Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More derivatives, not less?

John Mauldin's latest "Outside The Box" letter focuses on the writings of Woody Brock, who argues the financial system needs more derivatives, not less.

Here's John's introduction to Brock's article:

An all too common myth is that the total value of derivates is in and of itself dangerous because they are a form of leverage...but that is not the case. Derivatives, per se, are not a form of leverage; rather they afford the opportunity and make it easier and less risky for others to use leverage across many different assets and instruments (i.e. - mortgages, insurance, etc...).

It is the leverage which is then the issue, as paradoxically, the decreased risk (hedging) aspects of derivatives allows investors to feel more comfortable with increased leverage, which sends a variety of signals to market participants.

The problem lies not in the instruments but in how the risk is distributed. While many of the larger, institutional players have used the offshoots of derivates to better hedge themselves, much of the smaller investor community has unwisely used the medium in a speculative manner.

If a small homeowner is in trouble because of leverage on their mortgage, there just isn't anyone left to bail them out. Just as in the greater fool theory, the party only continues while someone is more foolish and irrational than the last fool.

Have a look, and see if you agree with Brock's assessment.