CDS and the self-fulfilling default

Wall Street-made financial instruments purportedly created to protect investors against default actually hasten corporate bankruptcies, according to a new study. And it’s not Occupy protesters bashing these credit default swaps (CDS) –  the report comes from none other than the New York Society of Security Analysts. Its findings are as follows:

We present evidence that the probability of credit rating downgrade and the probability of bankruptcy both increase after the inception of CDS trading. […]

Lenders who insure themselves by buying CDS protection help push borrowers into bankruptcy, even though restructuring may be a better choice for the firm from the conventional (without CDS protection) lenders’ perspective.

The problem, say the authors, comes down to a basic conflict of interest – creditors holding the securities suddenly hold an actual stake in the firm’s failure.

CDS could affect bankruptcy risk through two channels associated with the empty creditor problem. The first and direct channel is the effect on the willingness to restructure the debt, whereby creditors (over)insured with CDS break the link between cash flow rights and control rights. Empty creditors are unwilling to restructure the firm even if doing so is efficient for debt value as they can profit significantly from their CDS positions. Several theoretical papers model the empty creditor issue.  […]

from Global Investing:

Trash heap for sovereign CDS?

For all the ifs and buts about the latest euro rescue agreement, one of its most profound market legacies may be to sound the death knell for sovereign credit default swaps -- at least those covering richer developed economies. In short, the agreement reached in Brussels last night outlined a haircut on Greek government bonds of some 50 percent as a way to keep the country's debt mountain sustainable over time. But anyone who had bought default insurance on the debt in the form of CDS would not get compensated as long as the "restructuring" was voluntary, or so says a top lawyer for the International Swaps and Derivatives Association -- the arbiter of CDS contracts.

ISDA general counsel  David Geen said there would be no change in the ruling to account for the size of the haircut:

As far we can see it's still a voluntary arrangement and therefore we are in the same position as we were with the 21 percent when that was agreed (in July)