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Credit derivatives market grows by nearly half in six months

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Kabir Chibber
Bloomberg News Service
Thursday, November 22, 2007

The market for derivatives grew at the fastest pace in at least nine years to $516 trillion in the first half of 2007, the Bank for International Settlements said.

Credit-default swaps, contracts designed to protect investors against default and used to speculate on credit quality, led the increase, expanding 49 percent to cover a notional $43 trillion of debt in the six months ended June 30, the BIS said in a report published late yesterday.

Derivatives of debt, currencies, commodities, stocks and interest rates rose 25 percent from the previous six months, the biggest jump since the Basel, Switzerland-based bank began compiling the data. Investors have been turning to credit derivatives as a way to speculate on a growing risk of defaults amid record U.S. mortgage foreclosures.

"The pace of increase in the credit segment outstripped the rises in other risk categories," Christian Upper, a BIS analyst in Basel, wrote in the report. Credit-default swaps are "the dominant instrument," accounting for 88 percent of credit derivatives, the BIS said.

The money at risk through credit-default swaps increased 145 percent from last year to $721 billion, the report said. The amount at stake in the entire derivatives market is $11.1 trillion, according to the BIS, which was formed in 1930 to monitor financial markets and regulate banks.

Derivatives are financial instruments derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies, and commodities or linked to specific events like changes in interest rates or the weather. The report is based on contracts traded outside of exchanges in over-the- counter market.

Increased trading pushed ICAP Plc to a record this week as the world's largest broker of transactions between banks reported a 34 percent increase in net income to 80.1 million pounds ($164.4 million). The London-based company, which profits when prices fluctuate, handled a record amount of transactions as financial institutions bet on or hedged against losses linked to home loans.

The Markit CDX North American Index of credit-default swaps on 125 investment-grade rated companies has almost tripled since February to 90 basis points from 33.

Buyers of credit-default swaps receive the face value of underlying debt in the event of nonpayment, in return for the defaulted securities or cash equivalent. A basis point increase in the cost of a contract covering $10 million of debt is equivalent to $1,000 a year.

Interest-rate derivatives remained the largest part of the market, gaining 19 percent to $347 trillion outstanding by June, the report said. Single currency interest-rate swaps made up 79 percent of the market.

Foreign exchange derivatives grew by 21 percent to $49 trillion as the dollar declined 2.5 percent against the euro in the first half. Contracts on the Swiss franc increased 32 percent, trailed by 27 percent increases in both the U.K. pound and the Canadian dollar contracts, the BIS said.

Equity market derivatives grew by 23 percent in the first half to $9 trillion. Growth was highest in Latin America equity derivatives at 43 percent and lowest in Japan at 6 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 4.8 percent during the period while the MSCI Latin America index increased 25 percent.

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