And here’s something else to worry about. Bill Gross, head of PIMCO, the world’s biggest bond fund, calls it the “shadow banking system.” He’s referring to the way money and credit fly around the globe, courtesy of the very same “sophisticated” and “free” institutions that created such prosperity for so many people in the financial industry.
Banks recognize that not all their loans will be repaid. They operate on margins of safety, with reserves set aside for when things go wrong. But in the worlds of swaps, hedge funds and derivatives…slick operators can invest billions with no margins of safety…and no reserves. The result, Gross says, could be catastrophic:
“But today’s banking system, as pointed out in recent Investment Outlooks , has morphed into something entirely different and inherently more risky. Our modern shadow banking system craftily dodges the reserve requirements of traditional institutions and promotes a chain letter, pyramid scheme of leverage, based in many cases on no reserve cushion whatsoever. Financial derivatives of all descriptions are involved but credit default swaps (CDS) are perhaps the most egregious offenders. While margin does flow periodically to balance both party’s accounts, the conduits that hold CDS contracts are in effect non-regulated banks, much like their hedge fund brethren, with no requirements to hold reserves against a significant ‘black swan’ run that might break them.
“According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), CDS totaling $43 trillion were outstanding at year end 2007, more than half the size of the entire asset base of the global banking system. Total derivatives amount to over $500 trillion, many of them finding their way onto the balance sheets of SIVs, CDOs and other conduits of their ilk comprising the Frankensteinian levered body of shadow banks.”
Markets and Money