Like alligators in a swamp, financial derivatives lurk in the global economy. Deriving their value from the worth of some underlying asset, like currencies or equities, these potentially lucrative contracts are measured in trillions of dollars. But they also lie in convoluted layers in a tightly wound market of global interconnections. And that gives them the capacity to bring on a worldwide financial quake.
The Wall Street Journal declared that derivatives were now a $35 trillion–that’s right, trillion–worldwide market. The U.S. share is estimated at $16 trillion, which is four times the nation’s economic output. And the Journal estimates that since 1993 there have been $6.4 billion lost in the derivatives game–$6.4 billion that could have opened businesses and created jobs. […] And here’s the real kicker: Because the key players are federally insured banks, every taxpayer in the country is on the line.
That last story is by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND).
Public Radio’s Marketplace wasn’t on-air in 1994, but they felt it necessary to explain derivatives in 2004 (though I’m sure I remember an earlier, foreboding story about derivatives on the show that I can’t find in their archives). An archive search there also pulls up stories of the $120 million Credit Suisse loses due to derivatives and an $11 billion accounting problem in Fannie Mae’s accounting (also due to derivatives).