Front page in Friday's Wall Street Journal: Default Fears Unnerve Markets Partners in Credit Deals Face Big Write-Downs As Bond Insurer Teeters By SUSAN PULLIAM and SERENA NG January 18, 2008; Page A1 The turmoil on Wall Street is beginning to rock a foundation of the financial system: the ability of institutions to make good on their many trades with one another. Today, a struggling bond insurer, ACA Financial Guaranty Corp., will ask its trading partners for more time as it scrambles to unwind more than $60 billion of insurance contracts it sold to financial firms but can't fully pay off, according to people familiar with the matter. The contracts were intended to protect Wall Street firms from losses on mortgage securities and other debt they own. The problem is that the insurer itself is teetering -- with repercussions across the financial world. Some of its trading partners, called counterparties, already are writing off billions of dollars because of its inability to pay. Yesterday Merrill Lynch & Co. wrote down $3.1 billion on debt securities it had tried to hedge through ACA insurance contracts, as part of a larger Merrill write-down. Earlier this week, Citigroup Inc. set aside reserves of $935 million to cover the likelihood that trading partners won't make good on trades in this market. Such risk helped pummel the stock market yesterday as well. At the center of these concerns is a vast, barely regulated market in which banks, hedge funds and others trade insurance against debt defaults. This isn't like life insurance or homeowners' insurance, which states regulate closely. It consists of financial contracts called credit-default swaps, in which one party, for a price, assumes the risk that a bond or loan will go bad. This market is vast: about $45 trillion, a number comparable to all of the deposits in banks around the world.