Friday, August 05, 2011

Risk Free?

S&P's downgrade of US debt is not the first domino, nor will it be the last.

Traders and Brokers: wear rubber underwear Monday.

Thousands of funds are contractually required to hold a specified percentage of AAA debt. They ALL have a significant position in US Treasuries. Monday they will have to decide whether they go to their investors hat in hand requesting permission to hold non-AAA US debt or whether to dump their holdings. Furthermore, risk algorithms and valuation models used by nearly all financial institutions and investors are based on the US treasuries as the "risk free" rate of return. These models will have to be re-assessed ... and the consequence will be a shift in investments.

The charters of many countries and sovereign wealth funds require their central banks to hold AAA notes (or the currencies of those countries) for their national reserves. Thus, the US's reserve currency status may also be reviewed next week. FX markets, interest rate markets, swap markets ... wow - hold your hats, kiddos.

(update) Don't take my word for it. Mohammed el-Elrian echoed my comments in the Financial Times over the weekend.

The fact that yields on US debt have fallen all week speaks more to our ability to manipulate markets (in the short and medium term) than it does to confidence level. So don't go there.

This could have been avoided. Go ahead and fiddle, Congress. Washington is burning.

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