012, and Singh, 2010).

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