Everywhere you look, there’s evidence that derivatives are what is killing the economy.
McClatchy reports that derivatives, mainly credit default swaps, are destroying Citibank, B of A, HSBC, Wells and JP Morgan:
America’s five largest banks, which already have received $145 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars, still face potentially catastrophic losses from exotic investments if economic conditions substantially worsen, their latest financial reports show.
Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC Bank USA, Wells Fargo Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase reported that their “current” net loss risks from derivatives — insurance-like bets tied to a loan or other underlying asset — surged to $587 billion as of Dec. 31. Buried in end-of-the-year regulatory reports that McClatchy has reviewed, the figures reflect a jump of 49 percent in just 90 days….
Federal regulators portray the potential loss figures as worst-case. However, the risks of these off-balance sheet investments, once thought minimal, have risen sharply as the U.S. has fallen into the steepest economic downturn since World War II ….
The biggest concerns are the banks’ holdings of contracts known as credit-default swaps, which can provide insurance against defaults on loans such as subprime mortgages or guarantee actual payments for borrowers who walk away from their debts.
The banks’ credit-default swap holdings, with face values in the trillions of dollars, are “a ticking time bomb, and how bad it gets is going to depend on how bad the economy gets,” said Christopher Whalen, a managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, a company that grades banks on their degree of loss risk from complex investments….
Trading in credit-default contracts has sparked investor fears because they are bought and sold in a murky, private market that is largely out of the reach of federal regulators. No one, except those holding the instruments, knows who owes what to whom. Not even banks and insurers can accurately calculate their risks.
“I don’t trust any numbers on them,” said David Wyss, the chief economist for the New York credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s….
Kopff, the bank shareholders’ expert, said that several of the big banks’ risks are so large that they are “dead men walking.”
The banks’ credit-default portfolios have gotten little scrutiny because they’re off-the-books entries that are largely unregulated.