Sharing an article from the Streetwise Professor –blog

Major banks are having major concerns about the risks associated with CCPs in the aftermath of a failure of  a Korean brokerage firm that resulted in the mutualization of losses on the KRX.  The firm failed due to a fat-finger error (puts? calls? whatever!) and its margins were insufficient to cover its trading losses.

This experience is making CCP member firms re-evaluate the risks of CCPs, the risk controls implemented by CCPs, and the incentives of CCPs to control risk.   They realize that CCPs do not eliminate counterparty risk so much as redistribute it.  They are concerned about the incentives that CCPs have to manage those risks unless they have substantial exposure to them (“skin in the game”).

But here’s the thing.  This particular sequence of events is exactly what CCPs are best suited to handle: the insuring of idiosyncratic risks.  In this instance, the idiosyncratic risk was an random operational error at a single brokerage.

But that’s not why the G20 advocated clearing mandates.  The G20 went down the clearing path to mitigate systemic risk, which occurs when a shock hits many institutions simultaneously.  That is a very different beast indeed.

If banks lie awake at night worrying about the incentives of CCPs to mitigate idiosyncratic risks, they should never sleep ever if they think about systemic risk.  CCPs are ill-adapted to handle systemic risk precisely because risk pooling/diversification works for idiosyncratic risks, but not systematic ones.

Put differently: the failure of the Korean brokerage did not create a wrong way risk.  The failure did not cause a hit to the default fund when the non-defaulting members were under financial strain.  But defaults that occur during a crisis situation are laden with wrong way risk: losses are mutualized precisely when the members of the default fund are least able to bear them.

So if banks are concerned about the potential for a CCP failure in response to a bad realization of an idiosyncratic risk, think about the appropriate level of concern about the viability of CCPs in response to systematic risks.

A bite of kimchi can have a truly bracing effect. Would that regulators around the world take heed of the lessons of recent events from the land of kimchi.