CDS clearinghouses pass $15 trillion milestone
In what it refers to as a "milestone," the firm that operates the Federal Reserve-approved global credit default swap clearinghouses is now past $15 trillion in cumulative gross notional value. IntercontinentalExchange Inc. (ICE) received special exemptions from the Securities and Exchange Commission in March 2009 to begin reducing risk in trading credit default swaps, a derivatives tool. ICE clocked more than 400,000 transactions during the week ending Jan. 21. Members of ICE include several of the biggest banks in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Credit default swaps were once a popular form of credit enhancement for securitized products. The derivatives bespoke agreements between two parties, one ensuring that its securitized product is strong credit-wise, the other insuring that security against risk of default. The notional value represents an estimation of what the underlying assets are worth. The market for these swaps reached more than $60 billion in notional value during its height in 2007. One of the largest providers of CDS was American International Group, or AIG. IRA's Christopher Whalen maintains that "for years, AIG has used what seems to be a Ponzi scheme of credit default swaps, side letters and overt reinsurance claims to generate revenue, but all the while concealing the true nature of the total liabilities facing the company." After the economy collapsed, so did the CDS market, but the the swaps themselves remain. "In a little less than two years, ICE and its clearing members have made substantial progress toward increasing stability and transparency in the CDS market, and in reducing systemic risk globally," said Scott Hill, CFO of the global company. "This is a significant achievement, and we'll look to build on it in 2011 with the expansion of our products and services." ICE's North American CDS clearinghouse, the ICE Trust, crossed $9 trillion in gross notional cleared, resulting in cumulative open interest of $542 billion. ICE Trust has cleared $8.4 trillion in North American CDS indices (CDX) and $636 billion in single-name CDS. ICE Trust expects to offer single-name buyside clearing in 2011. Write to Jacob Gaffney. Follow him on Twitter @JacobGaffney. The author holds no relevant investments.