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Too Interconnected To Fail: Financial contagion and systemic risk in network model of CDS and other credit enhancement obligations of US banks

by Sheri Markose of the University of Essex,
Simone Giansante of the University of Essex,
Mateusz Gatkowski of the University of Essex, and
Ali Rais Shaghaghi of the University of Essex

April 21, 2010

Executive Summary: Credit default swaps (CDS) which constitute up to 98% of credit derivatives have had a unique, endemic and pernicious role to play in the current financial crisis. However, there are few in depth empirical studies of the financial network interconnections among banks and between banks and nonbanks involved as CDS protection buyers and protection sellers. The ongoing problems related to technical insolvency of US commercial banks is not just confined to the so called legacy/toxic RMBS assets on balance sheets but also because of their credit risk exposures from SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) and the CDS markets. The dominance of a few big players in the chains of insurance and reinsurance for CDS credit risk mitigation for banks' assets has led to the idea of "too interconnected to fail" resulting, as in the case of AIG, of having to maintain the fiction of non-failure in order to avert a credit event that can bring down the CDS pyramid and the financial system.

This paper also includes a brief discussion of the complex system Agent-based Computational Economics (ACE) approach to financial network modeling for systemic risk assessment. Quantitative analysis is confined to the empirical reconstruction of the US CDS network based on the FDIC Q4 2008 data in order to conduct a series of stress tests that investigate the consequences of the fact that top 5 US banks account for 92% of the US bank activity in the $34 tn global gross notional value of CDS for Q4 2008 (see, BIS and DTCC). The May-Wigner stability condition for networks is considered for the hub like dominance of a few financial entities in the US CDS structures to understand the lack of robustness. We provide a Systemic Risk Ratio and an implementation of concentration risk in CDS settlement for major US banks in terms of the loss of aggregate core capital. We also compare our stress test results with those provided by SCAP (Supervisory Capital Assessment Program).

Finally, in the context of the Basel II credit risk transfer and synthetic securitization framework, there is little evidence that the CDS market predicated on a system of offsets to minimize final settlement can provide the credit risk mitigation sought by banks for reference assets in the case of a significant credit event. The large negative externalities that arise from a lack of robustness of the CDS financial network from the demise of a big CDS seller undermines the justification in Basel II that banks be permitted to reduce capital on assets that have CDS guarantees. We recommend that the Basel II provision for capital reduction on bank assets that have CDS cover should be discontinued.

JEL Classification: E17, E44, E51, G21, G28.

Keywords: Credit Default Swaps, Financial Networks, Systemic Risk, Agent Based Models, Complex Systems, Stress Testing

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