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If you are looking for a reason why stocks are plunging, here's one major reason.

Today, again at 2 PM (eastern time) announcements re: settlement of the massive Lehman Bros. credit default swaps will occur. According to one trading desk source of mine, the equity markets are far more concerned on this point than are the debt markets. Earlier this week, the settlement of Fannie (FNM) and Freddie (FRE) CDS' were announced.

While the settlement of the Fannie and Freddie loans was enormous, the CDS settlement prices were more than 90 cents on the dollar making the CDS losses far more manageable (less than 10 cents on the dollar). However, as the Financial Times noted last week, "In the Lehman case, numerous banks and investors have already made losses due to exposure to Lehman as a counterparty on numerous derivatives trades. The auctions next week are for credit derivatives which have Lehman as a reference entity. There are likely to be fewer contracts outstanding than for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because Lehman was not included in many of the benchmark credit derivatives. However, exposure remains unclear,..."

Expectations for Lehman CDS' settlements are in the 10 to 20 cents on the dollar range.

Investment Strategy Implications

The equity markets are pressured on multiple levels. One of them is the forced liquidations due to client redemptions, including mutual funds and hedge funds. In the case of hedge funds, it is unknowable at the moment but can be reasonably assumed that despite having an estimated 1/3 of their assets ($600B) in cash, many have exposure to credit default swaps and may incur huge losses as a result. Hence, forced equity liquidations.

By the end of day investors should have a far better idea just how extensive the counterparty damage is. Additionally, knowledge of the credit crisis process and the methods by which it will work its way toward resolution along with the interconnected dynamics of and impact to the real economy will advance. However, the psychological damage to confused equity investors may be far more long lasting.

Fear is feeding upon itself. And the greatest aspect of this fear is ignorance. Tragically, a leadership vacuum is evident with the failure to explain to the American public (and the world audience) what is happening and why. And in the process, panic in all its ugly forms is running rampant. Yet, time will almost certainly show that many equity values being posted today do not reflect their true intrinsic value. In other words, we are clearly at the point where, just as with many credit instruments, mark-to-market in many equities do not reflect their fundamental value.

To view the Lehman auction results, click here

To learn more about the credit default swaps settlement process, click here.

Source: Keeping Up with the Lehman Credit Swaps Settlement