Thursday, August 25, 2016

Derivatives users hit as negative rates raise collateral costs

The Globe and Mail reports:
Derivatives users are the latest group to be hurt by negative interest rates as they get penalized for the cash they park at Europe’s biggest clearinghouses. Traders can thank European Central Bank president Mario Draghi.

Futures and swaps are used to hedge or speculate on everything from German interest rates to oil prices. To avoid taking a loss if a counterparty to a trade defaults, they post collateral, such as government bonds or cash, at a clearinghouse. In Europe, the biggest ones are in Frankfurt and London. But with German and British debt yields so low, or even negative, clearinghouse customers are sometimes losing money on those assets.

Europe’s big clearing firms are operated by the likes of Deutsche Boerse AG, Intercontinental Exchange Inc. and LCH, which is majority owned by London Stock Exchange Group PLC. To varying degrees, they have customers who lose money on euro collateral, whereas they used to receive a return. Two-year German debt yields minus 0.64 per cent. An important benchmark known as Eonia, the euro overnight index average, is at minus 0.34 per cent.

While the costs don’t so far seem to be impeding trading or collateral holdings, they’re a sign that monetary policy may be reaching its limits, as central bankers such as Mr. Draghi have reduced interest rates and bought up vast amount of assets to try to boost weak economic growth. The unusual costs to hold cash at clearinghouses suggest the measures are starting to have unintended consequences.

“It’s gotten to the extent that you’re seeing negative reactions,” said Gregor Macintosh, chief investment officer macro and fixed income at Lombard Odier Investment Managers in Geneva. “The expansion of these easing programs risks enhancing the negative feedback loop. As returns from investment are further suppressed, in turn it’s further reducing the incentive to invest.”
Artificially low interest rates do have consequences.