More on speculation: Banks, Credit Default Swaps, and Greece’s Debt

by Linda Beale

More on speculation: Banks, Credit Default Swaps, and Greece’s Debt (Part 2)

Yesterday, I commented on Darrell Duffie’s defense of speculation in the Wall Street Journal, here. I noted that the idea that speculation is a positive because it absorbs risk others don’t want and helps reveal the “true price” by providing more information about the speculated item seems more of a stretch in the midst of this crisis than we might have thought before. Absorption of risk only works if there is a more or less even playing field, with some long and some short, but that adds little to information or price. If there is an abundance of information on price–because traders are shorting the stock or rushing for credit default swaps, then that information will tend to swing the price and make it much more difficult for speculators to absorb the risk, as the market teeters offbalance on that item and pushes the item more and more to the cliff that the speculators have predicted.

Whatever the underlying problem in Greece, financial speculation has been a factor in tilting the balance towards disaster. The price of credit default swaps has gone up, and each time that Greece tries to borrow to pay its debt, it has to pay more and the CDS cost goes up and Greece looks riskier in a vicious cycle threatening illiquidity. Thus, one commentator notes that “credit default swaps give the illusion of safety, but actually increase systemic risk. See Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide, NY Times, Feb 25, 2010.
crossposted with ataxingmatter