Transparency for credit-default swaps

A man walks past the offices of American International Group in New York.


Steve Chiotakis: Among the many innovations that helped fuel the financial crisis was the credit-default swap, a bit like an insurance policy that pays out when a company or a government agency defaults on its debt. The owner of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is scheduled to launch a new service today aimed at making that business more transparent. Here's Marketplace's Amy Scott.

Amy Scott: CME Group is launching a clearinghouse for credit-default swaps. It'll act as a go-between, making sure both buyer and seller hold up their ends of the deal. Exposure to credit-default swaps nearly wiped out insurance giant AIG last fall.

Michael Greenberger is a former regulator now with the University of Maryland:

Michael Greenberger: If AIG had had to clear its products, there would have been a regular accounting of where they stood vis-a-vis the riskiness of the guarantees they were making.

And AIG might not have required an $85 billion taxpayer rescue last September. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring that many derivative transactions go through a clearinghouse.

Securities law professor Lynn Stout of UCLA says it's a step in the right direction:

Lynn Stout: If you're gonna let people gamble, at least make sure they can pay off their gambling debts.

But Stout says loopholes in the bill may limit its effectiveness.

Stout: There's tremendous potential there for the industry to essentially appear to be reforming itself without actually reforming itself.

Chicago won't be the only game in town. The Atlanta-based Intercontinental Exchange also clears credit-default swaps.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.


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