Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Origin of Eurodollar futures

(eurodollar pit pictured above from my book Trading Pit Hand Signals, I would've uploaded the digital file but that would've violated my license agreement w/Getty Images.  Can click to enlarge for better detail and the photo was taken from the top of the back months, in 2004 I believe)

Russia's incursion into Crimea and the Western, particularly US, posturing about economic and financial consequences brought to mind the earlier circumstances which created the enormous eurodollar futures market.  The above picture illustrates how large the market was when it was floor based and it's only grown since transitioning almost fully electronic.  As I traded in there and continue to make it the only market I trade (electronically now), my bias is apparent in calling it the greatest pit that ever existed.  Whereas other large pits were generally momentum (some use the term "meathead") oriented such as the S&P or bond pits, the eurodollar market is a big chessgame based upon spreading which explains why it grew exponentially. 

Getting back to the original topic, the eurodollar market was developed in the early 1950s as Communist governments moved their dollars outside US jurisdiction to avoid potential confiscation or asset freezes. 

Wikipedia presents a succinct historical account:

"Gradually, after World War II, the quantity of U.S. dollars outside the United States increased enormously, as a result of both the Marshall Plan and imports into the U.S., which had become the largest consumer market after World War II.

As a result, enormous sums of U.S. dollars were in the custody of foreign banks outside the United States. Some foreign countries, including the Soviet Union, also had deposits in U.S. dollars in American banks, granted by certificates. Various history myths exist for the first Eurodollar creation, or booking, but most trace back to Communist governments keeping dollar deposits abroad.

In one version, the first booking traces back to Communist China, which, in 1949, managed to move almost all of its U.S. dollars to the Soviet-owned Banque Commerciale pour l'Europe du Nord in Paris before the United States froze the remaining assets during the Korean War.

In another version, the first booking traces back to the Soviet Union during the Cold War period, especially after the invasion of Hungary in 1956, as the Soviet Union feared that its deposits in North American banks would be frozen as a retaliation. It decided to move some of its holdings to the Moscow Narodny Bank, a Soviet-owned bank with a British charter. The British bank would then deposit that money in the US banks. There would be no chance of confiscating that money, because it belonged to the British bank and not directly to the Soviets. On 28 February 1957, the sum of $800,000 was transferred, creating the first eurodollars. Initially dubbed "Eurbank dollars" after the bank's telex address, they eventually became known as "eurodollars" as such deposits were at first held mostly by European banks and financial institutions. A major role was played by City of London banks, as the Midland Bank, now HSBC, and their offshore holding companies.

In the mid-1950s, Eurodollar trading and its development into a dominant world currency began when the Soviet Union wanted better interest rates on their Eurodollars and convinced an Italian banking cartel to give them more interest than what could have been earned if the dollars were deposited in the U.S. The Italian bankers then had to find customers ready to borrow the Soviet dollars and pay above the U.S. legal interest-rate caps for their use, and were able to do so; thus, Eurodollars began to be used increasingly in global finance."

Now with the eurodollar market well established, Putin doesn't need to focus on asset sheltering during an invasion and can instead spend more time doing what he does best: dangling and sniping.  

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