Some advisors are always searching for the next blow up on the horizon. Well, with that in mind, Fitch has just put out a warning to investors that the next big market storm will likely start in credit funds. Fitch’s warning is predicated on the well-trod idea of a liquidity mismatch between the daily liquidity that open-end bond funds offer, and the relative illiquidity of their underlying holdings. In December, open-ended loan funds saw steep withdrawals, which led to big losses.
FINSUM: This is a fairly well-covered topic, but it is still a big risk. It has not yet happened on a major scale, but if it did, the potential for losses is massive.
The FT ran an article today looking at the tech meltdown from an angle no one else is, and it is definitely worth paying attention to. Their worry is how ETF issuers are going to be able to offload shares of tech giants quickly enough to match benchmarks. For instance, Facebook lost $120 bn of market cap last week, and it will be difficult to source enough buyers to unload all that stock without roiling the market further. The overall point of the article is that trouble in tech might cause the dreaded “liquidity mismatch” issue in ETFs.
FINSUM: It seems like this problem is already rectified for last week’s fall, but the overarching argument is that any falls in FAANG stock prices are going to be exacerbated by large amounts of forced ETF selling. This could explain why the losses have been so steep.
One of the market’s big worries over the last few years has been centered around the idea that ETFs may have some sort of implosion the next time there is a Crisis, or at least some major volatility. However, S&P has just come out with a report saying that won’t be the case. The piece cites the numerous instances of when major volatility hit markets, including this past February, and ETFs held up just fine. That said, ETFs do have the potential to be distortive, and they have been implicated in some major flare ups, such as that linked to the CBOE Volatility Index this winter. S&P concluded that “There’s not much cause for concern for systemic risk … But we have been able to quantify that there’s some minimal impact”.
FINSUM: Our feeling is that equity ETFs should be fine. However, for less liquid fixed income and other low liquidity areas, ETFs could theoretically have a “liquidity mismatch” which might cause some issues.
You have heard it before, and while you might not want to, you need to hear it again. All signs point to the fact that ETFs will likely be the epicenter of the next big market blow up. Investors will be familiar with the argument that the “liquidity mismatch” between ETFs and underlying bonds is a big problem, but the reality is that this is also the case in stocks. While small caps and other less-liquid stocks pose a big threat to ETFs which track them, in a market downturn, even quite liquid shares might be set alight by forced panicked selling by ETFs. Bloomberg gives and an example “Imagine that one big investor in an ETF with, say, a 10 percent stake is forced to sell a large part its holding in a single day. There might not be ready buyers for such a large holding, causing the ETF to fall to a price below the value of the assets it owns. This price impact may be exaggerated, as ETF activity intensifies both upswings and downswings”.
FINSUM: The fact that there are also big risks in equities really opened our eyes. We knew about the bond liquidity issue, but the fact that it extends to both small and large cap equities is quite concerning. Then again, there is a fatalistic logic where this all makes sense: ETFs have been the big growth driver since the Crisis, so it makes sense they would be the epicenter of the next one.