Credit Default Swaps (CDS) emerged as complex financial instruments in the 1990s , providing investors with a tool to manage credit risk and hedge against potential defaults. While initially seen as innovative risk management instruments, CDS came under scrutiny during and after the global financial crisis of 2008 (see for example an article by Noeth & Sengupta from the Federal Reserve of Saint Louis in 2012). In this article, we delve into the current state of Credit Default Swaps in the United States, analyzing market trends, regulatory developments, and their role in the financial industry.
Understanding Credit Default Swaps
A Credit Default Swap is essentially a contract between two parties, commonly known as the protection buyer and the protection seller. The buyer pays regular premiums to the seller in exchange for protection against the default of a particular reference entity, such as a corporation or a sovereign nation. If a credit event occurs, such as a default, bankruptcy, or debt restructuring, the protection seller is obligated to compensate the buyer for the loss incurred.
Since the financial crisis, the CDS market has undergone significant changes. Regulatory reforms, such as the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, aimed to increase transparency and reduce systemic risk in the derivatives market. As a result, CDS trading shifted from over-the-counter (OTC) to central clearing platforms, which brought greater standardization and reduced counterparty risk.
Furthermore, the volume of CDS trading has experienced fluctuations over the years. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the market saw a decline in CDS activity as risk-averse investors sought to reduce their exposure to complex derivatives. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in CDS, driven by factors such as increased corporate debt levels, geopolitical uncertainties, and the search for yield in a low-interest-rate environment.
We recommend here the excellent paper in the Basle Committee library from Aldasoro & Ehlers (2018) .
Role and Impact
Credit Default Swaps have a dual nature in the financial landscape. On the one hand, they serve as valuable risk management tools, allowing investors to protect their portfolios from credit events and diversify their exposures. CDS can also be used for speculation, where investors take positions based on their views of the creditworthiness of different entities.
However, CDS have also been criticized for their potential role in amplifying systemic risk. During the financial crisis, the interconnectedness of CDS contracts magnified the impact of default events, contributing to the contagion effect across financial institutions. Since then, regulatory reforms have aimed to address these concerns by increasing transparency, improving risk management practices, and enhancing oversight.
Following the financial crisis, regulatory authorities implemented reforms to enhance the oversight and functioning of the CDS market. The Dodd-Frank Act introduced regulatory measures such as central clearing, reporting requirements, and capital adequacy standards for market participants. These reforms aimed to promote stability, transparency, and risk reduction within the derivatives market.
As the financial industry evolves, the future of Credit Default Swaps remains uncertain. Market participants must continue to adapt to regulatory changes, technological advancements, and shifting investor preferences. Additionally, ongoing efforts to enhance transparency and mitigate systemic risk will shape the trajectory of the CDS market in the United States and worldwide.
Credit Default Swaps remain an integral part of the financial landscape, providing investors with valuable tools to manage credit risk. Despite the challenges faced in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the CDS market has undergone significant reforms to enhance transparency and reduce systemic risk. The future of CDS in the United States will depend on the ability of market participants and regulators to strike a balance between risk management and financial stability, ensuring that these instruments continue to serve their intended purpose in an evolving financial landscape.
 attributed by some to Blythe Masters from JP Morgan in 1994.
 Aldasoro, Inaki, and Torsten Ehlers. "The credit default swap market: what a difference a decade makes." BIS quarterly review, June (2018). https://www.bis.org/publ/qtrpdf/r_qt1806b.pdf