May 15, 2018

Orphan CDS, Manufactured Credit Events, Insufficient Deliverables: What The Hell Is Going On In The CDS Market?

Long gone are the days when the CDS market was naively seen as merely a simple hedge to long cash bond positions for vanilla investors (negative basis), or more conspiratorially, a means to naked short the bonds of distressed companies (as many alleged happened during the financial crisis) without being subject to squeezes, margin calls, or regulatory scrutiny courtesy of (what was once) a far more liquid and deep CDS market.

Of particular note in recent months has been rapid, and often confounding, propagation of manufactured credit events in which a CDS is triggered - usually after some collusion between the issuing company and one or more hedge funds - without causing an acceleration in the issuer's debt obligations, as discussed recently in the case of Hovanian, in which the CDS surges benefiting one or more hedge funds and/or the company while impairing others, or a manufactured CDS "orphaning", as was the case more recently with McClatchy, in which a CDS suddenly found itself with no reference securities and plunged to 0, in the process sparking a profit bonanza for hedge fund Chatham which had sold the CDS.

And while manufactured credit events remain niche events for a very select group of highly sophisticated investors, several recent events have prompted Barclays to write an extensive analysis looking at the details and motivations for such events, while addressing potential changes to the ISDA Definitions to reduce their likelihood, including adding a multiple holder requirement and excluding missed affiliate payments from the definition of a Failure to Pay credit event. Furthermore, in the context of the McClatchy event, Barclays' credit analysts also examined the latest, most recent development in the CDS marketplace – a potential manufactured orphaning – and how this may be more difficult to address from a definitions perspective.

Why the sudden focus among some of Wall Street's most active CDS trading desks? Because as Barclays says "we believe that failure to address these issues could lead to a loss of confidence in the CDS market, particularly as an indicator of fundamental credit and default risk, and ultimately to lower levels of trading activity."

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