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Equity derivatives: Banks look beyond losses

Bad news from equity derivatives desks to have been relatively contained so far – although banks make it hard to find real numbers. But as investors remain wary of highly structured trades, and bank losses mount, will it be back to basics in 2009? Phil Moore finds out.

NOBODY DISPUTES HOW challenging 2008 was for all equity market participants other than outright short-sellers. As Deutsche Bank analysts reflected in the firm’s 2009 volatility outlook: "2008 proved to be a year to which Murphy’s Law applied as (almost) everything that could go wrong did. In 12 months, equity markets across the globe experienced levels of volatility which rapidly ran out of comparisons. Market liquidity dried up amid hedge fund redemptions and extreme volatility brought new challenges for even passive investors."

The German bank should know. In February, full-year equity sales and trading revenues were negative by €630 million, compared with gains of €4.6 billion in 2007. That stunning reversal was driven chiefly by the losses generated by Deutsche’s equity derivatives desk in the fourth quarter of 2008. Those reached €1.7 billion, "from managing structural risks, particularly around correlation, volatility and dividend risk related to single stocks". Proprietary trading losses amounted to €413 million, fuelled by "market wide deleveraging which drove down convertible values and widened basis risk".

Deutsche Bank is far from alone, although for the time being few if any big banks have followed its transparent lead and given details of losses in equity derivatives.

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