Streetwise Professor

May 14, 2010

You Mean That Clearinghouses Aren’t Magic Boxes That Make Credit Risk Disappear?

Filed under: Derivatives,Economics,Exchanges,Financial crisis,Politics — The Professor @ 3:30 pm

S&P has put LCH.Clearnet on a credit watch for a potential downgrade.  The rating agency did so in response to NYSE Euronext’s decision to set up its own clearing operations, rather than use LCH’s.

This is a very useful reminder that CCPs do not make counterparty risk disappear, as certain people are wont to assert.  (You know who they are.)

But there is another important lesson here.  Nobody knows exactly how the market is going to evolve after the imposition of clearing mandates.  In particular, the structure that will evolve for the clearing business is subject to huge uncertainty.  As the NYSE-Euronext decision illustrates, and as the ICE decision to clear for itself before that,  and as did the decision of the SWX to clear for itself before that, clearing structure is a strategic choice for exchanges.  I wrote about this aspect of clearing ad nauseum before the financial crisis.  At the same time, there are strong scope economies to clearing across multiple instruments.   The push of strategic incentives to vertically integrate and the pull of incentives to exploit scope economies by using multi-exchange platforms like LCH make it very difficult to predict what the configuration of the market will look like.  This, in turn, makes it virtually impossible to understand what the systemic risks will be, and what measures will be necessary to mitigate the systemic risks inherent in clearing.

These systemic risks will depend on the topology of the clearing networks, and this topology will be determined by a complex interaction of incentives to integrate and dis-integrate.  Moreover, the topology is unlikely to be static, as the factors driving the costs/benefits of integration and disintegration will not be static either.  Thus, the interconnections in the system will be quite fluid, and as the financial crisis and the flash crash demonstrate, these interconnections can be the sources of systemic risk, if not understood and managed properly.  Force feeding clearing will only heighten the salience of these interconnections.  It will be a challenge to understand, let alone to manage, this system as would be necessary to realize the happy predictions of those who look on clearing as the cure.

Are the regulators ready for this?  Do the legislators who are enamored with clearing understand this?

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