Few traders expect the value of the euro to totally collapse, the way the British pound did in 1992 amid a large bearish bet by Mr. Soros. In that famous trade—which traders say led to a $1 billion profit—selling led by Mr. Soros pushed the pound’s value so low that Britain was forced to withdraw its currency from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, causing the pound to drop even more sharply. The euro is an extremely deep market, with at least $1.2 trillion in daily trading volume, dwarfing the British pound’s daily trading volume in 1992.
Again, derivatives, known as credit-default swaps, are playing a part in the current trading. Some of the largest hedge funds, including Paulson & Co., which manages $32 billion, have bought such swaps, traders say, which act as insurance against a default by Greece on its sovereign debt. Traders view higher swaps prices as warning signs of potential default.
Since December, the prices of such swaps have more than doubled, reflecting investors concerns about a default by Greece. Paulson had built a large bearish position on Europe, people familiar with the matter say, including swaps that will pay out if Greece defaults on its debt.
Paulson since has closed out that position and taken the other side of the bet, leaving the firm with a bullish stance now, a person familiar with the matter says.
In a statement, Paulson declined to comment “on individual positions,” saying it “does not manipulate or seek to destabilize securities in any markets.”
Late last year, hedge funds bought swaps insuring the debt of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, and began making bearish euro bets. More recently, the hedge funds have sold these swaps to banks looking to “hedge,” or protect, their holdings of European government bonds, traders say.
In the past year, the overall value of swaps insuring against a Greek debt default has doubled, to $84.8 billion, according to Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. But the net amount that sellers would actually pay in a default rose just modestly over the same period, up only 4% to $8.9 billion, the DTCC says. This suggests that banks and others have bought and sold roughly equal amounts of swaps to hedge their positions, traders say.
The bigger bet against Europe these days is playing out in the vast foreign exchange markets, which offers a plethora of ways to trade.