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According to the Bank for International Settlements ("BIS"), the global market size for over-the-counter ("OTC") derivatives, as of June 2008, exceeded $683 trillion (yes trillion) or $683,725 billion. (These numbers reflect notional amounts outstanding.) Notably, an expanded use of interest rate swaps helped to push non-exchange traded interest rate derivative product outstandings above $450 trillion, a rise of 17% over the last half-year. It would be helpful to know whether, and to what extent, pensions' use of Liability-Driven Investing strategies influenced the numbers. Click to access "Table 1: The global OTC derivatives market."

Since June, a lot has happened in the global market place. Until BIS reports updated figures, it is hard to quantify how various players have responded to increased volatility with respect to their use of OTC instruments such as swaps, options and structured products. One might logically assume that valuation and liquidity concerns will reflect themselves in lower numbers for H2-2008. On the other hand, uncertainty could encourage hedging, in which case both OTC and exchange-traded activity might see a boost.

In the meantime, I asked a few financial market participants for their feedback. Here is what they had to say in answer to the following query.

Do You Think More Regulations Will Inhibit the Use of OTC Derivatives by Institutional Investors?

  • A director at a non-U.S. financial organization advises regulators not to throw the baby out with the bath water, adding that "Regulation should be framed to drive generic flows into more efficient 'plumbing' systems, while allowing custom-built trades to proceed when standardized terms don't make sense. Unless the market volunteers solutions, one must fear that knee jerk regulation will fail to differentiate, and therefore deprive end-users access to these undeniably valuable risk management tools."
  • Mr. Daniel Chertok, a quant by background, writes that "Any regulation inherently stifles innovation. However, it may deter those who should not be in this business from entering in the first place or encourage someone to rightly exit the market. There is likely to be a loss of liquidity but a drop in defaults should follow. What regulation will not do is eliminate the next bubble that occurs due to reckless derivative trading."
  • Mr. Luis Antonio Rangel, commodity derivatives professional and now President of Rockford Brownstone Rangel, thinks that regulation will inhibit use of OTC swaps and other kinds of derivatives by institutional investors. He adds that "the big downturn in this market recently has less to do with fear of regulation and more to do with counterparty risk. Regulators may help to repair the OTC market if their rules: (a) can improve market transparency as relates to how much leverage a particular manager employs (b) shed light on risk exposures to various counterparties across the spectrum. For example, if Company DEF has a plain vanilla swap with Bank ABC but Bank ABC has a complex swap with Hedge Fund XYZ, how is Company DEF potentially hurt if Hedge Fund XYZ goes belly up? (c) improve investors' knowledge of liquidity, especially for instruments that have heretofore been deemed "low risk" and (d) mandate issuers of credit default swaps to reserve capital, in the same way that insurance companies must set aside monies. Too much regulation could push business offshore or impede transactions that, for viable economic reasons, should take place."
  • Mr. Patrick Rooney, Business Analyst at Trading Technologies, writes that "Initially, yes, more regulation will freeze OTC trading. As participants adjust to the new environment, the OTC market will flourish as new participants join. There are many misconceptions regarding the complexities and risks involved associated with OTC transactions. A centralized clearing environment is likely to vastly improve things."
Source: Four Opinions on OTC Derivatives