At the time, I didn't know exactly which institutions were most at risk.
Now I have a pretty good idea and want to share that with you.
One big firm, the Brussels-based Dexia SA, is already set to be dismantled.
And based on an analysis of 50 European banks with a combined $129 billion (92 billion euros) tied up in Greek sovereign debt, I've identified two other suspect institutions: BNP Paribas SA, and Societe Generale SA (PINK: SCGLY).
These banks have a high level of exposure to Greek sovereign debt and once they're forced to acknowledge the precariousness of their situation investors will stampede for the exits. That will have negative effects for both European and U.S. banks, as well as the overall markets. But there is a way to not only protect yourself, but turn a serious profit.
I will explain that to you shortly, but first, let me give you an idea of what it is we're dealing with.
Europe's Lehman Bros.Basically, there are two ways to judge which banks are most at risk. You can look at how expensive the credit default swaps on these banks are compared to their peer group. And you can look at how quickly those credit default swaps have climbed.
Credit default swaps, in case you are not familiar with them, were originally created as "insurance" that protected the lender in case of a default. When they are purchased, the loan is turned into an "asset" and is then "swappable" for cash if the borrower defaults.
Generally speaking, the more expensive a credit default swap is and the faster its price has increased, the greater the risk there is associated with it.
As of Oct. 4 , the senior debt of the top 25 global banks with tradable CDS instruments was at 289 basis points. (A basis point is equal to 1/100 of a percentage point . They are commonly used to denote a rate change or, in this case, the difference or spread between two interest rates.)
However, the five-year senior credit default swaps for Societe Generale and BNP Paribas are considerably out of line with that figure - or at least they were as of Oct . 6. They've recovered since rumors of another rescue surfaced, but they're still dangerously high. Five-year senior credit default swaps were recently valued at about 386 points for Societe Generale and 287 basis points for BNP Paribas.
As for how fast the cost of insuring that debt has risen, the data is even more incriminating. Since 2009 Societe General's credit default swaps are up 294.17% and BNP Paribas credit default swaps have risen 199.60%.
This suggests two possibilities: 1) Traders are betting that the banks are substantially undercapitalized - meaning they may not have enough money to meet potential losses; or 2) They've got way too much exposure to Greek debt to withstand the country's failure.