Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Trumponomics Stock Market 2018 - The Manchurian President (1/2) - Nadeem_Walayat
2.Yield Curve Inversion a Remarkably Accurate Warning Indicator For Economic & Market Peril - Dan_Amerman
3.China is Now Officially at War With the US and Japan - Graham_Summers
4.Markets Pay Attention Moment - China’s Bubble Economy Ripe for Bursting - 16th Jul 18 - Plunger
5.Stock Market Longer-Term Charts Show Incredible Potential - Chris_Vermeulen
6.U.S. Stock Market Cycles Update - Jim_Curry
7.Another Stock Market Drop Next Week? - Brad_Gudgeon
8.The Death of the US Real Estate Dream - Harry_Dent
9.Gold Market Signal vs. Noise - Jordan_Roy_Byrne
10.The Fonzie–Ponzi Theory of Government Debt: An Update - F_F_Wiley
Last 7 days
Moving Averages Help You Define Market Trend – Here’s How - 14th Aug 18
It's Time for A New Economic Strategy in Turkey - 14th Aug 18
Gold Price to Plunge Below $1000 - Key Factors for Gold & Silver Investors - 14th Aug 18
Dow Stock Market Trend Forecast 2018 - Video - 13th Aug 18
Stock Market Downtrend to Continue? - 13th Aug 18
More Signs That the Stock Market Will Rally Until 2019 - 13th Aug 18
New Stock Market Correction Underway - 13th Aug 18
Talk Cold Turkey Economic Crisis - 13th Aug 18
Which UK Best Theme Park - Alton Towers vs Thorpe Park vs Lego Land vs Chessington World - 12th Aug 18
USD is Rising. What this Means for Currencies and Stocks - 12th Aug 18
Hardest US Housing Market Places to Live - Look Out Middle Class - 12th Aug 18
America’s Suburbs Are Making a Comeback - 12th Aug 18
Stock Market US Presidential Cycle, Seasonal Analysis and Economy - Video - 12th Aug 18
Yield Curve Inversion and the Stock Market - Video - 11th Aug 18
Land Rover Discovery Sport 1st Dealer Oil Change Service - What to Expect - 11th Aug 18
How to Setup Webinars and Use Them to Overcome the Barriers in E-Learning - 11th Aug 18
Big US Stocks’ Q2’18 Fundamentals - 11th Aug 18
Dow Stock Market Trend Forecast 2018 - 10th Aug 18
SPX Testing Its First Support Level - 10th Aug 18
Dreaming of a "Comfortable Retirement" on a Public Pension? - 10th Aug 18
The Forrest Gump of All Future Democrat Election Losses - 10th Aug 18
More Uncertainty as Stocks Got Closer to January Record High - 10th Aug 18
Gold and Silver Kill Zone - 9th Aug 18
Even More Cracks in the Gold Dam - 9th Aug 18
Ignore the Stock Market “midterm election year”, Which is “supposed” to be Weak - 9th Aug 18
Stock Market Trend and Volatility Analysis - Video - 9th Aug 18
Tips on Maximizing Small Serviced Offices Space - 9th Aug 18
VIX’s Collapse is Bullish for VIX and the Stock Market - 9th Aug 18
Vestles Platform Offers Several Key Trading Tools - 8th Aug 18
US Stock Markets Higher Until November 2018 - Part 2 - 8th Aug 18
US Stock Markets Higher Until November 2018 - Part 1 - 8th Aug 18
Stock Market US Presidential Cycle and Seasonal Analysis - 8th Aug 18
Is the Stock Market Correction Over? - 7th Aug 18
Yield Curve Inversion and the Stock Market - 7th Aug 18
Stock Market Elliott Wave Analysis and Forecast - Video - 7th Aug 18
Trade War! Win the Economic Hostilities Against the Chinese - 7th Aug 18
Technical Analyst Sees Silver as 'Oversold' - 7th Aug 18
Alex Jones Banned! Will Unapproved Opinions Be Censored Off the Internet? - 7th Aug 18
Gold and Silver Stocks On the Verge of the Next Major Decline - 7th Aug 18
First Time Buyers Need to ‘boost the affordability’ of Their Move Alone  - 7th Aug 18
Long Term Care Homes as an Investment are Heating Up! - 7th Aug 18
The Exponential Inflationary Stocks Bull Market - Video - 6th Aug 18
Land Rover Discovery Sport Oil Change Service Dash Warning Message - 6th Aug 18
Restructuring of Western Economic Power - 6th Aug 18
Stock Market Trend and Volatility Analysis - 6th Aug 18
Stock Market and Economy False Narratives That are Just Wrong - 6th Aug 18
VPN – Is It Worth It? - 6th Aug 18
All You Need to Know About Umbrella Companies - 6th Aug 18
Why China Lost the Trade War Before it Even Began - SSEC Stocks Index - Video - 5th Aug 18
Dow Stock Market Elliott Wave Analysis - 5th Aug 18
Iran's Rial Currency Is In A Death Spiral, Again - 5th Aug 18
IMF Produces Another Bogus Venezuela Inflation Forecast - 5th Aug 18
Gold & Silver Precious Metals Monthly Charts - 5th Aug 18
Time to Position for a Decade-Long Bull Market in Natural Resources - 5th Aug 18

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Trading Any Market

The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action

InvestorEducation / Learn to Trade Jan 08, 2015 - 05:57 PM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

InvestorEducation

Pretend you are a corn trader. As such, you have two choices: have a position in corn futures or own physical corn.

It may seem silly to even consider owning physical corn, because corn futures are easy to trade—just click a button on your screen. But assume you have a grain elevator, and whether you own futures or physical corn is all the same to you. How do you decide which you prefer?


If one is mispriced relative to the other.

If you consider owning physical corn, you have to take into account the cost of storage and any transportation costs you may incur getting the corn to the delivery point. You also have to think of the cost of carrying that physical corn position, or the opportunity loss you incur by not investing the money in the risk-free alternative.

The thing is, there’s nothing keeping the spot and futures markets on parallel tracks, aside from the basis traders who spend their time watching when the futures get out of whack from the physical.

That basis exists in just about every futures market, even in financial futures that are cash-settled. In fact, that was pretty much my life when I was doing index arbitrage—trading S&P 500 futures against the underlying stocks. I was basically a fancy version of the basis trader in corn.

With stock index futures (like the S&P 500, or the NDX, or the Dow), the basis is slightly more complicated. Not only do you have to calculate the cost of carry—which is usually determined by risk-free interest rates and the stock loan market for the underlying securities—but you also have to take into account the dividends that the underlying stocks pay out. Remember, futures don’t pay dividends, but stocks do. At Lehman Brothers, we had a guy whose sole job was to construct and maintain a dividend prediction model for the S&P 500.

So far, so good. However, one of the first things I learned about on the index arbitrage desk was EFP, which stands for Exchange for Physical—a corner of the market almost nobody knows about.

Basically, we could take a futures position and exchange it for a stock position at an agreed-upon basis with another bank or broker. Interdealer brokers helped arrange these EFP trades. The reason so few people know about them is probably because, historically, the EFP market has been very sleepy. The most it would usually move in a day was 15 or 20 cents in the index, or in interest rate terms, a few basis points.

Now it is moving several dollars at a time.

A Basis Gone Berserk

Back when I was doing this about ten-plus years ago, we had a balance sheet of about $8 billion, which is to say that we carried a hedged position of stocks versus S&P 500 futures (also Russell 2000 futures, NASDAQ futures, etc.).

We did this for a few reasons. One, it was profitable to do so—the basis often traded rich so that by selling futures and buying stock and holding the position until expiration, we would make money. Also, by carrying this long stock inventory, we were able to offset short positions elsewhere in the firm and reduce the firm’s cost of funds. At Lehman and most other Wall Street firms, index arbitrage was a joint venture with equity finance.

During the tech bubble in 1999, the basis got very, very rich because money was plowing into mutual funds and managers were being forced to hold futures for a period of time until they were able to pick individual stocks.

During the bear market in 2008, the basis traded very cheap, up until very recently, because inflows into equity mutual funds were weak, and index arbitrage desks were willing to accept less profit on their balance sheet positions.

But now, the basis has gone nuts.

It always goes a little nuts toward year-end because banks try to take down positions to improve the optics of their accounting ratios. If you have fewer assets, your return on assets looks better. So when banks try to get rid of stock inventory into year-end, they buy futures and sell stock, pushing up the basis.

But now it has skyrocketed, and the cause seems to be the effects of regulation.

We’ve talked about this before, in reference to corporate bonds. Banks aren’t keeping a lot of inventory anymore, because there’s no money in it. The culprits here are a combination of Dodd-Frank and Basel III. There are all kinds of unintended consequences, and the EFP market going nuts is probably the least of it.

But even that is a big one. Basically, it has introduced significant costs (about 1.5% annually) to the holder of a long futures position, which includes everyone from indexers all the way down to retail investors. These are the sorts of things that don’t get talked about in congressional hearings. Did XYZ law work? Sure it worked. But now it costs you 1.5% a year to hold S&P 500 futures and roll them, and you can’t get a bid for more than $2 million in a liquid corporate bond issue.

It’s All About Liquidity

The liquidity issue is the biggest one, and the one I harp on all the time. Pre-Dodd-Frank, the major investment banks were giant pools of liquidity. You wanted to do a block trade of 20 million shares? No problem. You wanted to trade $250 million of double-old tens? It could be done.

Not anymore. Liquidity has diminished in just about every asset class, from FX to equities to rates to corporates, because compliance costs have gone up and it’s expensive to hold more capital against these positions. Someday, someone might take up the slack, like second-tier brokers or even hedge funds.

But here’s the biggest consequence of the equity finance market blowing up: High-frequency trading (HFT) firms that aren’t self-clearing now find it difficult to trade profitably and stay in business. With fewer of them around, we will finally get an answer to the question whether they add to liquidity or not.

So if you talk to an index arbitrage trader about what is going on with the EFP market, he can tell you precisely why it is screwed up. It’s an open secret on Wall Street. Introduce a regulation over here, an unintended consequence pops up over there. Then there are more regulations to deal with the unintended consequences. Regulations have added 100 times the volatility to one of the most liquid and ordinary derivatives in the world—the plain-vanilla EFP.

Less liquidity, more volatility—welcome to 2015.

Jared Dillian

The article The 10th Man: EFPs and The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action was originally published at mauldineconomics.com.
John Mauldin Archive

© 2005-2018 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules