Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is The Banking System Back To 2008?

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One of the many enjoyable acronyms that became household names in 2008 was CDS – credit default swap. As most investors know by now, these instruments were created to protect bondholders from default.

Of course, what we found out in 2008 was that they really just shifted the risk from one investor to the other.

Sort of like tossing a hand grenade in a circle hoping you aren’t the one holding it when it goes boom. And as Wall Street imploded on itself in 2008 this game of toss the grenade became increasingly expensive to play as evidenced by the surging cost to avoid the grenade (surging cost of CDS).

What’s frightening about the developments in Europe in recent weeks is that the CDS market is once again sending the same signals. Someone is going to get left holding the grenade again. And this time, the market is actually telling us that it’s even worse than it was in 2008. The only difference is that the problems appear to be across the pond.

Recently there has been some discussion about the stress showing up in the banking system. Cullen Roche at Pragmatic Capitalism pointed out that the CDS market in the selected European banks is showing higher levels of stress than 2008:

Don Fishbach pointed out that the average CDS level for US banks is higher than levels seen in March 2008, which is worse than the Bear Stearns peak but lower than the worse stress seen during the Lehman Crisis:
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