China Has Already Walked Away from Derivatives Contracts

You’ve probably heard that China has threatened to walk away from certain commodity derivatives contracts.

As Reuters reported in August:

A report that Chinese state-owned companies will be allowed to walk away from
loss-making commodity derivative trades provoked anger and dismay among
investment bankers on Monday as they feared it may set a damaging precedent.

The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the
regulator and nominal shareholder for state-owned enterprises (SOEs), told six
foreign banks that SOEs reserved the right to default on contracts, Caijing
magazine quoted an unnamed industry source as saying in an article published on
Saturday.

But as Janet Tavakoli noted in January, Chinese banks already walked away from derivatives contracts last year:

In early November [2008], Chinese banks (top tier banks like Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) refused to fork over billions in collateral on dollar/yen FX trades which were out of the money after the yen’s October appreciation. The headlines should have read (but didn’t): “Chinese Banks say: STUFF IT.” The Chinese banks won a game of drag race “chicken” with foreign banks. Most credit support annex agreements would say that closing out these trades would be an event of default, and then the cross default on all the trades would kick in with the same counterparty. But the credit of the Chinese banks was better than many of their counterparties, and they renegotiated contracts with the Chinese banks.

Today, Tavakoli wrote a fantastic and hard-hitting post for Zero Hedge:

In November 2008, Chinese banks said they would no longer play by our rules. Top tier banks (Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) reneged on derivatives contracts. They failed to come up with billions in collateral on dollar/yen FX trades, which were out of the money after the yen’s October appreciation. This should have been headline news in every financial newspaper, but it wasn’t.

Chinese banks defaulted. They may have been partially motivated by U.S. malfeasance in the capital markets that caused losses in Asia. The U.S. squandered its credibility and our cover-ups have done nothing to restore it.

Most credit support annex agreements would say that closing out these trades would be an event of default, and then the cross default on all the trades would kick in with the same counterparty. But the credit of the Chinese banks was better than many of their counterparties. Everyone was forced to renegotiate contracts with the Chinese banks.

From the perspective of the derivatives markets, this is earth shattering. What would have happened if AIG had done the same thing? (Hey, Goldman, UBS, and others…you want your collateral? Well…Stuff It!)

At the end of August 2009, China signaled that state owned oil consumers: Air China, COSCO, and China Eastern could default on money-losing commodities derivatives contracts.

If we had been paying attention, the U.S. should have done everything in its power to correct our mistakes, clean up the mess in our financial system—instead of sweeping it under the carpet—and turned our efforts to maintaining the credibility of the capital markets and the credibility of the dollar.

See this for background.

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