Last Friday, I wrote about Net Settlement and its role in giving the US financial system the structure of a Ponzi scheme. In this entry, I want to give an example of the effect of net settlement using the CME and US futures market.
CME reports that its 2008 financial statements.
(emphasis mine) [my comment]
[from CME's 2008 financial statements:]
5. PERFORMANCE BONDS AND SECURITY DEPOSITS
CME clears and guarantees the settlement of CME, CBOT and NYMEX contracts traded in their respective markets. In its guarantor role, CME has precisely equal and offsetting claims to and from clearing firms on opposite sides of each contract, standing as an intermediary on every contract cleared. Clearing firm positions are combined to create a single portfolio for each clearing firm's regulated and non-regulated accounts with CME for which performance bond and security deposit requirements are calculated [Net settlement]. To the extent that funds are not otherwise available to CME to satisfy an obligation under the applicable contract, CME bears counterparty credit risk in the event that future market movements create conditions that could lead to clearing firms failing to meet their obligations to CME. CME reduces its exposure through a risk management program that includes initial and ongoing financial standards for designation as a clearing firm, initial and maintenance performance bond requirements and mandatory security deposits. Each clearing firm is required to deposit and maintain balances in the form of cash, U.S. Government securities, bank letters of credit or other approved investments to satisfy performance bond and security deposit requirements. All obligations and non-cash deposits are marked to market on a daily basis. Effective December 2008, the NYMEX performance bond and security deposit collateral has been fully integrated with the CME collateral portfolio. The NYMEX guarantee fund, which would have previously been used for any loss sustained by NYMEX due to the default of a clearing firm, was terminated, and NYMEX clearing firms have been included in the security deposit calculation.
Cash and securities held as performance bonds and security deposits at fair value at December 31, 2008 were as follows:
Cash an d securities held as performance bonds and security deposits at the CME on December 31, 2008 totaled 116 billion. Remember this number.
Next, the CME explains how How Performance Bonds/Margins Work.
How Performance Bonds/Margins Work
Performance bonds — deposits required to ensure that a clearing member can cover potential losses with his or her trading positions — help to ensure that clearing members can meet their obligations to their customers and to CME Clearing. You can view a full listing of Performance Bond/Margin Requirements here.
As prices change throughout the life of a futures contract, the trading accounts where performance bonds are held are debited and credited accordingly - guaranteeing price performance and eliminating the risk of default on either side of the trade [for CME clearing member, not brokerage customers]. Financial safeguards provided by CME Clearing protect the financial interests of both parties in a trade [MISLEADING], leading to sound markets and deeper liquidity - around the clock - everywhere in the world.
Finally, here is the amount of margin that should have been posted on 47 of CME's most popular contracts (out of the thousands of products that clear at the CME). It is key to remember that these are only a small portion of the future contrasts that settle through the CME.
3-MONTH EURODOLLARS - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
2-YEAR U.S. TREASURY NOTES
5-YEAR U.S. TREASURY NOTES
LIVE CATTLE - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
TRANSCO ZONE 6 BASIS SWAP
INTEREST RATE SWAPS 5YR
LEAN HOGS - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
10-YEAR U.S. TREASURY NOTES
HENRY HUB GAS SWAP
HENRY HUB PENULTIMATE GAS SWAP
WHEAT - KANSAS CITY BOARD OF TRADE
WHEAT - MINNEAPOLIS GRAIN EXCHANGE
TCO BASIS SWAP
INTEREST RATE SWAPS 10YR
COTTON NO. 2 - ICE FUTURES U.S.
SUGAR NO. 11 - ICE FUTURES U.S.
U.S. TREASURY BONDS
GULF # 6 FUEL 3.0% SULFUR SWAP
NY RES FUEL 1.0% SULFUR SWAP
NO. 2 HEATING OIL, N.Y. HARBOR
SWISS FRANC - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
COCOA - ICE FUTURES U.S.
EURO FX - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
NASDAQ-100 STOCK INDEX (MINI) - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
COFFEE C - ICE FUTURES U.S.
COPPER-GRADE #1 - COMMODITY EXCHANGE INC.
CRUDE OIL, LIGHT SWEET
WTI CRUDE OIL FINANCIAL
E-MINI S&P; 500 STOCK INDEX - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
NIKKEI STOCK AVERAGE - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
NIKKEI STOCK AVERAGE YEN DENOM - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVG- x $5
GOLD - COMMODITY EXCHANGE INC.
SILVER - COMMODITY EXCHANGE INC.
NASDAQ-100 STOCK INDEX - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
S&P; 500 STOCK INDEX - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE
E-MINI S&P; 400 STOCK INDEX - CHICAGO MERCANTILE EXCHANGE
Buyers Initial Margin
Sellers Initial Margin
On these 47 contracts alone 148 billion dollars of collateral should have been posted at the CME to protect all contract holders. However, because of net settlement, the CME has only 116 billion of collateral to back not only these 47 contracts, but also the thousands of other CME products.
Again, the reason for this lack of collateral is explained in my entry on net settlement: The clearinghouse's (CME's) goal is not to guarantee all futures contracts.
2) The clearing members post margin with the clearinghouse on a net basis. A member firm whose customers held an equal number of long and short contracts would post no margin with the clearinghouse, but would retain its customers' margins in its own account.
3) A large price move could cause some of the clearing member's customers to default, threatening the solvency of the firm. If the FCM failed, would the clearinghouse guarantee performance of the contracts of the defaulted member's customers? The answer is no.
4) The clearinghouse's goal is not to guarantee all futures contracts, but only to protect clearing members from the default of other members, which is why margins are collected from members only on their net exposure.
5) The integrity of all futures contracts depends not only the solvency of the clearinghouse but also the solvency of the member FCMs.
Broker-Dealers trapped in short positions
Last time I explained how net settlement encourages the "looting" customer brokerage accounts.
Net Settlement allows and encourages broker dealers (especially insolvent broker dealers) to loot their customers' brokerage accounts by taking the opposite side of trades. Take an insolvent firm (Lehman, Bear Stearns, etc) which is critically short of cash and is finding it impossible to obtain unsecured financing. For this firm desperate firm, there is an easy (and incredibly reckless) solution: trade on its own accounts to zero out all its net derivative positions. For example, if its customers are net long gold futures, the the firm can take a short position in gold futures matching the size of the long position. Since the clearinghouse now sees an equal number of long and short contracts, margin backing gold futures will be returned.
I would like to add to this the obvious fact that any broker dealer which decided to abuse net settlement in this way would likely find themselves permanently trapped on the wrong side of the market. Consider, for example, a firm that shorted commodity futures (gold for example) at any point during the last twenty years. With commodity prices rising, such firm would find itself owing its customers amounts that would be impossible to ever repay. To simply stay afloat (not run out of cash), the firm would need to constantly increase its futures market customers in order to pay back those customers cashing out their profitable futures bets. In other words, this firm would be running a Ponzi scheme in every sense of the word.
Now look at the chart below of open interest in major commodity futures. Notice the constant and enormous growth in outstanding futures contracts. This growth is the predictable result of allowing insolvent broker-dealers to settle their contracts on a net basis.