by Marko Kolanovic, PhD, and Bram Kaplan, JP Morgan
Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 and also the 50th anniversary of the 1968 global protests against political elites. Currently, there are financial and social parallels to both of these events. Leading into the 2008 GFC, some financial institutions underwrote products with excessive leverage in real estate investments.
The collapse of liquidity in these products impaired balance sheets, and governments backstopped the crisis. Soon enough governments themselves were propped by extraordinary monetary stimulus from central banks. Central banks purchased ~$15T of financial assets, mostly government obligations. This accommodation is now expected to reverse, starting meaningfully in 2018. Such outflows (or lack of new inflows) could lead to asset declines and liquidity disruptions, and potentially cause a financial crisis.
We will call this hypothetical crisis the “Great Liquidity Crisis” (GLC). The timing will largely be determined by the pace of central bank normalization, business cycle dynamics and various idiosyncratic events, and hence cannot be known accurately. This is similar to the 2008 GFC, when those that accurately predicted the nature of the GFC started doing so around 2006. We think the main attribute of the next crisis will be severe liquidity disruptions resulting from market developments since the last crisis:
- Decreased AUM of strategies that buy Value Assets: The shift from active to passive assets, and specifically the decline of active value investors, reduces the ability of the market to prevent and recover from large drawdowns. The ~$2T rotation from active and value to passive and momentum strategies since the last crisis eliminated a large pool of assets that would be standing ready to buy cheap public securities and backstop a market disruption.
- Tail Risk of Private Assets: Outflows from active value investors may be related to an increase in Private Assets (Private Equity, Real Estate and Illiquid Credit holdings). Over the past two decades, pension fund allocations to public equity decreased by ~10%, and holdings of Private Assets increased by ~20%. Similar to public value assets, private assets draw performance from valuation discounts and liquidity risk premia. Private assets reduce day-to-day volatility of a portfolio, but add liquidity-driven tail risk. Unlike the market for public value assets, liquidity in private assets may be disrupted for much longer during a crisis.
- Increased AUM of strategies that sell on ‘Autopilot’: Over the past decade there was strong growth in Passive and Systematic strategies that rely on momentum and asset volatility to determine the level of risk taking (e.g., volatility targeting, risk parity, trend following, option hedging, etc.). A market shock would prompt these strategies to programmatically sell into weakness. For example, we estimate that futures-based strategies grew by ~$1T over the past decade, and options-based hedging strategies increased their potential selling impact from ~3 days of average futures volume to ~7 days of average volume.