Reader Steve A , Scott and Saboor also pointed to the Bloomberg story reporting that the International Swaps Dealers Association had announced an emergency Sunday session to net Lehman-related position in anticipation of a possible bankruptcy filing,
Wall Street prepared for a potential Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. bankruptcy after Barclays Plc said it pulled out of talks to buy the firm and the government indicated it wouldn’t provide funds in a resolution.
Banks and brokers today held a session for netting derivatives transactions with Lehman, or canceling trades that offset each other, in case the New York-based firm files for bankruptcy before midnight New York time.
“The purpose of this session is to reduce risk associated with a potential Lehman Brothers Inc. bankruptcy filing,” the International Swaps and Derivatives Association said in a statement today. The ISDA includes 218 banks, brokerages, insurance companies and other financial institutions from the U.S. and abroad….
“ISDA confirms a netting trading session will take place between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. New York time for over-the-counter derivatives,” the ISDA said. “Trades are contingent on a bankruptcy filing at or before 11:59 p.m. New York time, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008. If there is no filing, the trades cease to exist.”
Update: Reader Dwight pointed to this comment from Alea:
In the U.S., as in most countries with well-developed securities markets, derivative securities enjoy special protections under insolvency resolution laws. Most creditors are “stayed” from enforcing their rights while a firm is in bankruptcy. However, many derivatives contracts are exempt from these stays. Furthermore, derivatives enjoy netting and close-out, or termination, privileges which are not always available to most other creditors. The primary argument used to motivate passage of legislation granting these extraordinary protections is that derivatives markets are a major source of systemic risk in financial markets and that netting and close-out reduce this risk. To date, these assertions have not been subjected to rigorous economic scrutiny. This paper critically reexamines this hypothesis. These relationships are more complex than often perceived. We conclude that it is not clear whether netting, collateral, and/or close-out lead to reduced systemic risk, once the impact of these protections on the size and structure of the derivatives market has been taken into account.
Update 4:00 PM: The Wall Street Journal weights in:
As word that a Barclays deal was off filtered across Wall Street, credit derivative traders scrambled to unwind their outstanding contracts with Lehman and shift their positions to other banks. CDS traders at many Wall Street firms were told to come to work immediately.
With many trading desks open, investors rushed to buy credit default swaps tied to other brokerages and corporations, sending the cost of protection on investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and others sharply higher. One senior trader said
Bank of America is offering to face Lehman’s counterparties in CDS trades, as long as the swaps don’t reference Lehman’s own debt…
A disorderly unwind of Lehman’s derivatives trades is only one worry. Another worry is that if Lehman collapses, its distressed assets — such as commercial real estate — could suddenly hit Wall Street for sale, forcing prices even lower and potentially forcing other dealers to mark down once again the value of their own holdings.
The headline and intro sentence were modified with the second update.
Update 4:50 PM: Cash Mundy in an earlier comment highlighted Nouriel Roubini’s reading on the consequences of a Lehman unwinding:
It is now clear that we are again — as we were in mid- March at the time of the Bear Stearns collapse — an epsilon away from a generalized run on most of the shadow banking system, especially the other major independent broker dealers (Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs). If Lehman does not find a buyer over the weekend and the counterparties of Lehman withdraw their credit lines on Monday (as they all will in the absence of a deal) you will have not only a collapse of Lehman but also the beginning of a run on the other independent broker dealers (Merrill Lynch first but also in sequence Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and possibly even those broker dealers that are part of a larger commercial bank, I.e. JP Morgan and Citigroup). Then this run would lead to a massive systemic meltdown of the financial system. That is the reason why the Fed has convened in emergency meetings the heads of all major Wall Street firms on Friday and again today to convince them not to pull the plug on Lehman and maintain their exposure to this distressed broker dealer.