CDS as Insurance: Leaky Lifeboats in Stormy Seas

25 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2011 Last revised: 22 Nov 2011

See all articles by Eric Stephens

Eric Stephens

University of Alberta

James R. Thompson

University of Waterloo - School of Accounting and Finance

Date Written: September 26, 2011


What market features of Credit Defaults Swaps (CDS) exacerbate counterparty risk? To answer this, we formulate a model which elucidates key differences between these and traditional insurance contracts. First, we allow for insurer insolvency with asymmetric information as to its probability. We find that stable insurers become less stable because they are forced to compete on price. When insurer type is known, increased competition among insurers can create instability for the same reason. Second, we allow the insured party to have heterogeneous motivations for purchasing CDS. For example, some may own the underlying asset and purchase CDS for risk management, while others buy these contracts purely for trading purposes. We show that traders will choose to contract with less stable insurers, resulting in higher counterparty risk in this market relative to that of traditional insurance; however, a regulatory policy that removes traders can, perversely, cause market counterparty risk to increase. Finally, we introduce a Central Counterparty (CCP) and show that requiring CDS contracts to be negotiated through CCPs can push stable insurers out of the market, mitigating the benefit of risk pooling.

Keywords: credit default swaps, insurance, counterparty risk, banking, regulation, central counterparties

JEL Classification: G21, G22, D82, G18

Suggested Citation

Stephens, Eric and Thompson, James R., CDS as Insurance: Leaky Lifeboats in Stormy Seas (September 26, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Eric Stephens

University of Alberta ( email )

8-14 Tory Building
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H4

James R. Thompson (Contact Author)

University of Waterloo - School of Accounting and Finance ( email )

200 University Avenue West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1 N2L 3G1


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