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Germany to Ban Naked Short-Selling at Midnight

Wolfgang Schaeuble
Germany introduces a temporary ban on naked short-selling and naked credit-default swaps of euro-area bonds. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Germany will temporarily ban naked short selling and naked credit-default swaps of euro-area government bonds at midnight after politicians blamed the practice for exacerbating the European debt crisis.

The ban will also apply to naked short selling in shares of 10 banks and insurers that will last until March 31, 2011, German financial regulator BaFin said today in an e-mailed statement. The step was needed because of “exceptional volatility” in euro-area bonds, the regulator said.

The move came as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition seeks to build momentum on financial-market regulation with lower-house lawmakers due to begin debating a bill tomorrow authorizing Germany’s contribution to a $1 trillion bailout plan to backstop the euro. U.S. stocks fell and the euro dropped to $1.2231, the lowest level since April 18, 2006, after the announcement.

“You cannot imagine what broke lose here after BaFin’s announcement,” Johan Kindermann, a capital markets lawyer at Simmons & Simmons in Frankfurt, said in an interview. “This will lead to an uproar in the markets tomorrow. Short-sellers will now, even tonight, try to close their positions at markets where they can still do so -- if they find any possibilities left at all now.”

Merkel, Sarkozy

Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have called for curbs on speculating with sovereign credit-default swaps. European Union Financial Services Commissioner Michel Barnier this week called for stricter disclosure requirements on the transactions.

Allianz SE, Deutsche Bank AG, Commerzbank AG, Deutsche Boerse AG, Deutsche Postbank AG, Muenchener Rueckversicherungs AG, Hannover Rueckversicherungs AG, Generali Deutschland Holding AG, MLP AG and Aareal Bank AG are covered by the short-selling ban.

“Massive” short-selling was leading to excessive price movements which “could endanger the stability of the entire financial system,” BaFin said in the statement.

The European Union last month proposed that the Financial Stability Board, the group set up by the Group of 20 nations to monitor global financial trends, should “closely examine the role” of CDS on sovereign bond spreads. Merkel said earlier today that she will press the Group of 20 to bring in a financial transactions tax.

Merkel’s ‘Battle’

“In some ways, it’s a battle of the politicians against the markets” and “I’m determined to win,” Merkel said May 6. “The speculators are our adversaries.”

Germany, along with the U.S. and other EU nations, banned short selling of banks and insurance company shares at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008. The country still has rules requiring disclosure of net short positions of 0.2 percent or more of outstanding shares of 10 separate companies.

The disclosure of the rules drew criticism from lawyers who said that they should have been announced well ahead of time.

“The way it’s been announced is very irresponsible, and it’s sent many market participants into panic mode,” said Darren Fox, a regulator lawyer who advises hedge funds at Simmons & Simmons in London. “We thought regulators had learned their lessons from September 2008. Where is the market emergency that necessitates the introduction of an overnight ban?”

Short-selling is when hedge funds and other investors borrow shares they don’t own and sell them in the hope their price will go down. If it does, they buy back the shares at the lower price, return them to their owner and pocket the difference.

Credit-default swaps are derivatives that pay the buyer face value if a borrower -- a country or a company -- defaults. In exchange, the swap seller gets the underlying securities or the cash equivalent. Traders in naked credit-default swaps buy insurance on bonds they don’t own.

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

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.

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