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Understanding the risk of synthetic CDOs

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  • Michael S. Gibson

Abstract

Synthetic collateralized debt obligations, or synthetic CDOs, are popular vehicles for trading the credit risk of a portfolio of assets. Following a brief summary of the development of the synthetic CDO market, I draw on recent innovations in modeling to present a pricing model for CDO tranches that does not require Monte Carlo simulation. I use the model to analyze the risk characteristics of the tranches of synthetic CDOs. The analysis shows that although the more junior CDO tranches -- equity and mezzanine tranches -- typically contain a small fraction of the notional amount of the CDO's reference portfolio, they bear a majority of the credit risk. One implication is that credit risk disclosures relying on notional amounts are especially inadequate for firms that invest in CDOs. I show how the equity and mezzanine tranches can be viewed as leveraged exposures to the underlying credit risk of the CDO's reference portfolio. Even though mezzanine tranches are typically rated investment-grade, the leverage they possess implies their risk (and expected return) can be many times that of an investment-grade corporate bond. The paper goes on to show how CDO tranches and other innovative credit products, such as single-tranche CDOs and first-to-default basket swaps, are sensitive to the correlation of defaults among the credits in the reference portfolio. Differences of opinion among market participants as to the correct default correlation can create trading opportunities. Finally, the paper shows how the dependence of CDO tranches on default correlation can also be characterized and measured as an exposure to the business cycle, or as "business cycle risk." A mezzanine tranche, in particular, is highly sensitive to business cycle risk.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael S. Gibson, 2004. "Understanding the risk of synthetic CDOs," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2004-36, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2004-36
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jeffery D Amato & Eli M Remolona, 2003. "The credit spread puzzle," BIS Quarterly Review, Bank for International Settlements, December.
    2. S. Illeris & G. Akehurst, 2002. "Introduction," The Service Industries Journal, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(1), pages 1-3, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Huang, Xin & Zhou, Hao & Zhu, Haibin, 2009. "A framework for assessing the systemic risk of major financial institutions," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(11), pages 2036-2049, November.
    2. Renzo G Avesani, 2005. "FIRST; A Market-Based Approach to Evaluate Financial System Risk and Stability," IMF Working Papers 05/232, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Abel Elizalde, 2006. "CREDIT RISK MODELS IV: UNDERSTANDING AND PRICING CDOs," Working Papers wp2006_0608, CEMFI.
    4. repec:wsi:ijfexx:v:04:y:2017:i:02n03:n:s2424786317500384 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Michael S. Gibson, 2007. "Credit derivatives and risk management," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-47, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    6. Günter Franke & Julia Hein, 2008. "Securitization of mezzanine capital in Germany," Financial Markets and Portfolio Management, Springer;Swiss Society for Financial Market Research, vol. 22(3), pages 219-240, September.
    7. W. Scott Frame & Lawrence J. White, 2009. "Technological Change, Financial Innovation, and Diffusion in Banking," Working Papers 09-03, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
    8. Michel Aglietta & Ludovic Moreau & Adrian Roche, 2009. "The Crux of the Matter: Ratings and Credit Risk Valuation at the heart of the Structured Finance Crisis," EconomiX Working Papers 2009-3, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    9. Francisco García Castillo, 2009. "Una contribución a la valuación de los Synthetic CDO," Revista de Administración, Finanzas y Economía (Journal of Management, Finance and Economics), Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Ciudad de México, vol. 3(2), pages 60-73.
    10. Li L Ong & Jorge A Chan-Lau, 2006. "The Credit Risk Transfer Market and Stability Implications for U.K. Financial Institutions," IMF Working Papers 06/139, International Monetary Fund.
    11. Jorge A Chan-Lau, 2006. "Is Systematic Default Risk Priced in Equity Returns? A Cross-Sectional Analysis Using Credit Derivatives Prices," IMF Working Papers 06/148, International Monetary Fund.
    12. Dermine, Jean, 2015. "Basel III leverage ratio requirement and the probability of bank runs," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 266-277.
    13. Renzo G Avesani & Jing Li & Antonio Garcia Pascual, 2006. "A New Risk Indicator and Stress Testing Tool; A Multifactor Nth-to-Default CDS Basket," IMF Working Papers 06/105, International Monetary Fund.
    14. Andre O Santos & Jorge A Chan-Lau, 2006. "Currency Mismatches and Corporate Default Risk; Modeling, Measurement, and Surveillance Applications," IMF Working Papers 06/269, International Monetary Fund.
    15. Lawrence R. Cordell & Yilin Huang & Meredith Williams, 2011. "Collateral damage: Sizing and assessing the subprime CDO crisis," Working Papers 11-30, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
    16. Nikola Tarashev & Haibin Zhu, 2008. "Specification and Calibration Errors in Measures of Portfolio Credit Risk: The Case of the ASRF Model," International Journal of Central Banking, International Journal of Central Banking, vol. 4(2), pages 129-173, June.

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