Manufacturing credit defaults? Have we learned nothing from the crash?


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If you are an FT subscriber , you can read the story of “the mystery trader who roiled Wall-Street“. When I read the headline , I thought that we’d had a Grauniad-style typo, but “roil” exists, to describe making (a liquid) turbid or muddy by disturbing the sediment. It’s one of those words that does what it describes!

This is how the FT explains how the trader in question disturbed Wall Street’s sediment’

 For hedge funds that make their money gambling on whether companies will go bust, it was an opportunity too tempting to ignore.

In 2015, brokers working on behalf of a mystery client in London, offered these funds the chance to make a trade they thought was impossible to lose: betting that a teetering Norwegian paper company would imminently default on its debt. The hedge funds snapped up hundreds of millions of dollars of the derivatives contracts that would pay out in the event of a default.

By the time the buyers realised who was on the other side of the trade it was too late: they had been trapped.

One hedge fund manager recalls receiving a call from a sympathetic contact pleading with him to exit a trade. “It was an off-the-record warning in order to protect me,” he says. “He basically told me who was on the other side. It was him.”

The “him” was Akshay Shah, at the time a managing director at the Blackstone Group’s GSO hedge fund unit, who for nearly a decade spearheaded a series of unconventional trades that made him the most feared operator in European credit markets, terrorising a string of rival hedge funds and costing them millions in trading losses.

The article goes on to explain how credit default swaps work. We know how they didn’t work, because RBS were busy selling them to small businesses in the UK who neither wanted them or needed them and had their businesses diminished by them.

John Mather, who got me to read the article, properly asks me who’s money these guys are playing with, and – in as much as I invest in Norwegian paper manufacturers as part of the global index trackers I use – I guess the answer is (partly) mine.

The wider point that John is making is that the activities of the likes of Akshay Shah do not exist in a vacuum, his behaviour is not victimless and – no matter how far removed we are from the event, the trader’s behaviour serves to undermine our investments.

I initially intended to ignore John, as I thought this article too remote from my experience or that of people who read this blog. If you want to show me you’re a big-shot in finance, be my guest! I’m happy to admit that I don’t have any interest in understanding how to make money out of Credit Default Swaps and hope that the people who manage my money, feel the same.

The good news is that this Shah chap has packed in doing these manufactured trades in New York, the bad news is that he’s trying to set up in London, to do the same thing over here.

Meanwhile the Norwegian Paper Manufacture has gone bust and a load of ordinary people lost their livelihoods. I am told that these activities only hurt other hedge fund managers, I don’t suppose that’s what they say in Norway of what RBS customers who bought CDS are saying over here.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to Manufacturing credit defaults? Have we learned nothing from the crash?

  1. John Mather says:

    Henry thank you for reading this is one example others might be where a large pension fund enters into a number of sale and leaseback arrangements facilitating the dividend payment to the new owner. The property valuation is influenced by the strong covenant and long lease of the store but once the asset base is eroded the pension fund value is less. When the liquidator disposes of the non trading shop. Thousands of jobs are lost the pension fund goes into the protection fund and the south of France gets another super yatch

    I know we don’t always agree, but if we agreed on everything one of us would be unnecessary

    John Mather

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