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 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.
Credit default swaps are the most widely traded credit derivative product and the Bank for International Settlements reported the notional amount on outstanding OTC credit default swaps to be $42.6 trillion in June 2007, up from $28.9 trillion in December 2006 ($13.9 trillion in December 2005) and by the end of 2007 there were an estimated USD 45 trillion worth of Credit Default Swap contracts.
But by the end of 2007 there were an estimated USD 62.2 trillion.
In the US, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reported the notional amount on outstanding credit derivatives from reporting banks to be $16.4 trillion at the end of March, 2008.