An Indian Civilizational Perspective

The One Quadrillion Equation!

DK Matai often writes and interacts on events of utmost importance to business and self. He sent me an email on the current economic crisis.

I have talked on Credit Default Swaps earlier and thought that was a quantum far beyond our expectations. But nothing could prepare me for the total quantum of Derivatives market. Here is some of the numbers that he gives. Go to his blog for the rest of the story:

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According to various distinguished sources including the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland — the central bankers’ bank — the amount of outstanding derivatives worldwide as of December 2007 crossed USD 1.144 Quadrillion, ie, USD 1,144 Trillion. The main categories of the USD 1.144 Quadrillion derivatives market were the following:

1. Listed credit derivatives stood at USD 548 trillion;
2. The Over-The-Counter (OTC) derivatives stood in notional or face value at USD 596 trillion and included:

a. Interest Rate Derivatives at about USD 393+ trillion;
b. Credit Default Swaps at about USD 58+ trillion;
c. Foreign Exchange Derivatives at about USD 56+ trillion;
d. Commodity Derivatives at about USD 9 trillion;
e. Equity Linked Derivatives at about USD 8.5 trillion; and
f. Unallocated Derivatives at about USD 71+ trillion.

Quadrillion? That is a number only super computing engineers and astronomers used to use, not economists and bankers! For example, the North star is “just” a couple of quadrillion miles away, ie, a few thousand trillion miles. The new “Roadrunner” supercomputer built by IBM for the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has achieved a peak performance of 1.026 Peta Flop per second — becoming the first supercomputer ever to reach this milestone. One Quadrillion Floating Point Operations (Flops) per second is 1 Peta Flop/s, ie, 1,000 Trillion Flops per second. It is estimated that all the data found on all the websites and stored on computers across the world totals more than One Exa byte of memory, ie, 1,000 Quadrillion bytes of data.

Whilst outstanding derivatives are notional amounts until they are crystallised, actual exposure is measured by the net credit equivalent. This is normally a lower figure unless many variables plot a locus in the wrong direction simultaneously. This could be because of catastrophic unpredictable events, ie, “Black Swans”, such as cascades of bankruptcies and nationalisations, when the net exposure can balloon and become considerably larger or indeed because some extremely dislocating geo-political or geo-physical events take place simultaneously. Also, the notional value becomes real value when either counterparty to the OTC derivative goes bankrupt. This means that no large OTC derivative house can be allowed to go broke without falling into the arms of another. Whatever funds within reason are required to rescue failing international investment banks, deposit banks and financial entities ought to be provided on a case by case basis. This is the asymmetric nature of derivatives andhere lies the potential for systemic risk to the global economic system and financial markets if nothing is done.

He later goes on to put this figure of $1.14 Quadrillion in perspective…

1. The entire GDP of the US is about USD 14 trillion.

2. The entire US money supply is also about USD 15 trillion.

3. The GDP of the entire world is USD 50 trillion. USD 1,144 trillion is 22 times the GDP of the whole world.

4. The real estate of the entire world is valued at about USD 75 trillion.

5. The world stock and bond markets are valued at about USD 100 trillion.

6. The big banks alone own about USD 140 trillion in derivatives.

7. Bear Stearns had USD 13+ trillion in derivatives and went bankrupt in March. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers and AIG have all ‘collapsed’ because of complex securities and derivatives exposures in September.

8. The population of the whole planet is about 6 billion people. So the derivatives market alone represents about USD 190,000 per person on the planet.

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