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More than leveraged pension funds, mismanagement of bond clearing at LCH is likely reason behind gilt crash

I am going to use some technical details from other clearinghouse presentations that I have done, so if you want more details click on the clearinghouse tab on the home page. Some of them are behind the paywall, so you might need to become a paid subscriber or start a free trial.

I personally do not think LDI investing, and pension funds are to blame. In a world where Japan still has negative interest rates do you really think there not the fund available to buy 30-year gilts at 5% yield? Or even domestic UK institutions that would be happy to look in sizable capital gains? No the answer lies in chronic risk mismanagement at the LCH. LCH is the largest interest rate derivative clearinghouse in the world. It dominates European interest rate derivatives and has a sizable position in US markets as well. So how did LSE owned LCH ruin the bond market? Just a quick recap. Prior to around 2011 or so most interest rate derivatives were traded bank to bank. But regulatory reform forced banks to push all trades through a clearinghouse.

As more and more trades became centrally cleared, LCH became aware of more and more circular trades. That is Bank A might have a trade with bank B, and Bank B would have an identical trade with Bank C, and Bank C had an identical trade with Bank A. LCH would then call up the banks and say hey guys, you don’t need these trades anymore, we can just cancel them and return the risk capital we held against the trades to you. This is a great idea in principle, and the banks and regulators all engaged in this. These trades are called compression trades, and LCH was happy to report that it has grown this business from 200 trillion USD to near 900 trillion USD in 2019. This compares to a notional outstanding of USD 400 trillion USD. Note the physical gilt market is only 1.5 trillion USD, so can get how derivatives can dominate the physical market here.

If you talk to LCH or hedge funds or traders, they all love compression. It simplifies the market and frees up capital and initial margin. But if you step back and have a think about it, you can see where the problem comes from. When a pension fund or a hedge fund agrees to a compression trade, is that fund actually reducing the bets it has on the market? Are they actually reducing the capital at risk of their position? No, they are not. But they are reducing the amount of capital is the system. So if risk is not being reduced, but the amount of capital in the system is being reduced, is the system becoming more or less stable? Of course not. These are simple questions that somehow the regulator forgot to ask. The first problem with clearinghouses is that they basically removed risk capital from the system.

The second problem is that clearinghouse only price risk on past performance, and with no reference to value. Most clearinghouse price risk of a 10 to 7 year look back. Which means that the risk (or capital that traders need to trade gilts) coming into to 2022 would be quite low, as the gilt yield had fallen in a slow and predictable manner for the past 10 years.

So why does the BOE have to buy gilts? So clearinghouse being braindead, idiotic machines now look at the price history of gilts and says “These are no longer safe assets - everyone needs to place huge margin to trade these things” When in reality, at 5% yield they are probably closely to being correctly priced. That is clearinghouses are now physically stopping the financial system from buying bonds. Of all the post GFC reforms, placing clearinghouses at the centre of the financial system has to be the dumbest. End Rant.

Issues with clearinghouses
Russell Clark