A Laugh

Bruce Krasting's picture

I got a chuckle from this article in the Economist: (Link)


For several years I have been pushing against all of the voices saying that it was essential that financial derivatives be banned or that their use be dramatically curtailed. It isn’t that I think that derivatives are such a great thing. I do believe they contributed to the 2008 blowup. The problem is that they are so much a part of the system that to change their role and function would, undoubtedly, cause a bunch of bad things to happen.

Most derivative contracts are related to credit and debt. The reason there is so many derivative contracts is that there is so much debt. The CIA put total world cross border debt at $69 Trillion for 2011:



The Economist puts total derivatives outstanding at $700 Trillion, so for every $1 of global GDP there is $10 of derivatives. This sounds crazy, but is not inconsistent with other markets. Global forex trading is running at 50 times global trade and the turnover in stocks is 20 times asset values. That derivatives are 10 to 1 versus global debt should not be much of a surprise.



That the capital markets must churn multiples of actual underlying values is understandable. An individual transaction causes a transfer of risk from one party to another. The subsequent transactions are the market mechanism in which risk is transferred through the system and ultimately absorbed. Why it takes so many knock on transactions to achieve the necessary transfer of risk is a mystery to me. It just does.

In the back of their minds, the regulators know that putting constraints on markets will result in something breaking down someplace else. The deciders know that the most likely place for a breakdown to occur is the global market for sovereign debt. Without a relatively smooth running market for the massive amount of sovereign debt, the economies would come to a violent halt. The deciders and their regulators may understand this, but they also want red meat when it comes to derivatives.

With the critical importance of derivatives in mind, the regulators and other deciders have taken the path of least resistance. They want to “fix” the problems with derivatives by forcing these evil contracts to settle through central clearinghouses. And that is exactly what is being done.

One of the big pushers of the Central Clearinghouse ‘resolution’ to derivatives was none other than our pal Tim Geithner. He had this to say on June 11, 2011:

Without international consensus, the broader cause of central clearing will be undermined.

Tim and the other deciders got their way (mandatory central clearing is required under Dodd-Frank). But a new systemic risk is the consequence of their efforts. The Clearing Houses have now become ground zero for risk. Some thoughts from the Economist on the Clearing Houses that Geithner etal. have been pushing for:

It THEY failed, there would be “mayhem”.

Paul Tucker of the Bank of England.

“If you put all your eggs in one basket, you better watch that basket.”

Ben Bernanke (quoting Pudd’nhead, a Mark Twain character).

“Too big to fail, on steroids”

Un-named “regulator”.


Regulators and deciders need to “do things”. When they do things, they can stand up to a big audience and say:

“We did something to fix a big problem. Now re-elect us to do more good work!”

Actually, what the regulators have done is concentrate risk. Exactly the opposite of what the markets are attempting to do. The regulators are trying to unscramble the eggs and put the diversified risks back into the original shell.

I understand why people are uneasy with financial derivatives. A lot of folks think of derivatives in the same way they think of necrophilia; despicable and obscene. I can’t offer a truly valid explanation of why it takes $600 Trillion of them to spread the risks of a $70 Trillion economy. And yes, I’m afraid of them.

But I’m also afraid of what happens when the use of them is constrained. This is not a free lunch. Derivatives are an essential component of the capital markets, like it or not. The “solution” patched together by the regulators has not made the world safer, it has just magnified the risk in one or two places. It would not take a failure of one of the Clearing Houses to bring about a catastrophic end. Merely the whisper of a problem would do it.

To the regulators who are cheering their success, I would respond with:

You just magnified the risk!


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
silverdragon's picture

Maybe its time to buy some physical silver.

tom a taxpayer's picture

Bruce - Where's the laugh? You say you got a chuckle from the Economist article. What did you chuckle about? 

Bruce Krasting's picture

Well I wasn't really rolling in the aisles laughing. It just struck me odd.

That the regulators had "fixed" the problem with derivatives only to find that they have created a bigger concentration of the risk.

In other words, the fix was not a fix.

bkrolik's picture


Sorry, but I do not understand your post. You state that a clearing house for derivatives would create more "risk".  Why? What type of risk? Do clearing houses create more risk? Why then do we have them for equities, options, and commodities? Do you propose to liquidate those clearing houses? If not, are credit derivatives different from the above-mentioned securities? If they are different, what difference makes them unsuitable for dealing through a clearing house?

I think these questions need to be answered in order for your post to have some credibility.....

Bruce Krasting's picture

I'm quoting the Economist on this one. They spell out their concerns pretty well.

bkrolik's picture

have not read it yet. Then, I assume you completely agree with Economist regarding this issue.....

knukles's picture

Tweak it here and tweak it there and pretty soon it's a fucked up addiciton that's never finished.

ekm's picture

Quote: "The problem is that they are so much a part of the system that to change their role and function would, undoubtedly, cause a bunch of bad things to happen."

Mr. Krasting

The damage is done. There are only two options and only two:

1) Death and Resurrection

2) Death by a thousand cuts

I prefer 1. It happens everyday, it's part of business.

ekm's picture

Or, a different way to explain it to you, sir:

I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.
Georg C. Lichtenberg

Winston Churchill's picture

The day before "Krystalnacht".

I cannot see this this shit pile getting to 2013 before hitting the fan.

No more cans,and no more road.

finstudent's picture

I wholeheartedly agree! Was curious so decided to write about Dodd-Frank for a term project, and the sheer scope of it, and the concentration of risk are mind boggling. It is truly the creation of people who think they are supermen and can manage the risk....

Iam_Silverman's picture

"I can’t offer a truly valid explanation of why it takes $600 Trillion of them to spread the risks of a $70 Trillion economy."

I can only hazard a guess, but it would something along the line where the first counterparty hedges his exposure with another derivative.  Think reinsurance.  Then, that newly created counterparty risk is hedged in a similar manner.  And it goes on from there.  That is why I have never believed those who aren't worried about these derivative cascades when they explain it all away as the Net Notional Risk is inflated by risk AND counter-risk, so it all balances out in the end.  Well, how can it when the total risk in aggregate is larger than all of the currency in circulation worldwide?

blunderdog's picture

   how can it when the total risk in aggregate is larger than all of the currency in circulation worldwide?

Same reason money owed is greater than the money borrowed.  Just include the future in the paper valuations.

The funny bit is that we're supposed to behave as if we're all *certain* the future is incredibly valuable, but by all quantitative measures, it DOESN'T EVEN EXIST.

The good news is that since none of it is "really" real, it wouldn't hurt us if we forget about it.  Any physicist worth a damn will tell you: if you can't measure it, you ignore that shit completely.

blunderdog's picture

The big money "derivatives market" has already failed, people just don't want to accept it.

Greek CDS didn't work.  The contracts didn't pay appropriately, and everyone knows it.  Talk about liar's poker. 

The big boys can only leave the table if they have a sufficiently powerful sovereign behind them.  How pathetic that given the opportunity to take over the world, the financiers blew it SO BADLY that their sworn enemies, the national governments, are the only possible sources of assistance.

The plane is screaming out of the sky, but they've stopped the tumbling, so people have the mistaken impression that there's going to be a safe landing. 

Zero Govt's picture

"Actually, what the regulators have done is concentrate risk. Exactly the opposite of what the markets are attempting to do ...The Clearing Houses have now become ground zero for risk"

Well said Bruce

"I can’t offer a truly valid explanation of why it takes $600 Trillion of them to spread the risks of a $70 Trillion economy."

We don't have to do anything, let the market decide. It's all down to the quality of the particpants not the regulation or central command control (which never ever works)

Take AIG which Hank Greenberg grew into the largest and possibly best insurance company in the world. Quality.

But he wouldn't insure the crap (MBS's) Wall Street wanted AAA Rated. Hank was mysteriously removed from the AIG board and the rest is history, or AIG was ...sucked dry by Goldmans

It was all down to the man on top... some are crap and blow up, some are good and build a solid insurer ..regulation, central clearing has nothing to do with it ..you cannot regulate skill or risk (Regulator approved and qualified Risk managers have proved as inept as the regulators themselves). 

ViewfromUndertheBridge's picture

The documentary Client 9 gives a good account of the "mystery" surrounding Greenberg's departure from AIG, even though it is mainly about what Hank then did about it, allegedly.

Babushka's picture

I just wonder what kind of shag someone get for 30 K or even better how desperate and miserable one should be...?

WmMcK's picture

Hank Greenberg shagged some good flies in this day.

Absalon's picture

If you cannot think of a sound business reason why a transaction is structured the way it is then the transaction is either a tax scam or an outright fraud.


The biggest mistake the regulators have made since the meltdown is not forcing a substantial unwinding of all the naked derivates transactions.

jonjon831983's picture

Agh! Derivatives compared to necrophilia....

WmMcK's picture

Didn't see the joke in the thread, so decided to add some --

Did you hear the one about the guy who was into:
BDSM, necrophilia, and bestiality?
He gave it up when he realized he was just beating a dead horse.

For a laugh on derivatives (the financial not the math kind):

steve from virginia's picture


Derivatives are their own 'color' of risk. To 'manage' risk (shift it onto some other interest with his/her own risk to shift) more gross risk must be taken on by the entire system.

This is real progress! Given enough paper ... why not simply issue real ('Real') debt instead of the fakey-fakey variety? What remains after the the increase are claims that cannot be exercised. There is nothing of value to 'collect' except an overdone tract house in Connecticut ...

What is the endgame? Collapse a-k-a the 'Faber-Sinclair moment'? No, it is the point of absurdity when the derivatives cannot manage risk any more ... and the managers are considered to be insane ... about $630 trillion ago.

Make no mistake about it: what holds the entire fraudulent scheme together right now is food stamps. That's it.

Pike Bishop's picture

Always interesting thinking.

But I think we're taking the opposite extreme of a tough curve with 4th standard deviation outcomes.

Spread around the debt/credit risks and everything is swell, unless the risk in the System collects around one spot. Or what if it is spread nicely and the underlying assets are broadly shit?

We already did the combination of the two and I still have hemorrhoids.

The bitch of this is that this new shithhouse of Regulations we are erecting, has people make decisions as the point of law.

You put your eggs in the law, then get somebody to enforce it. They don't get a vote. just do their job, and if they don't like it, quit. This is part how we took it in the shorts last time. Non-enforcement is 1000X worse than deregulation or regulation. We think somebody is watching, and they aren't. And nobody puts that risk in the equation.

It sucks that laws are crude for dynamic markets. But that's the price ya pay, and you can refine them.

that simple-shit Glass-Steagull Act. It's brutish and vulgar in its scope, but look at the plethora of risks its absence creates, and mile-high garbage heap of solutions we (have to) come up with. Which I think we generally agree, creates more or obtuse risks. It's like a 3-card Monty, there's risk in the System, we're just moving it around.

Risk is risk. If there is too much of it, it doesn't make any difference where it is in the System, The System caves under its weight because somebody sneezed or farted.

I'm sick of the Shadow Banking squids complaining that their profits will be hurt.

There's only risk and reward. Except nobody counts Systemic risk in the equation. That's a great way to arb a beneficial balance of risk and reward for yourself. Just be sure to be retired in the Hamptons, when the aggregate unaccounted risk hits town.

Of course you're not going to make as much money, we're ratcheting down your ability to risk. Risk that's not visible in your swap, but is certain to culminate and fuck everybody else.............. again.

rufusbird's picture

 RE: derivitives: "Why it takes so many knock on transactions to achieve the necessary transfer of risk is a mystery to me."

Easy, When it all implodes every insititution will claim the Corzine defense..." We just have no idea where the money is..."

booboo's picture

"I can’t offer a truly valid explanation of why it takes $600 Trillion of them to spread the risks of a $70 Trillion economy.  And yes, I’m afraid of them"

"But I’m also afraid of what happens when the use of them is constrained" (threats of tanks in the street perhaps?)

So, not unlike anyone else you don't fully understand them, thus the fear thingy dingy. Regulators don't understand them, politicians don't understand them, bankers or anyone connected to them. Well there is a god damn reason they don't need to understand them, cause in the end when it all blows up there ain't gonna be nothing around anyway, eh, the mini explosions can be handled like MF Global, the farmers and market 90# weaklings will be told after a sausage is shoved up their ass to just walk it off.




JustACitizen's picture

My god - what did the world do before some bright bunny invented derivatives?

Could it be that people/companies took risk and lived with the consequences of their choices?

Don't the "little people" have to make their choices and live with results all the time?

All "markets" bullshit aside - derivatives are all about shifting risk to someone else in the hopes of an assured risk-free profit for something supposedly unknowable in the future.

Great - this is state of the art capitalism these days...

Spigot's picture

What the world did before derivatives was require a higher interest rate on loans/debt, and a higher cost for taking on risk or a lower price for  someone else taking on the risk.

As with every mania there is an insurance scheme that is promulgated as "assuring profit" or conversely "preventing losses". The present mania that insurance scheme is called "derivatives".

The present mania is about debt of all kinds as can be seen by the fact that about 65% of all derivatives relate to "interest rates" - hence are an insurance scheme  relating to debt.

If it was not for these "assurances" then interest rates would be much higher. What would the result be of broadly higher interest rates? Hmmm?

Now you are beginning to  smell the smoke in the electric closet, aren't you? Recently total derivates topped out at over $1 quadrillion, now down to $700 tillion. So, the worm is turning in terms of sentiment regarding these instruments.

IMO "Regulators" and "Authorities" are simply the lap dogs of the upper 1/100th of 1%. Believe me they have no teeth they are not given.

The question is "So, what happens when the insurance scheme fails?"

Greek was just a warm up. Sovereign and extra-sovereign  authorities just shoved their fists up the asses of private investors. My sense is that "private investers" will surely find a way to return the favor...in spades.

onlooker's picture

Thank you again Bruce for enlightening us Ba, Ba herd group.


The 700 to infinity number is not understandable to most people but your article does assist in sounding off the alarm bell in the most significant way. This is not to say that ZH readers have not had sufficient information to be alarmed already, and you are a part of that information system.


The only thing that I now have any firm grasp on is that the Middle Class of the U.S., which may have been the broadest based/largest in Human history. Is destroyed within a decade.


We become gone without a chance, only a whimper. With the pillars of Democracy gone, History will again rewrite itself. It is of note that many Wars, of many Nations, were lost not only on the battle field but in the Home Land. We are concurred from within.


As we enjoy Easter tomorrow, whether you are of a religious nature or agnostic or atheist, think of you and your children nailed to a cross to die painfully for the vile acts (sin) of financial and government entities. I have no faith with any religious concept, but we could use a good shepherd in Washington, DC.


Unfortunately, all of the presented shepherds for leading this once great Nation are cut from the same Wolf’s pelt but with different recipes for how to B-B-Q us.


Ba, Ba, Bye to us all.  


SKY85hawk's picture

Are we really completely vulnerable?

What are your thoughts on Inverse ETFs such as ERY (energy) and FAZ (financials)?

Now that they've bottomed, would a position of a couple hundred shares provide the little guy with some protection?

I understand the ongoing risk of daily rebalancing and I believe in 10%+ stop losses.

Thanks for your time.


Kayman's picture

I can't yet conceive of the circumstances, but wouldn't it become ironic that Homeland Security evolves into keeping everyone in.

"Sorry, sir, you will have to turn around. We can't afford to have anymore productive people leaving. "Oh, and President Goldman would like to thank you for your contribution to the greater glory of  New York. "

I see Mr. "Hope and Change" has morphed into Mr. "Circle the Wagons".

Vendetta's picture

The derivative safety rope is firmly tied around the overweight and infirm world financial markets neck in high winds on a high cliff.... like it or not Bruce.

Pejorative Requiem's picture

Can't live without milk and bread? The farmers/producers of those commodities depend quite heavily on derivatives. Own a fund whose price is derrived from a basket of stocks (or anything else)? Then you own a derrivative. Living without derrivatives would be a colossal change. The only alarming information here is the effect of global debt monetization on the overall numbers, not necessarily the use of derrivatives in the economic cake mix.

SeattleBruce's picture

"Living without derrivatives would be a colossal change."


I don't think it's living without derivatives that needs to happen - it's appropriately monitoring that market that has failed miserably and allowed massively criminal behavior (Countrywide, Lehman, WAMU, JPM, Goldman) to go unpunished.

Non Passaran's picture

All that is needed is to ban bank bailouts.
Would be helpful to price of PM's too.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Either way, Atlas shrugs and producers say fuck you and your paper, the type of paper is irrelevant..

piceridu's picture
+1...as I look around at the phony world that was created because of fiat, fractional reserve MMT, arguments as to why we need derivatives seem almost absurd. It's like building a completely unnecessary dam and then worrying each and every day that it can and will burst....ludicrous.
LawsofPhysics's picture

Fuck the paper pushers. Junk away losers.

Kayman's picture

Pejorative Requiem

Bruce is discussing the OTC financial/debt derivative market. Not live cattle or lean hogs. But even in those markets, the money boys often are larger than the markets themselves. Not really what the intention was, of covering your future sales/purchases.

Pejorative Requiem's picture

I understand........... I'm just pointing out what Bruce is acknowledging (if only indirectly or in omission); even if the derivative market situation has you cynical and pensive, there's no getting rid of it. And monetization of debt is the real culprit regarding crazy numbers, not necessarily the derivate market.

Iam_Silverman's picture

"But even in those markets, the money boys often are larger than the markets themselves."

Excellent point!  I am so sick and tired of cattle futures driving spot prices the way they do - and those futures prices are driven by speculators.  If someone has no intention of ever taking possession of the carload of feeder steers, then they should NOT be allowed to skew the market the way they do.  The forward-pricing schemes were designed to allow an end producer to secure raw materials at a price agreed on in advance, and thus allow the ability to project future input cost basis.  Clear the dead wood from the pits and allow in only those with skin in the game and I think that you would find more price stability in the long run.

Centurion9.41's picture

Bruce, generally I like your work.  However this one, not so impressive.  Reminds me of the "where's the beef" commercial. 

"The problem is that they are so much a part of the system that to change their role and function would, undoubtedly, cause a bunch of bad things to happen."

Really?  A bunch of bad things, sounds like a kid talking about the monsters under his bed coming out.  Maybe if you were a bit more specific then it wouldn't come off sounding that way.


"The Clearing Houses have now become ground zero for risk."

Ground Zero, well that doesn't mean end of the world.  U.S. futures markets clear through clearing houses, do they not?  The question is one of transparency and what is sufficiently structured "market" so as to not create a TBTF risk.


What I think you're trying to say is that REGULATORS have a nasty habit of creating Pandora's Boxes whenever they touch something.  And of course unless one is in the room when make the box, one never really knows what could be fit in the box.


We know this, the clearing house model is a good solution IF it the nature of the derivatives that created the problem were able to be placed on such an exchange model.  However, the nature of those derivatives by definition prohibit doing so.


The simple fact is the ONLY answer is to impose insurance industry like reserve requirements on the problem derivatives while letting time and demographics digest the risk of the ones in existence.  The latter is what the CB cabal is attempting to do via fiat deflation's race to the bottom.


There are really only two ways out of debt that has out grown the "grow out of" solution; forgiveness or time.   Fiat deflation is merely an attempt to buy the latter.  Yes nasty, unfair things like hurting savers, etc., result.  But such is the nature of the system. 


I really think the biggest problem is the simple fact that those at the top of the game, responsible for creating and structuring the lies of the system, have not been brought to justice.  If the bankster brass had lost all they had, then the current solution plan would be much more palatable. 

However, they look down and see all the Sheeple who played similarly games, flipping homes, "stretching the truth" on loan documents,  etc., and they say "F' you guys you were doing the same thing, we're not going down unless you do too".

So the Kabuki continues...



SeattleBruce's picture

"The question is one of transparency and what is sufficiently structured "market" so as to not create a TBTF risk."



Kayman's picture

'to impose insurance industry like reserve requirements '

And watch the debt/financial derivatives market shrink like prep H on a sore anus.

When players can play without an ante, the bets grow.

OpenThePodBayDoorHAL's picture

The insurance analogy is a good one so long as you impose a simple insurance concept that has been around forever: "insurable interest". You can't take out insurance on someone else's house because the temptation to go buy a pack of matches is too great...

WmMcK's picture

Reminds me of an insurance joke:
Two agents are discussing how business is going --
#1: Great we just had an art gallery burn down and collected $20K.
#2: You think that's good, we collected 50K on a windstorm.
#1: How do you start one of those?

sabra1's picture

the Economist magazine was started by the criminals, and derivatives were intentionally designrd to implode the system! according to lindsey williams, keep an eye on derivatives  to signal the implosion!