Will Greek CDS ever trade again?

April 2, 2012
Christopher Whittall explained why we don't have a good go-to measure of Greece's creditworthiness, in the wake of its big bond exchange.

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Back on March 23, Christopher Whittall explained why we don’t have a good go-to measure of Greece’s creditworthiness, in the wake of its big bond exchange: Greece’s credit default swaps can’t trade yet. There’s something called a 60-day look-back clause in the standard CDS documentation, which means that if a country has defaulted in the past 60 days, somebody who owns credit protection can claim that there has been an event of default and ask to be paid out. Since we’re still well within 60 days of the default event on March 9, anybody buying Greek credit default swaps now could trigger them immediately.

But after today’s news, it’s far from clear that Greek CDS will even start trading after the 60 days are up. It turns out that while Greece managed to swap its old domestic debt into new bonds quite seamlessly and easily, the same’s not true of Greece’s foreign bonds.

In a statement, the Public Debt Management Agency said investors holding 20 of the 36 bonds in question either voted down or otherwise failed to approve key changes to the bond contracts…

Last week euro-zone finance ministers issued a statement which hinted strongly that they would back Greece if it didn’t make the payments on foreign law bonds.

On May 15, Greece must redeem one of those foreign law notes worth €450 million.

Basically, there are now roughly €9 billion of bonds outstanding which are still old bonds which haven’t been swapped. And those bonds are likely to be a real headache for Greece. The obvious thing for Greece to do would be to simply refuse to pay anybody who holds those bonds and didn’t tender into the exchange. I would certainly follow that course, if I were in Greece’s shoes.

But that would mean that there would be a second Greek default — and that going forwards, there would be a semi-permanent stock of defaulted Greek debt out there. In turn, that would make it difficult to trade Greek CDS, since Greece is likely to be in default, on billions of dollars of foreign debt, for as far as the eye can see.

Now it’s possible to ring-fence that debt and say that it doesn’t count towards a CDS trigger. Non-trivial, but possible. The question is whether anybody really has the appetite to do that. Or whether Greece, and the Eurocrats paying its bills, would actually be quite happy if Greek CDS didn’t trade at all from here on in.


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