Yves Smith and I received a tip at the weekend from a friend who reads the German press regularly about credit default swaps (CDS) on Greek government debt. Read Yves’ piece based on that article here. Below is mine.
Previously, I had mentioned the CDS exposure of the hapless German Landesbanks (banks owned by the individual German states or Länder – hence the term Landesbank). These same companies lost enormous amounts of money in the subprime meltdown – and apparently they have all sorts of other toxic exposure like Greek CDS still on the books.
So I find it interesting that the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine is focussing instead on the AIG CDS connection to Greece. Here’s part of what they had to say (my translation from German original):
London investment bankers named the American insurer AIG as an additional seller of CDS. It had to be nationalised during the financial crisis, because it had sold default insurance on U.S. mortgage bonds. The burden would have led to the collapse of the once largest insurer in the world. Before the financial crisis, AIG is said to have insured a large amount of sovereign credit risk. If there is still a major insurance positions on Greece, then the American government would have a strong interest in preventing a default of the country.
Even if it just concerns market rumours with the Greek banks and AIG, the examples illustrate the weakness of the CDS market. The protection is sold by banks or insurers, which themselves have only limited capital resources. As a general rule, they also have a much lower credit rating than the countries whose default they are insuring. The insurance provided by CDS may turn out to have been a bubble.
We await further details. But, what should be clear here is that those banks and financial institutions that were caught out during the initial crisis period are probably the same ones now at risk yet again – except this time they start from a weaker capital position.