Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Default and CDS written by or referencing monolines

Recent articles (see for instance here, here, here, and here) have spurred a concern that I confess should have occurred to me earlier. What can cause an event of default by a monoline, and what happens next.

The first issue concerns the effective recovery for ISDA claims against a monoline. Here the crux is the relationship between the holding company and the insurer. As I understand it, most monolines are structured with a listed holding company and a regulated insurance sub. Obviously insurance contracts, including financial guarantee policies (whether transformed into CDS or not), are written by the insurance company, and so the insurance company has most (but not all) of the group's capital to support this risk.

Which group company writes CDS? My suspicion is that it has often been the holding company. If the regulator seizes the insurer, it is almost certainly (but check your docs) an event of default on the CDS. But in that case the regulator will almost certainly not permit CDS counterparties to be paid at the expense of claims paying ability for the insurance business - they won't let the money out of the insurer. The holding company will be left with a whole lot of liabilities and essentially no assets beyond a worthless stake in an insurer the regulator has taken over.

This is of course also an issue if you have debt issued by the holding company, or if you have transacted CDS referencing that debt. As Linklaters pointed out a few months ago, credit events can include quite minor regulatory intervention. I suspect that after such an event recoveries might be very low even if the operating sub is still perfectly capable of paying insurance claims.

Update. FT alphaville has additional reporting on FSA, CIFG and FGIC here, following their earlier story on MBIA. What I can't see in the material I have read so far is whether a breach of regulatory capital requirement of the insurance sub is likely to be credit event on (a) CDS written by the parent and/or (b) CDS referencing the parent.

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