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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_default_swap

A credit default swap (CDS) is a credit derivative contract between two counterparties, whereby the "buyer" or "fixed rate payer" pays periodic payments to the "seller" or "floating rate payer" in exchange for the right to a payoff if there is a default[1] or "credit event" in respect of a third party or "reference entity".

If a credit event occurs, the typical contract either settles by delivery by the buyer to the seller of a (usually defaulted) debt obligation of the reference entity against a payment by the seller of the par value ("physical settlement") or the seller pays the buyer the difference between the par value and the market price of a specified debt obligation, typically determined in an auction ("cash settlement").

A credit default swap resembles an insurance policy, as it can be used by a debt holder to hedge, or insure against a default under the debt instrument. However, because there is no requirement to actually hold any asset or suffer a loss, a credit default swap can also be used for speculative purposes and is not generally considered insurance for regulatory purposes.


OK, but:

The market for credit derivatives is now so large, in many instances the amount of credit derivatives outstanding for an individual name are vastly greater than the bonds outstanding. For instance, company X may have $1 billion of outstanding debt and $10 billion of CDS contracts outstanding. If such a company were to default, and recovery is 40 cents on the dollar, then the loss to investors holding the bonds would be $600 million. However the loss to credit default swap sellers would be $6 billion.

Is this something that should be allowed in the first place?
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