California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who is responsible for issuing new debt for the state, takes a lot of interest in the price of California’s municipal credit default swaps. The price of muni CDS can affect the cost of issuing new debt, since some investors use muni CDS as a pricing benchmark. But new work published by risk-management firm Kamakura suggests that there is no real market for municipal CDS and prices are generated primarily by broker-dealers posting their best estimates. If a specialty market is just a matter of a few dealers privately sending quotes back and forth, is it a real market? I’m not sure that it is.
There was a big story last June about Treasurer Lockyer rooting out some inconsistencies in muni CDS prices. He noticed that there was a sudden drop in the day-to-day price of the CDS used to insure California’s bonds. Katy Burne of Dow Jones reported in June:
California’s state treasurer is looking into what he believes were erroneous prices reported last month for credit-default swaps tied to the state’s debt.
The annual cost of protecting $10 million of California debt against default over the next five years fell by $45,000 from one day to the next last month, an extraordinarily big overnight move. Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Treasurer Bill Lockyer, said that CMA Datavision provided the prices to Bloomberg’s fixed-income data service.
Lockyer suspects the cost of credit-default swaps, which are expressed as a percentage of the amount of debt covered, was artificially high before the adjustment.