Monday, April 19, 2010

Next Bubble: $600 Trillion?

Cities, states, universities could sink from monster derivatives meltdown.
As interest rates begin to rise worldwide, losses in derivatives may end up bankrupting a wide range of institutions, including municipalities, state governments, major insurance companies, top investment houses, commercial banks and universities.

Defaults now beginning to occur in a number of European cities prefigure what may end up being the largest financial bubble ever to burst – a bubble that today amounts to more than $600 trillion.

The Bank of International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, now estimates derivatives – the complex bets financial institutions and sophisticated institutional investors make with one another on everything from commodities options to credit swaps – topped $604 trillion worldwide at the end of June 2009.

To comprehend the relative magnitude of derivative contracts globally, the CIA Factbook estimates the 2009 Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, of the world was just under $60 trillion.

Derivative contracts, therefore, have now reach a level 10 times world GDP, meaning even a 10 percent default in derivatives would equal world GDP.

The small 800-year-old town of Saint-Etienne in France has just defaulted on a $1.6 million contract owed to Deutsche Bank. The city entered into a complex currency swap arrangement to reduce the cost of borrowing some $30 million.

To cancel all 10 derivative contracts Saint-Etienne currently holds would cost the town approximately $135 million, more than six times the amount initially borrowed, largely because no bank orinstitutional investor would want to purchase contracts that are now on the losing side of the bet.

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