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Regulatory Watch

Derivatives Come into (Opaque) View

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February 13, 2015

After a series of big losses in 1994, regulators were just beginning to get a sense of the scope of derivatives.

Regulators have spent the years following the financial crisis tightening up and making safer the near $700 trillion derivatives market. Twenty years ago when it was considerably smaller, regulators, after a series of big losses and scandal, began their attempts to bring the market to heel. But then as now, willful disregard or ignorance can still defeat the rules.

“It is not really the markets, but the actions of the participants that matter.” So said Paul Stevens, then head of the president of the Options Clearing Corporation in "Costs of Safety," from the March 6, 1995 issue of International Treasurer. “Cars have safety belts, but if you don' t use them, you still go through the windshield.”

While most of the derivative losses or gains heard today from companies involve those in quarterly earnings reports (often the exclusion of a “change in fair value of derivatives” or “unallocated derivative gains and losses”), there are some lingering complaints from the just after the crisis. Recently, according to the Bloomberg, Deutsche Bank’s Japan units were sued by a Japanese school operator for 9 billion yen ($76 million) in compensation for losses on derivative transactions. Nanzan School Corp. filed the lawsuits, “arguing that the German firm’s banking and brokerage units in Japan failed to explain risks of the transactions.”

Back in 1995 International Treasurer surmised that rules emanating from derivative losses would dampen the market by making derivatives more expensive. Despite regulations then and the regulations now, it hasn’t mattered. The market in 1994 was said to be somewhere in the under-$35 trillion range. And even after the financial crisis, derivative use is up more than 20 percent.  

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