Investors are buying protection on European banks on the basis that banks and sovereigns are so intimately linked that any increased risk of a sovereign default will increase the value of a bank CDS in a similar way to a sovereign CDS.
“The big downside of the ban is that it is likely to increase borrowing costs for financials,” said Michael Hampden-Turner, Citigroup credit strategist.
“It is hardly good for Spanish and Italian banks if the cost of borrowing is being squeezed up on the back of European regulation.”
Essentially then national champion banks are being used as proxies for the sovereign, with CDS buying (driven in part by CVA hedging) pushing out these banks’ credit spreads. The only way this loop will be broken will be if sovereigns either post collateral against their OTC derivatives (unlikely) or clear (somewhat more likely, but with its own problems).
Six months on from the ban on buying naked sovereign CDS protection – where the investor does not own the underlying government bond – it is clear that negative bets against large financials have emerged as a partial replacement.
A CDS, or credit default swap, protects the buyer against the risk of a company or government going into default. The instrument is worth more if the risks of default is perceived to be higher.
But investors and analysts say the real test could come during the next flare-up in the eurozone crisis, where increased demand for CDS on European financials could in turn raise borrowing costs.
“In a stress event, the large volumes of bank CDS could lead to higher funding costs for the banking sector, particularly if the ECB decided to be less forthcoming with emergency lending facilities,” said Mr Gayeski.