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Bank Risk Soars to Record, Default Swaps Overtake Lehman Crisis

CEO and co-chief investment officer of PIMCO Mohamed El-Erian. Photographer: Gillianne Tedder/Bloomberg
CEO and co-chief investment officer of PIMCO Mohamed El-Erian. Photographer: Gillianne Tedder/Bloomberg

May 7 (Bloomberg) -- The cost of insuring against losses on European bank bonds soared to a record, surpassing levels triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., as the sovereign debt crisis deepened.

The Markit iTraxx Financial Index of credit-default swaps on 25 banks and insurers soared as much as 40 basis points to 223, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The index closed at 212 basis points March 9, 2009. Swaps on Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy rose to or near all-time high levels.

Credit risk rose for a sixth day on concern the Greek debt crisis is spiraling out of control and triggering concern banks may face losses on their sovereign bond holdings. The Group of Seven plans to hold a conference call today to discuss the turmoil, after a global stock rout that briefly erased more than $1 trillion in U.S. market value.

“Financials are caught in a really bad place right now,” said Aziz Sunderji, a London-based credit strategist at Barclays Capital. “Investors are selling bonds, not just hedging with CDS. It shows investors are repositioning portfolios and there’s a more long-term repricing of peripheral risk.”

Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Mohamed El-Erian and Loomis Sayles & Co.’s Dan Fuss said Europe’s crisis may spread across the globe because of investor concern that governments have borrowed too much to revive their economies.

Portugal, Spain

Markit’s financial gauge was trading at 198 basis points at 2:30 p.m. in London, according to JPMorgan. Contracts on Spanish and Portuguese banks rose to records, according to CMA DataVision prices. Portugal’s Banco Comercial Portugues SA increased 53 basis points to 579 and Spain’s Banco Santander SA rose 12 basis points to 253.

In the U.K., swaps on Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc jumped 41 to 229 after Britain’s biggest government-owned bank posted the only first-quarter loss among British rivals.

The spread between the three-month dollar London interbank offered rate and the overnight indexed swap rate, a barometer of the reluctance of banks to lend that’s known as the Libor-OIS spread, is at 18 basis points, up from 6 basis points on March 15 and near the highest level in more than five months. It’s still far from the record 364 basis points in October 2008, almost a month after Lehman’s bankruptcy.

Swaps on Greece surged 75 basis points to 1,008 before the advance was pared to 950. Portugal climbed 42 to 502 before falling to 430 and Italy rose 24 to 255.5 before dropping to 227 and Spain increased 14 to 288 before trading at 246, CMA prices show.

British Swaps

Contracts on the U.K. rose 8 basis points to 99, according to CMA. Britain’s election produced a parliament without a majority for the first time since 1974, stoking concern the new government will be too weak to rein in its record budget deficit.

European policy makers are under mounting pressure from investors and foreign officials to broaden their response to the Greek fiscal crisis after a 110 billion euro ($140 billion) bailout package failed to ease concerns.

“We do not see a clear sign that markets will calm down in the absence of decisive action by authorities, which so far have ignored the opportunity to convince investors that they are capable of battling the European sovereign debt crisis,” Markus Ernst, a credit strategist at UniCredit SpA in Munich, wrote in a note to investors.

Merkel Meeting

German lawmakers approved their nation’s share of loans to Greece worth as much as 22.4 billion euros before Chancellor Angela Merkel and other euro region governments meet in Brussels to review the bailout and look for ways to stop the burgeoning crisis. The leaders arrive in Brussels about 6:15 p.m. local time and the final press conference is slated for 10 p.m.

The cost of insuring against losses on corporate bonds also rose. Contracts on the Markit iTraxx Crossover Index linked to 50 companies with mostly high-yield credit ratings increased as much as 74 basis points to 625, JPMorgan prices show, the highest since September. The index pared its advance to 611.

The Markit iTraxx Europe Index of 125 companies with investment-grade ratings climbed as much as 29.5 basis points to 152.5, JPMorgan prices show, the highest since April 2009. It was trading at 139.

A basis point on a credit-default swap contract protecting 10 million euros of debt from default for five years is equivalent to 1,000 euros a year.

Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should a company fail to adhere to its debt agreements. An increase signals deterioration in perceptions of credit quality.

The extra yield investors demand to own investment grade corporate bonds rather than government debt jumped 21 basis points from last week to 174, the largest weekly rise in a year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data. The gauge has also increased 10 basis points from yesterday, the biggest one-day increase since October 2008.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abigail Moses in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Armstrong at

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