Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Idle Speculation... Counterparties, Derivatives, and Hedging.

I work with a fellow, incredibly sharp, and very well versed on finance with a focus on hedging.

Today we were talking.

He talks about how basically everybody is hedged in all of these ways, so that they'll be assured of returns within some particular range. For instance, a bank doesn't care about whether you pick a fixed or a variable interest rate, because as soon as they make the deal, they're going to hedge it with derivative deals designed to make sure that returns over the period of the loan are within an acceptable percentage range, irrespective of what happens to actual interest rates over that time. Well, it seems that everything works out great as long as none of the hedging Counterparties go under. At that point, you have to have another layer of hedge to insure you against counterparty bankruptcy. Soon enough, it becomes a pretty ugly web of dependent hedging relationships.

Another example would be in the case where you might write, say, 1000 Naked Call Option Contracts on some company. You don't have the shares, but you've just offered to sell 100,000 shares to the Call Buyers IF the price of the stock is above a particular "strike price." At the Option's Expiration Date, if the Calls ended "in the money," then you'd have to buy and deliver a huge number of shares, and you'd take a very large loss on the deal. Well, to protect from losses, you can simply buy a swap from a counterparty, which basically insures you against loss in the case that you had to deliver shares. Having just paid a premium to a counterparty, however, and by putting THEM on the hook for your potential losses, you are giving that counterparty incentive to support your interest in whatever way they can; to keep your calls "out of the money." Of course, your counterparty isn't going to just go on the hook for your losses without a hedge, so they might very well bring another counterparty in on the deal, and so on. In such a way, there could potentially be incredible amounts of money riding on the success or failure of even a small public company, and nobody outside of the loop would have any way of knowing about it. These side deals would all be private arrangements, and they wouldn't leave a tick on a chart.

Well, my first impulse was to suggest that in such a situation, a share price could not move freely because of all the pressure put on it by its associated Derivatives, but my friend corrected me, and suggested that, no, the shares could move to reflect fundamentals IF the Derivatives were in balance in both directions. Of course, normally there would be Financial interests sitting on the other (long) side of the deal. Some of these interests would be the same ones that were placing the original short bets, and long interest could be used as a hedge in and of itself. However, it's not the normal case that I'm worried about. The case that I'd be worried about would be one in which a significant chunk of Wall Street were on one side of a trade, and they eventually had to take their losses and test the fitness of their counterparties. Really, it wouldn't have to be Call Options in particular, it could be the Derivative Hedging of Short Sales, or Naked Short Sales of a target company, that could create a systematic counterparty risk in the case of a big, unexpected price movement.

Last, imagine that you are at a company involved in Investment in the Stock Market, and you are involved with various and sundry counterparties in hedging deals. Imagine that you look at a stock or industry that seems like a promising prospect for future growth. What would you do if you found that your counterparties would take big losses if you went and did something to drive up the price and profit from the long side? Well, at the very least you'd think very carefully about whether it would be worth it to blow up your own counterparties by buying those shares.

I don't know... it's just Idle Speculation.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just three letters always come to my mind when discussing counerparties: