Greece deal triggers $3 billion in default swaps, ISDA says

March 10, 2012 at 20:03


Greece’s use of collective action clauses forcing investors to take losses under its debt restructuring triggers payouts on $3 billion of default insurance, the International Swaps & Derivatives Association said.

A total 4,323 credit-default swap contracts may now be settled after ISDA’s determinations committee ruled the use of CACs is a restructuring credit event, according to a statement distributed today by Business Wire. Before the ruling, Greek swaps rose to a record $7.68 million in advance and $100,000 annually to insure $10 million of debt for five years.

Swaps traders will hold an “expedited” auction March 19 to “maximize” the number of bonds that can be used to set payout amounts on the contracts, New York-based ISDA said on the committee’s website today. Auctions, which set a recovery value on the underlying bonds, typically are held about a month after credit events are triggered.

A swaps trigger “raises the question of which country is next and which banks are most exposed,” Hank Calenti, a bank analysts at Societe Generale SA in London, wrote in a note. “Less than six months ago we had the head of the ECB exhorting that there must be no credit event on Greece,” he wrote.

A settlement may bolster confidence in the $257 billion government-debt insurance market after Greece’s restructuring tested the viability of default swaps as a hedge. Greece reached its target for participation in the debt restructuring after using CACs to force the hand of holdouts, with investors in 95.7 percent of the bonds taking part.

Policy makers including former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet opposed payouts on Greek credit-default swaps on concern traders would be encouraged to bet against failing nations and worsen the region’s debt crisis.

“It’s important to keep investor confidence in this instrument as it will affect the ability of sovereigns to issue bonds,” according to Alessandro Giansanti, a senior rates strategist at ING Groep NV in Amsterdam, who said the decision will “restore confidence” in the market. “If you want to attract investor demand, you have to offer them an instrument that will allow them to hedge exposure, and CDS is the best instrument for that.”

While policy makers had hoped to achieve debt sustainability in Europe’s most indebted nations without triggering default swaps, political determination to avoid the stigma of a credit event waned as Greece struggled to meet the terms of its bailout. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation to selective default on Feb. 27 after the government retroactively inserted CACs into bond terms.

“I’ve been surprised throughout at the strong desire not to trigger CDS,” said Elisabeth Afseth, a fixed income analyst at Investec Bank Plc in London. “This should be good for anyone seeking protection elsewhere, such as Spain or Italy.”

Credit-default swaps on Greece now cover $3.16 billion of debt, down from about $6 billion last year, according to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. That compares with a swaps settlement of $5.2 billion on Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008.

While there were concerns at that time about a daisy chain of losses if counterparties failed to meet their commitments, the settlement of swaps guaranteeing debt of Lehman, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were “orderly” and caused no major disruptions for the market, according to regulators.

Swaps on western European governments can pay out on a credit event triggered by failure to pay, restructuring, or a moratorium on payments. A restructuring event can be caused by a reduction in principal or interest, postponement, or deferral of payments or a change in the ranking or currency of obligations, according to ISDA rules. Any of these changes must result from deterioration in creditworthiness, apply to multiple investors, and be binding on all holders.

The determinations committee which decides whether a credit event has occurred consists of representatives from 15 dealers and investors. The group, which includes Deutsche Bank AG (DBK), Pacific Investment Management Co. and Morgan Stanley, rules after a request is made by a market participant.

In a restructuring credit event investors have the right to choose whether to settle their default swap contracts.