I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t written much about clearing lately. (And yes, I can hear the Hallelujah Chorus.) Simple reason, really. Most of the clearing related news warrants schadenfreud, and an “I told you so” response. I enjoy a good Lulz as much as the next guy, but I know it gets old.
But this article hits on so many things at once I have to impose on you all. It basically gives the lie to all the justifications for the clearing mandates in Frankendodd.
1. The advocates of mandates, notably GiGi and Timmy! asserted repeatedly that clearing would reduce the connectedness of the financial system, and in particular, would reduce the importance of big banks in those connections. I argued in response that clearing mandates would just change the topology of the network; that it would remain densely connected; big banks would still be tightly connected; and that the new topology was not obviously less systemically risky than the old one.
From the article:
Where do you find the spare $2 trillion needed as collateral for cleared swap trades?
With new regulation in the US and Europe set to move the bulk of the over-the-counter derivatives market towards central clearing from next year, swap buyers and dealers will soon be faced with that very question. Many custody banks believe they could provide the answer.
Already heavily involved in the plumbing of the clearing market, custodians act for almost every major financial services firm without a custody arm – including most dealers and every clearing house.
Most also offer collateral management services, including securities lending and collateral improvement – the process of turning less-liquid securities into eligible collateral to post as surety in transactions.
This experience could prove invaluable with the advent of new swap clearing rules, which come in with the expected implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act in the US from early next year, increasing the demand for collateral transformation services.
David Field, managing director with banking consultancy Rule Financial, said: “The buyside simply doesn’t have enough quality collateral available to lodge for clearing.
Executing brokers are expecting to generate strong post-trade revenues from collateral transformation – but the custody banks are the ones holding the collateral.
This is a huge opportunity for custodians, and several are already investing anywhere between $50m and $100m to position themselves.”
In other words, big custodial banks will be even more tightly connected with all major participants in the derivatives trade because of their comparative advantage in providing collateral transformation, and the strong economies of scope between providing this service and providing other custodial services.
2. The advocates of mandates argued that it would reduce leverage in the system. I responded repeatedly that this was not at all obvious, and that the most likely effect would be to transform the nature of leverage. The big move to collateral transformation makes it abundantly clear that this is in fact happening. I go into this in much more detail in my forthcoming Journal of Applied Corporate Finance article titled “Clearing and Collateral Mandates: The New Liquidity Trap?”
Credit means credit risk. So the clearing mandate has not eliminated credit risk from the derivatives market, or even reduced it sharply. It has just transformed it, relocated it. And it has definitely not eliminated derivatives-related credit risk from big banks. Indeed, it is moving more risk to some big banks. BNY-Mellon and JP Morgan are also the most important settlement banks, and play a vital role in the repo market. This is already a source of systemic risk. These banks are arguably the most important pieces of the financial infrastructure, and these developments will make them even more important, and also concentrate more risks from disparate markets (e.g., repo and derivatives) in them.
3. The advocates of mandates asserted that it would make the derivatives market less concentrated and more competitive (although nb these are NOT equivalent). From the article:
Among the most ambitious to gain business in the swaps market is BNY Mellon, the world’s largest custodian with $25.8 trillion of assets under custody. The bank sees its existing footprint as a springboard towards dominance in the collateral services market for OTC derivatives.
[A director] for collateral management and clearing at BNY Mellon in London, believes it will be a tech-heavy effort. He said: “According to recent Isda Margin Survey figures, roughly 80% of collateral used in the OTC swaps market is cash, with about 15%-20% being fixed-income securities.
If even 20% of the estimated extra $2 trillion of collateral required to clear OTC swaps via central counterparties is in the form of securities, that puts a big onus on the collateral managers to offer smart, quick systems capable of handling huge draws on client collateral daily.”
Rival US custodian State Street has also been boosting its presence in the cleared derivatives markets, launching a swaps clearing operation in September. In a signal of intent, the bank has quietly begun hiring senior futures brokers from established rivals.
Charley Cooper, senior managing director at State Street Global Markets, said: “State Street’s unconflicted approach combined with the operational efficiencies gained from clearing with a custodian, gives us a significant edge in the emerging clearing marketplace.”
A senior derivatives banker said that clients are already looking at custodians as a viable counterparty.
He said: “In the past six months, we’ve seen growing migrations to the custodial clearing business.
Some have a better credit rating than almost every investment bank, and it’s unlikely they will be subject to capital ring-fencing regulations.”
He said that if a major custodian is able to convert even half of its existing custody clients into clearing clients, it could be looking at a share of anywhere between 10% and 20% of the OTC clearing market.”
But existing derivatives flow dealers – especially ones with large custody and treasury businesses – are unlikely to shy away from a revenue-generating opportunity.
Citibank, in particular, is hoping to combine a swaps clearing operation with its custody and treasury services in the US.
Jerome Kemp, global head of exchange-traded derivatives and OTC clearing at Citi, is in no doubt which direction the market is heading.
He said: “We’re looking at a re-dealing of the cards in the derivatives clearing space. Post-Dodd-Frank implementation, clearing will be led by the larger, well-capitalised banks.”
Citi hired aggressively to expand its futures commission merchant business last year, including the hire of Kemp, previously co-head of listed derivatives and clearing at JP Morgan, who arrived with a raft of colleagues.
Kemp thinks the next battleground for the bigger futures commission merchants, which will act as clearers for many firms on the buyside, could hinge on the bundling of services across clearing and asset servicing.
JP Morgan, meanwhile, is also looking to leverage its existing prime services footprint for its hedge fund clients for whom swaps clearing will be a new experience.
The bank has merged its listed and OTC clearing teams, and invested heavily in client roadshows and clearing masterclasses since the Dodd-Frank Act was passed in 2010.
Dale Braithwait, a member of JP Morgan’s OTC clearing team, said: “It’s to our advantage that we’re a big collateral manager too.
For a lot of asset managers, who do not feel they are able to use prime brokerage services, it’s a big benefit to have someone who can act as a custodian and a clearer.”
So there is a big fixed cost to play in this game. The resulting scale economies tend to increase concentration. Moreover, there is a strong scope economy across collateral management and transformation services, and other custodial services. Meaning that the big custodian banks have a strong competitive advantage in providing the new collateral management and transformation services that will become a crucial component of the OTC derivatives markets.
It is particularly ironic that BNY-Mellon will be a major beneficiary of this. You might recall the execrable NYT piece (written by Louise Story) about the evil derivatives dealer cabal. One of the most memorable parts of the article was BNY’s whinging about its inability to break into the dealer space. Read this new piece and you can just imagine BNY execs rubbing their hands together in glee, throwing their heads back, and laughing an evil laugh. All your cabal belong to us.
So let’s summarize, shall we? Clearing mandates (and requirements to collateralize uncleared swaps) will result in the formation of new links between buyers and sellers of swaps (including dealer banks who do not offer custodial services) and a handful of major custodian banks. These links will involve the extension of credit, and hence the existence of derivatives-related counterparty risk in which big banks still have substantial exposure. If anything, the mandates will increase concentration in an important part of the derivatives market. Moreover, it will arguably increase the concentration of credit risk exposure in a handful of systemically important banks.
Well played! The actual results of Frankendodd will be the exact opposite of what was claimed by its tireless advocates (And yeah, I’m looking at you, Timmy! and GiGi. I’m trying not to look at Barney, but that’s a whole other story.)
Unintended consequences, indeed. Unintended, but predictable–and predicted.