How Greece Could Take Down Wall Street
by Ellen Brown
February 21, 2012
In an article titled “Still No End to ‘Too Big to Fail,’” William Greider wrote in The Nation on February 15th:
Financial market cynics have assumed all along that Dodd-Frank did not end “too big to fail” but instead created a charmed circle of protected banks labeled “systemically important” that will not be allowed to fail, no matter how badly they behave.
That may be, but there is one bit of bad behavior that Uncle Sam himself does not have the funds to underwrite: the $32 trillion market in credit default swaps (CDS). Thirty-two trillion dollars is more than twice the U.S. GDP and more than twice the national debt.
CDS are a form of derivative taken out by investors as insurance against default. According to the Comptroller of the Currency, nearly 95% of the banking industry’s total exposure to derivatives contracts is held by the nation’s five largest banks: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, and Goldman Sachs. The CDS market is unregulated, and there is no requirement that the “insurer” actually have the funds to pay up. CDS are more like bets, and a massive loss at the casino could bring the house down.
It could, at least, unless the casino is rigged. Whether a “credit event” is a “default” triggering a payout is determined by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), and it seems that the ISDA is owned by the world’s largest banks and hedge funds. That means the house determines whether the house has to pay.
The Houses of Morgan, Goldman and the other Big Five are justifiably worried right now, because an “event of default” declared on European sovereign debt could jeopardize their $32 trillion derivatives scheme. According to Rudy Avizius in an article on The Market Oracle (UK) on February 15th, that explains what happened at MF Global, and why the 50% Greek bond write-down was not declared an event of default.
If you paid only 50% of your mortgage every month, these same banks would quickly declare you in default. But the rules are quite different when the banks are the insurers underwriting the deal.
MF Global: Canary in the Coal Mine?