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Opinion

Enron Credit: Credit where credit’s due

The stunning collapse of the once high-flying US energy group Enron is hardly a laughing matter. And hindsight, as we all know, can be a wonderful thing. But it is still hard to resist a cynical chuckle at the promotional blurb used on the website for Enron Credit - the company's credit trading unit.

The unit's name is now a leading contender for oxymoron of the year in light of the group's demotion to junk status and the prospect of at least partial default on a welter of energy, credit and derivative transactions - joining other oxymoronic pearls from the financial world such as Bankers Trust and Long Term Capital Management.

But Enron's numerous counterparties could also be forgiven for feeling that the creators of the Enron Credit site had caught a glimpse into their own company's future when composing their marketing material.

"Are you looking for easier ways to measure and monitor your credit risk?" runs the blurb. "Do you want to have more confidence in your credit portfolio? How would your company be affected if one of your customers, suppliers or partners defaulted on the debt they owe you or filed for bankruptcy?"

Well, now they may be about to find out - but not quite in the way that anyone intended.

There's more: "Risk mitigation tools we offer include Credit Default Swaps, Digital Bankruptcy Swaps and other structured derivative contracts such as first-to-default swaps and first loss baskets."

Jargon-heavy

Even in the jargon-heavy world of derivatives, it is quite plain that Enron itself was not supposed to be the party to supply the credit default, digital bankruptcy or first loss.

What was the product that Enron was best known for in the credit derivative markets? You guessed it - bankruptcy swaps. The energy trader pioneered the market in digital bankruptcy contracts and dominated trading activity in the product.

But back to the website for some further insight from the Enron team on making credit evaluation "as simple as possible"- which they've certainly done in their own case - and ensuring "that every manager, trader and salesperson can understand the impact of credit risk".

How's this for foresight? "Recent market volatility and high-profile bankruptcies may raise concerns that perhaps you are actually taking more chances than you'd like," the blurb waffles on.

"That's where we come in. We offer solutions that ensure that you can say 'yes' to deals in the knowledge that you are not putting your business at risk." Ouch.

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