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Hedge Fund Net Leverage At All Time Highs As No Dips Are Sold

Hedge Fund Net Leverage At All Time Highs As No Dips Are Sold

Two weeks ago, JPMorgan’s prime desk wrote about 2 main themes among the hedge…

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This article was originally published by Zero Hedge

Hedge Fund Net Leverage At All Time Highs As No Dips Are Sold

Two weeks ago, JPMorgan’s prime desk wrote about 2 main themes among the hedge fund community: elevated leverage levels and low exposure to cyclicals/value that tend to do better when rates are rising. However, over the past week, both of these things have come into sharper focus as US equities suffered one of their larger pullbacks in a while and rates globally jumped higher towards the end of this week. 

So what has the largest bank’s prime brokerage desk seen in the past week? 

According to the latest weekly Positioning Intelligence report published by the bank, at a high level, it seems that HFs are not that concerned about the broader market (nor is anyone else for that matter) with the bank finding that over the past few months, there’s been limited willingness to sell dips.  In line with this, the bank saw neutral flows globally over the past week with small buying on Monday, alongside retail BTFDers, even as professional sentiment tracked by AAII turned the most bearish since last October…

… followed by small selling on Thursday.  But more generally, net flows globally have remained neutral to skewed towards buying in the past 2 weeks with Asia the only region to see some selling.

Furthermore, as has been the case for much of 2011, net leverage remains near highs with little change in the past few weeks—net at 98th percentile (of all time) across All Strategies. While gross leverage has come down a little to the 76th percentile, that appears to be more derivatives related and there could be an element of Quadruple Witching that might be impacting this as the largest gross leverage reductions were among Multi-Strat funds. According to JPM, one reason why leverage and flows among HFs might be more neutral this month is that performance has held in relatively well MTD: long-short spreads have been improving over the past few months.  Looking at this month, longs are holding up well, while shorts are down in line with the market. This leaves HFs up slightly MTD, according to JPM estimates.

Back to the topic of leverage, FINRA just came out with its latest statistics on Margin Debt which showed them at a new ATH. Given it is up almost 60% since the start of 2020, it begs the question Bank of America asked one month ago: should we be concerned? Not surprisingly, JPM dismisses this indicator and thinks “this alone is not something that is concerning when one breaks down the changes and behavior to account for how the market has been performing.” Furthermore the JPM prime desk notes that “this appears to be very different from the peaks in 2000 and 2007 when Margin Debt rose about 50% faster than the S&P 500 over a 12-month period.” Instead, to JPM the recent moves seem more reminiscent to what happened in the early 90s.

At a more micro level, cyclicals / value / inflation / travel related stocks have all been doing better recently as COVID are falling once more, some travel restrictions are getting lifted, and rates are rising globally. 

In line with this, JPM continued to see buying of NA Financials, something that has been noted over the past few weeks, but this week JPM saw Banks getting bought (vs. more Insurance and Div. Fins in prior weeks).  COVID recovery stocks have also been bought but there’s room for more to go as positioning and valuations remain low in many cases (especially among the US COVID – Domestic Recovery basket, JPAMCRDB).  EMEA Travel & Leisure stocks saw strong buying in the past week as the US prepares to drop its ban for transatlantic travel, and net positioning is getting a bit elevated vs. history; however, EMEA Airlines still has low positioning.  Finally, not everything cyclical is getting bought—HFs have continued to sell Energy into strength – despite the recent surge in oil and all other commodities – and have also sold Materials. 

Below we share some more details on each of these core themes

Main theme #1: Global Flows and Leverage: HFs Don’t Seem Too Concerned

While markets have been volatile over the past week, due to the myriad concerns, HF flows remained quite calm.  The reason is that hedge funds have been reluctant to sell dips and that appeared to be the case again last Fri/this Mon as global flows were quite neutral.  However, at the same time, HFs are also not chase the rally as the JPM Prime net flows were fairly neutral on Wed and skewed towards selling on Thurs when markets rallied back.

A notable observation is that there appears to be some strategy differences in the past 2 weeks as Equity L/S and Quant funds have been buyers while Multi-Strats have been net sellers across JPM prime.  The selling among Multi-Strats comes as gross and net leverage have started to pull back from peak levels. 

The gross reductions among some Multi-Strat funds have been the main driver of the broader “All Strategies” gross leverage figure lower WoW.  However, net leverage was basically unchanged. Furthermore, it appears derivative positions might be driving some of the changes as notional LMV and SMV increased WoW while delta adjusted LMV and SMV fell.  

Among Equity L/S funds, who have been moderate net buyers of equities most days MTD, net leverage actually rose slightly WoW and it’s now at the 93rd %-tile since Mar 2017.  

#2:  US Margin Debt: New ATHs at End of Aug…Should We Be Concerned?

FINRA just released the latest monthly stats on “Margin Debt” which showed a fairly large increase, following a decrease in July.  As Margin Debt is at new All-Time-Highs and is now up almost 60% since the start of 2020, it’s worth asking -as BofA did one month ago –  if this is something we should be concerned about.  

In order to answer this, we’ve looked at the relationship between Margin Debt and the markets over time, augmenting the data FINRA has on it’s website with NYSE Margin Debt data that goes back to 1959.  What this shows is that while there is a very big increase recently, it is 1) in line with the markets and 2) seems to be following the general pattern of the past 60+ years.  

Similar to discussions of rate-driven VaR shocks, JPM argues that it’s not so much the level of Margin Debt that one should be focused on, but rather the rate of change. On this point, the bank measured the 12M change in Margin Debt and the S&P 500 over the past ~60 years and what this shows is that there is typically a fairly strong correlation over time. In particular, this correlation has been very strong since the GFC, but there were a couple notable divergences in 2000 and 2007 when Margin Debt rose much faster than the market.

In its attempt to mitigate concerns about record margin debt, JPM then notes that increases in Margin Debt (i.e. investors taking on more leverage) that exceed the market returns by a wide margin could indicate greater potential for future stress because it might suggest that investors are adding leverage at market highs, but not actually making much money while doing so. Thus, when markets start to pull back, the recent investments start to lose money more quickly than if they had been added when the markets weren’t at highs.

Addressing this point, JPM notes that when looking at what’s happened in the past 2 years, we have seen Margin Debt increase faster than the markets on a 12M rolling basis with the difference reaching +28% at its recent high.  However, the recent high in the 12M difference metric was reached in January of this year (perhaps due to the fact that HFs had performed very well in 2020 and had been adding risk throughout 2H20 in particular). Thus, this difference has been falling for much of the past 7 months.  Furthermore, the recent rise follows a period when Margin Debt had generally lagged the market increases; since the start of 2018, margin debt is only up ~40% vs. the S&P up ~70% in price terms.

When it looks back even further, JPM notes that there were periods in the 70s-80s when large increases in Margin debt were followed by market weakness, suggesting this isn’t only a 2000 and 2007 phenomenon (left chart below).  Furthermore, one could reasonably ask why the relatively large increase in the early 90s didn’t result in a market pullback.  While there are likely other contributing factors as well, one thing to note about Margin Debt was that it had gone through a period of relatively slower growth in the late 80s, so the rise in the early 90s was somewhat of a “catch-up” period for it.  Similarly, JPM argues that the rise into Jan of this year could also be considered a bit of a “catch-up” period, which appears to be different from 2000 and 2007 when Margin Debt was reaching new highs, even when measuring it relative to the S&P changes.  

In light of the above it’s hardly a surprise that JPM thinks that while there are many potential reasons one could cite for market caution, “the level and changes in Margin Debt do not appear to be setting us up for extreme market drawdowns like we saw in 2000 and 2007.”

#3:  Reopening/Recovery Trades Back in Focus?

With COVID cases appeared to be on the decline globally, and travel restrictions getting lifted in some places, reopening/recovery themes have been more topical as they’ve started to perform better. On the HF side, JPM Prime has seen net buying over the past 2-3 weeks in both the Domestic Recovery basket (JPAMCRDB) and the International Recovery Basket (JPAMCRIB).  Positioning in both groups remains low on a YTD basis and very low on a multi-year basis for the Domestic basket.  In addition, JPM’s U.S. Equity Research Strategist, Dubravko, recently wrote about this in a recent note where he showed that the COVID Recovery – Domestic basket had seen relative valuations fall back to multi-year lows while COVID Beneficiaries were back near highs.

In a similar vein, Travel & Leisure stocks have seen strong performance this week in both N. America and EMEA, along with HF buying as the US said it would remove its ban on EU travel for vaccinated passengers starting in November. The recovery in performance, relative to the market, still has more to go before getting back to  where we were earlier this year. In terms of where the recent buying and outperformance leaves HF positioning, net exposures are nearing average levels among US Travel & Leisure stocks, but are a bit closer to highs in EMEA.

Where there appears to be more potential upside for positioning in EMEA is among the Airlines stocks where net exposures is still about 1z below average and JPM has yet to see shorts covered in the group, after persistent additions for the past 6 months.

Among US stocks, the rise in rates was accompanied by further buying of Inflation Winners and Rising Bond Yield Winners. Despite the recent buying, net exposure to the Inflation winners remains quite low with net exposures about 1 std dev below average and for the Rising Bond Yield Winners, the net exposure is still slightly below average.  

Similarly, a couple weeks ago JPM wrote about how positioning and flows in Value vs. Growth had done a “180” in the past few months as Value had underperformed. Perhaps not surprisingly, US Value seems to be getting a revival recently as the Value factor has been bought in the past 2 weeks. This is coming from both Value Longs getting bought and Value Shorts being sold/shorted.  In line with this, Growth stocks have seen some selling.

#4:  Performance – HFs Holding Well in Sep

With a risk-on backdrop of cyclicals outperforming defensives, small caps rallying, and rising rates this week (Rising Bond Yield Winners up +5% WTD), Hedge Funds find themselves in the rare position of outperforming broader equity market indices MTD. And with WSB’s short squeeze hunts fading, shorts are not detracting from performance as they are generally down in-line with the market; whereas, longs have fared better and protected to the downside. 

Among Global Equity L/S funds, net returns continue to track positively with gains of +60-70bps MTD, outperforming MSCI ACWI (which is down -1.2%). The long-short spread has continued to improve since mid-August, driven more recently by shorts selling off faster in September than the market (down -1.3% on wgtd avg basis) and longs holding up relatively well (only down -15bps MTD).

Non-Equity L/S funds are also up MTD and outperforming global equity indices, up between +30-85bps. In terms of alpha, longs have outperformed shorts throughout most of September (some reversion over the past 2 days).

At a regional level, N. America L/S funds are flat to slightly up MTD, up around +0-30bps and are thus outpacing the SPX. The long-short spread has continued to improve steadily since mid-August but slowed yesterday as shorts outperformed. In EMEA, net returns among L/S funds are positive MTD, gaining around +0.5-1.3% and outperforming the headline European index.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 09/25/2021 – 20:30




Author: Tyler Durden

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Economics

Visualizing The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles In 2021

Visualizing The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles In 2021

Identifying real estate bubbles is a tricky business. After all, as Visual Capitalist’s…

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Visualizing The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles In 2021

Identifying real estate bubbles is a tricky business. After all, as Visual Capitalist’s Nick Routley notes, even though many of us “know a bubble when we see it”, we don’t have tangible proof of a bubble until it actually bursts.

And by then, it’s too late.

The map above, based on data from the Real Estate Bubble Index by UBS, serves as an early warning system, evaluating 25 global cities and scoring them based on their bubble risk.

Reading the Signs

Bubbles are hard to distinguish in real-time as investors must judge whether a market’s pricing accurately reflects what will happen in the future. Even so, there are some signs to watch out for.

As one example, a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents is a common red flag. As well, imbalances in the real economy, such as excessive construction activity and lending can signal a bubble in the making.

With this in mind, which global markets are exhibiting the most bubble risk?

The Geography of Real Estate Bubbles

Europe is home to a number of cities that have extreme bubble risk, with Frankfurt topping the list this year. Germany’s financial hub has seen real home prices rise by 10% per year on average since 2016—the highest rate of all cities evaluated.

Two Canadian cities also find themselves in bubble territory: Toronto and Vancouver. In the former, nearly 30% of purchases in 2021 went to buyers with multiple properties, showing that real estate investment is alive and well. Despite efforts to cool down these hot urban markets, Canadian markets have rebounded and continued their march upward. In fact, over the past three decades, residential home prices in Canada grew at the fastest rates in the G7.

Despite civil unrest and unease over new policies, Hong Kong still has the second highest score in this index. Meanwhile, Dubai is listed as “undervalued” and is the only city in the index with a negative score. Residential prices have trended down for the past six years and are now down nearly 40% from 2014 levels.

Note: The Real Estate Bubble Index does not currently include cities in Mainland China.

Trending Ever Upward

Overheated markets are nothing new, though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic of real estate markets.

For years, house price appreciation in city centers was all but guaranteed as construction boomed and people were eager to live an urban lifestyle. Remote work options and office downsizing is changing the value equation for many, and as a result, housing prices in non-urban areas increased faster than in cities for the first time since the 1990s.

Even so, these changing priorities haven’t deflated the real estate market in the world’s global cities. Below are growth rates for 2021 so far, and how that compares to the last five years.

Overall, prices have been trending upward almost everywhere. All but four of the cities above—Milan, Paris, New York, and San Francisco—have had positive growth year-on-year.

Even as real estate bubbles continue to grow, there is an element of uncertainty. Debt-to-income ratios continue to rise, and lending standards, which were relaxed during the pandemic, are tightening once again. Add in the societal shifts occurring right now, and predicting the future of these markets becomes more difficult.

In the short term, we may see what UBS calls “the era of urban outperformance” come to an end.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 10/23/2021 – 22:00

Author: Tyler Durden

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Precious Metals

JPMorgan Turns Positive On Crypto, Sees “A Bullish Outlook For Bitcoin Into Year-End”

JPMorgan Turns Positive On Crypto, Sees "A Bullish Outlook For Bitcoin Into Year-End"

The launch of the first Bitcoin ETF, BITO, even if based…

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JPMorgan Turns Positive On Crypto, Sees “A Bullish Outlook For Bitcoin Into Year-End”

The launch of the first Bitcoin ETF, BITO, even if based on futures, was the culmination of seven years of anticipation for bitcoin bulls and it certainly did not disappoint: the leaks and the actual news propelled the cryptocurrency to a new all time high above $66,000 (with some profit-taking to follow).

Yet despite the clear impact on the price of bitcoin, which has more than doubled from its July lows, not everyone is uniformly bullish on the impact of the first bitcoin ETF. As JPM’s Nick Panigirtzoglou writes in his latest widely-read Flows and Liquidity note, “the bulls are seeing this ETF as a new investment vehicle that would open the avenue for fresh capital to enter bitcoin markets” while the bears “are seeing the new ETF as only incremental addition to an already crowded space of bitcoin investment vehicles including GBTC in the US, ETFs listed in Canada since last February which have been already accessible to US investors, regulated (CME) and unregulated (offshore) futures, and plenty of direct investment options using digital wallets via Coinbase, Square, Paypal, Robinhood etc.”

For its part, JPM – not surprisingly – falls into the skeptics’ camp (we say not surprisingly because for much of 2021, the largest US bank has been publishing bearish note after note, as we have repeatedly detailed, urging clients to ignore the largest cryptocurrency and if anything, to take profits. In retrospect, this has been a catastrophic recommendation for anyone who followed it). 

According to the JPMorgan quant, the launch of BITO by itself will not bring significantly more fresh capital into bitcoin due to “the multitude of investment choices bitcoin investors already have. If the launch of the Purpose Bitcoin ETF (BTCC) last February is a guide, as seen in Figure 1, the initial hype with BITO could fade after a week.”

Here, once again, JPM’s superficial “analytical” approach shines through and we are confident that Panigirtzoglou, who has been dead wrong about bitcoin for the past year, will once again be wrong in his take on BITO. Instead, for a much more nuanced – and accurate – view of the daily happenings in bitcoin ETF land we recommend Bloomberg’s inhouse ETF expert, Eric Balchunas who points to what is clearly an unprecedented, and rising demand for crypto ETF exposure (one can only imagine what will happen when Gensler greenlights an ETF based on the actual product not spread-draining and self-cannibalizing futures). Indeed, as Balchunas pointed out on Thursday, BITO – which is “maybe too popular for its own good”, has already “used up 2/3 of its total bitcoin futures position limits, only about 1,700 contracts ($600m) left bf it hits 5k total. Could hit in next day or two.”

But what about the ramp in bitcoin prices in recent weeks? Surely the anticipation of the ETF launch was the main catalyst? Well, according to JPM the answer is again no, and instead the JPM strategist writes that “while we accept that bitcoin momentum has shifted steeply upwards since the end of September, we are not convinced the anticipation of BITO’s launch was the main reason.”

Instead, as the Greek quant explained before (see “JPMorgan: Institutions Are Rotating Out Of Gold Into Bitcoin As A Better Inflation Hedge“) he believes that rising inflation concerns among investors “has renewed interest in inflation hedges in general, including the use of bitcoin as such a hedge.”

As he further explains, “Bitcoin’s allure as an inflation hedge has been strengthened by the failure of gold to respond in recent weeks to heightened concerns over inflation, behaving more as a real rate proxy rather than inflation hedge.” This is actually correct, and as we have shown previously gold indeed correlates much more closely to real rates that nominals, although in recent months, even real rates suggest that gold prices should be notably higher, perhaps confirming ongoing precious metal price suppression of the kind we have previously documented to be emanating from the BIS.

In any case, JPM also updates a chart we showed previously, the shift away from gold ETFs into bitcoin funds, which was very intense  uring most of Q4 2020 and the beginning of 2021, has gathered pace in recent weeks.

In turn, by putting upward pressure on bitcoin prices, JPM argues that this shift away from gold ETFs into bitcoin funds likely triggered mean reversion  across bitcoin futures investors which had reached very oversold conditions by the end of September. This is shown in Figure 3 via the bank’s position proxy based on CME ethereum futures. Looking at Figure 3, JPMorgan now claims that “there had been a steep decline in our bitcoin futures position proxy” which pointed to oversold conditions towards the end of September triggering a bitcoin rebound. This rebound appears to have accelerated over the past days ahead of BITO’s launch with the blue line in Figure 1 fully recapturing all the previous months’ unwinding. In other words, the price ramp into the bitcoin ETF launch was just a coincidence. Yeah right, whatever.

Where JPM is however right, is in its assumption that a significant component of bitcoin futures positioning encompasses momentum traders such as CTAs and quantitative crypto funds. Previously, the bank had argued that the failure of bitcoin to break above the $60k threshold would see momentum signals turn mechanically more bearish and induce further position unwinds; it also claims this has likely been a significant factor in the correction last May in pushing CTAs and other momentum-based investors towards cutting positions. At the end of July, these momentum signals approached oversold territory at the end of July and have been rising since then in reversal to last May-July dynamics. The shor-tterm momentum signal has exceeded 1.5x stdevs, a z-score that we would typically characterize as overbought for other asset classes but still below the exuberant momentum levels of January 2021.

So with both With Figure 3 and Figure 4 pointing to exhaustion of short covering and more crowded bitcoin positioning in futures, Panigirtzoglou sees bitcoin relying more on other flows outside futures to sustain its upswing. To him, this elevates the importance of monitoring Figure 2, i.e. the importance for the current shift away from gold ETFs into bitcoin funds to continue for the current bitcoin upswing to be sustained.

In our opinion, the main problem for bitcoin over the previous two quarters had been the absence of significantly more fresh capital as shown in Figure 5 and Figure 6. Figure 5 shows our estimate of retail and institutional flows into bitcoin with an overall downshift in Q2 and Q3 of this year. Similarly, Figure 6 shows that the previous steepening in the pace of unique bitcoin wallet creation has largely normalized returning to pre-Q4 2020 norms, again implying an absence of significantly more fresh capital entering bitcoin.

And yet, despite this latest (erroneous) attempt to downplay the impact of the bitcoin ETF, which JPMorgan says “is unlikely to trigger a new phase of significantly more fresh capital entering bitcoin”, by now too many JPM clients are invested in the crypto asset as Jamie Dimon (whose opinions on bitcoin have been an absolute disaster for anyone who traded on them) recently admitted, and so while tactically staying bearish on the impact of BITO, not even JPM’s house crypto “expert” can objective stay bearish in general, and as he concludes, “istead, we believe the perception of bitcoin as a better inflation hedge than gold is the main reason for the current upswing, triggering a shift away from gold ETFs into bitcoin funds since September.”

So with Bitcoin now perceived as the best inflation hedge among non-traditional assets, Pnaigirtzoglou concludes that this gold to bitcoin flow shift “remains intact supporting a bullish outlook for bitcoin into year-end.”

 

Tyler Durden
Sat, 10/23/2021 – 19:10


Author: Tyler Durden

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Economics

Different CPIs

A recent exchange [1] on Econbrowser regarding forecasts of CPI reminded me that — even among the official series — there’s more than one CPI. Figure…

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A recent exchange [1] on Econbrowser regarding forecasts of CPI reminded me that — even among the official series — there’s more than one CPI.

Figure 1: CPI-all urban (blue), and CPI-wage earners and clerical workers (red), s.a., in logs 2020M02=0. NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Source: BLS, NBER and authors calculations.

 

Figure 2: Year-on-year inflation rates for CPI-all urban (blue), and CPI-wage earners and clerical workers (red), s.a., calculated as log-differences. NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Source: BLS, NBER and authors calculations.

Inflation for the bundle that wage earners/clerical workers has outpaced that for all-urban, by about 0.6 ppts by September.

Interestingly, the weights for the two CPI bundles indicate that wage earners/clerical workers have a higher weight on food, food away from home, and private transportation, and less weight on housing, than all urban consumers. As elevated housing costs feed into the CPI housing components, the places might switch.

Author: Menzie Chinn

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