Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Chris Whalen Exposes the CDS Cartel Before Congress

From Karl Denniger, sleuth extraordinaire and all around market sceptic. In these days, we need people like him. Please note that all opinions expressed below are Karl's or derivatives of Christopher Whalen.

If you haven't seen this, you need to.

Christopher Whalen is a principal of a firm that rates the performance of commercial banks, Institutional Risk Analytics. I have featured some of his writing before in Tickers, but this one, submitted to The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs yesterday, takes the cake. You must read this in full but for those who are incapable of understanding it, I'll spell out details for you. Some excerpts:

Simply stated, the supra-normal returns paid to the dealers in the closed OTC derivatives market are effectively a tax on other market participants, especially investors who trade on open, public exchanges and markets. The deliberate inefficiency of the OTC derivatives market results in a dedicated tax or subsidy meant to benefit one class of financial institutions, namely the largest OTC dealer banks, at the expense of other market participants.

Translated: The banks make extra-large profits by extracting money from other people in the rest of the market. That is, they have effectively been given the power to levy a tax - something supposedly reserved to Congress.

The taxpayers in the industrial nations also pay a tax through periodic losses to the system caused by the failure of the victims of OTC derivatives and complex structured assets such as AIGs and Citigroup (NYSE:C).

Worse, when they blow it, you eat it, not they. Why? Because they have effectively bribed the regulators to speak on their behalf and for their interests, much as allegedly happened with Stanford and the so-called Antiguan banking regulator.

With CDS and more obscure types of CDOs and other complex mortgage and loan securitizations, however, the basis of the derivative is non-existent or difficult/expensive to observe and calculate, thus the creators of these instruments in the dealer community employ "models" that purport to price these derivatives. The buyer of CDS or CDOs has no access to such models and thus really has no idea whatsoever how the dealer valued the OTC derivative. More, the models employed by the dealers are almost always and uniformly wrong, and are thus completely useless to value the CDS or CDO. The results of this unfair, deceptive market are visible for all to see – and yet the large dealers, including JPM, BAC and GS continue to lobby the Congress to preserve the CDS and CDO markets in their current speculative form.4


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