Category Archives: Derivatives

Why Did Commodity Prices Move Together?

As strange as it may seem, most economists loudly disputed the notion that the rise in commodity prices, particularly in the first half of 2008, was in large measure due to financial speculation. More and more analytical work (such as comparisons of price action in commodities trades on futures exchanges with ones that have large markets but are not exchange-traded, like eggplant, a staple in India, and cooking oil) have dented the orthodox view.

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How Wall Street Used Swaps to Get Rich at the Expense of Cities

This post by Ed Walker provides a detailed description of how badly municipalities have been fleeced when they bought interest rate swaps from Wall Street as part of financings. It isn’t simply that these borrowers were exploited, but that the degree of pilfering was so extreme that the financiers clearly knew they were dealing with rubes and took full advantage of the opportunity.

But what is even more troubling than the fact set here is the failure of the overwhelming majority of abused borrowers to seek to recover their losses. Walker describes that multiple legal approaches lead you to the same general conclusion: the swaps provider, as opposed to the hapless city, should bear the brunt of the losses. So why haven’t cities like Chicago, that have been hit hard by swaps losses, fought back? Walker does not speculate, but in the case of Rahm Emanuel, it’s not hard to imagine that his deep ties to Big Finance are the reason.

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Nomi Prins: The Volatility/Quantitative Easing Dance of Doom

The battle between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of global financial policy is escalating to the point where the ‘haves’ might start to sweat – a tiny little. This phase of heightened volatility in the markets is a harbinger of the inevitable meltdown that will follow the grand plastering-over of a systemically fraudulent global financial system.

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Cecilia Nahon: Argentina vs the Vultures

This Institute of New Economic Thinking interview describes how Argentina’s completed sovereign debt restructuring was derailed by vulture fund NML Capital in a reading of the original bonds’ pari passu clause that was contrary to well-established practice. Even the US Treasury had weighed in on the side of Argentina in an amicus brief. The interview of Argentine ambassador Cecilia Nahon by Marshall Auerbach goes into the backstory of the restructuring, that Argentina’s woes in no small measure resulted from following the IMF’s neoliberal fads du jour.

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The Boston Globe Covers Up for Wall Street, Ignores Swaps Losses in Coverage of MBTA Turmoil

A new Boston Globe story, The T’s long, winding, infuriating road to failure, purports to be “the true story of the breakdown,” a “a decades-long tale of grand ambitions and runaway costs.”

Funny how this 2500 word article makes nary a mention of the huge losses that the Boston Metropolitan Transit Authority made, along with many other easily duped transit authorities, on swap transactions that went massively against them in an environment of seemingly permanent low interest rates.

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Did Argentina ‘Default’?

A US court ruling has warped the otherwise precise meanings of three key words – “republic”, “sovereign”, and “default” – leading to absurdities like a New York district court holding the Republic of Argentina in “contempt of court”! The entire understanding of sovereign debt and its restructuring is being read through private “contract law” that cannot address the complex questions that are inherently public in nature, à la questions around restructuring Argentina’s debt. It appeared that a misreading of key words could benefit some vulture funds, but so far no one has seen as much as a penny! Maybe they never will.

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The Fed’s and Republicans’ War Against Dodd Frank and How That Preserves the Greenspan Put and Too Big to Fail

A new story by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times highlights how the Federal Reserve and the Republicans* are on a full bore campaign to render Dodd Frank a dead letter, with the latest chapter an effort to pass HR 37, a bill that would chip away at key parts of Dodd Frank. But the bigger implications of this campaign is how these efforts serve to limit the Fed’s freedom in implementing monetary policy. In other words, Fed general counsel Scott Alvarez is undermining the authority of his boss, Janet Yellen.

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The CBO’s Bad Math: Putting $7 Trillion of Notional Value of Derivatives in Taxpayer-Backstopped Depositaries Will Cost Zero

So why did Elizabeth Warren lose her battle last month to stop banks from continuing to park $7 trillion notional value of risky derivatives like the credit defaults swaps in taxpayer-backstopped depositaries?

One of the less well-recognized reasons is that the CBO’s dubious analysis said it would not cost taxpayers a dime.

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How the Republican Campaign to Gut Dodd Frank is a Huge Gimmie to Banks and Private Equity Funds

The Republicans have been quick and shameless in using their control of both houses to try to crank up the financial services pork machine into overtime operation. The Democrats at least try to meter out their give-aways over time.

Their plan, as outlined in an important post by Simon Johnson, is to take apart Dodd Frank by dismantling key parts of it under the rubric of “clarifications” or “improvements” and to focus on technical issues that they believe to be over the general public’s head and therefore unlikely to attract interest, much the less ire. However, as Elizabeth Warren demonstrated in the fight last month over the so-called swaps pushout rule, it is possible to reduce many of these issues to their essential element, which is that Wall Street is getting yet another subsidy or back-door bailout.

Today’s example is HR 37, with the Orwellian label “Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act”.

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Stephen Roach Takes the Fed to the Woodshed

While the Fed appears to be getting nervous about increasing (and long overdue) criticism for its undue coziness with banks, it has for the most part ignored opponents of its aggressive monetary policies. And for good reason. Most of them have been fixated on the risk of inflation, which is not in the cards as long as labor bargaining power remains weak. There are other, more substantial grounds for taking issue with the central bank’s policies. For instance, gooding asset prices widens income and wealth inequality, which in the long term is a damper on growth. Moreover, one can argue that the sustained super-accommodative policy gave the impression that Something Was Being Done, which took the heat off the Administration to push for more spending. Indeed, the IMF recently found that infrastructure spending pays for itself, with each dollar of spending in an economy with high unemployment generating nearly $3 in GDP growth. And a lot of people are uncomfortable for aesthetic or pragmatic reasons. Aesthetically, a lot of investors, even ones that have done well, are deeply uncomfortable with a central bank meddling so much. And many investors and savers are frustrated by their inability to invest at a positive real yield without being forced to take on a lot of risk.

Stephen Roach, former chief economist of Morgan Stanley and later its chairman for Asia, offers a straightforward, sharply-worded critique: just as in the runup to the crisis of 2007-2008, the Fed’s failure to raise rates is leading to an underpricing of financial market risk, or in layspeak, to the blowing of bubbles. He argues that has to end badly.

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