Posted by on November 25, 2017 12:10 am
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Categories: Alternative investment management companies Black Swan Business Economy Finance Financial markets Funds Google Hedge Hedge fund Institutional Investors Investment Investor money Private Equity S&P 500 Short Interest Twitter Volatility

Back in July, Canaccord analyst Brian Reynolds put out a contrarian piece which broke with numerous conventional wisdom norms about the state of the market, key among which was that traders are not complacent, but rather – in light of collapsing trading volumes, something which has plagued bank income statements in the past 2 quarters – simply paralyzed, as they no longer have a grasp of financial “logic” when it is all superceded by central bank liquidity injections, and as such most trades feel fake, forced and just part of the FOMO charade to avoid losing one’s job.

As Reynolds explained, “Investors are not complacent. Their stances range from extremely aggressive to bearish” and added that these “opposing forces have led to a compression of volatility. When stocks have rallied strongly, they have then been met with investor selling. When stocks sell off, the buybacks have picked up after the selling runs its course. That has been the case for more than eight years. Those forces have led to an equity bull market that moves higher in fits and starts, with some brief pullbacks from time to time. Given the positioning of equity investors and continued flows into credit, we do not see that pattern changing for some time.” Meanwhile, sandwiched inbetween these two trends, investors – both retail and institutional – find themselves in trade limbo, and the outcome is a gradual decline in trading volumes “which is more reflective of paralysis than complacency among equity investors.”

And while one can posit theories explaining this bizarre market until one is blue in the face, the most vivid confirmation of Reyonld’s “paralysis” thesis emerged in the latest batch of hedge fund 13Fs, which was analyzed by Goldman earlier this week, and noted here in “These Are The Top 50 Hedge Fund Long And Short Positions.”

In the report, Goldman highlighted various notable outliers, such as the latest record high in hedge fund leverage…

… coupled with the recent plunge in short interest (which as a share of S&P 500 market cap sits just below 2.0%, matching January of this year as the lowest level since 2012)…

… even as hedge fund “crowding” in a handful of top names hits an all time high:

But the most interesting to us, and the hedge fund community, we believe is the following chart, which shows that hedge fund portfolio turnover continued its downward trend and reached a new record low in the third quarter Across all portfolio positions, turnover registered 26% in 3Q. Turnover of the largest quartile of positions, which make up the vast majority of fund portfolios, fell to just 13%.

This means that once hedge funds have established positions, they no longer trade in and out, but simply lean back and let it ride. And why not: with the most popular hedge fund positions this year being also the best performing ones, namely Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Alphabet and Microsoft, why ever both selling.  Indeed, as the next chart shows, the bulk of the collapsing turnover is largely due to tech stocks:

Of course, this strategy of loading up on winner and letting them ride is a two-edged sword. while it is the best strategy on the way up, it also becomes a quasi private equity strategy, in which the price formation is created on the margin with increasingly less volume. And, since such tech holdings are becoming ever more illiquid, the threat is what happens once the narrative shifts and instead of buying, hedge funds start to sell these most concentrated of growth names. One could say that a tech selloff is emerging as one of the more concerning black – or at least gray – swans in the market. In fact, we are did say just that…

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