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Greece Angst Hits America As States Lash Out Against Shorting Speculators

Vincent Fernando, CFA
Business Insider
April 27, 2010

Greece is blaming speculators for the falling confidence in its financial situation, rather than its own financial management over the last decade.

Now U.S. states are doing the same.

Credit default swaps have existed for U.S. municipal bonds for years. Now that the financial health for many states is in question, CDS’s are being used to short states such as California or Ohio.

WSJ:

The proliferation of the derivatives is angering treasurers around the country, who say the derivatives are sending a negative message and possibly driving up their costs of borrowing at a time when they need all the help they can get. California planned to send out letters as soon as this week to big Wall Street firms that sell its bonds, seeking in-depth information about their roles in selling derivatives.

“Firms that are underwriting our bond sales are then telling the purchasers maybe they need to buy a CDS reflecting some risk,” California Treasurer Bill Lockyer said in an interview. “They are speaking with two tongues, and we want to find out whether that impacts us in an adverse way.”

Ha, so now it’s nefarious to offer insurance protection on a bond.

“Like other states, the Ohio Treasury is concerned about the increase in CDS’s and other shorting instruments,” Simone Wilkinson, the state’s press secretary, said in an email. In Connecticut, Treasurer Denise Nappier has been monitoring whether CDS are affecting the price of the state’s bonds.

Some observers say the swaps don’t have an impact. Brian Yelvington, a trader at Knight Securities, is among experts who have offered advice to state officials seeking information about whether the instruments are being used for manipulation, which he says isn’t happening. “It takes a 10-minute tutorial for them to understand,” he says, that the bets aren’t nefarious and that they are traded too thinly to affect the market for bonds or a state’s bond rating.

You know it’s bad news when U.S. states start sounding like Greece, shooting the market ‘messenger’ rather than focusing on why people are shorting state securities. The day that U.S. federal government start attacking federal debt CDS speculators is the day it’s all over for America’s finances.

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