The Next Big Threat: Illiquidity

Liquidity is the investor’s ability to buy and sell a security without significantly impacting its price. Lack of liquidity in a security can have its consequences. Post financial crisis regulations, such as Volcker Rule (Dodd-Frank), and Basel 3, has made it more expensive and more difficult for banks to store bonds in their inventories and facilitate trades for investors. Regulations designed to make the system more safer have depressed the trading activity.

Lack of supply is one cause for diminishing liquidity. Banks, the dealers of corporate bonds, have reduced their inventories. According to Bank for International Settlements (BIS), “Market participants have raised concerns that regulatory reforms, by raising the costs of warehousing assets, have contributed to reducing market liquidity and could be keeping banks from acting as shock absorbers during periods of market stress.”

Primary Dealer Net Positions (2006 to 2016) Source: MarketAxess
Primary Dealer Net Positions (2006 to 2016)
Source: MarketAxess

According to BIS, “US primary dealers…have continued to reduce their corporate bond inventories over the past years. Since the beginning of the year 2013, they have cut back their net positions in U.S. Treasuries by nearly 80%.

Another big cause of decreasing in liquidity is technology. A technology that has changed the structure of markets, high-frequency trading (HFT), an algorithm computer trading in seconds and in fractions of seconds, account for much larger share of the trading transactions and it leads to low liquidity. Majority of HFTs, if not all, reduces liquidity by pairing selected (self-interest), leaving out others. According to BIS, 70% of U.S. Treasury trading is done electronically, up from 60% in 2012. For both high-yield bonds (not highly liquid asset), it accounts for more than 20%. About 90% of transactions on bond futures take place electronically. I have no doubt electronic trading will continue to increase.

“Greater use of electronic trading and enhanced transparency in fixed income markets typically comes at the cost of greater price impact from large trades.”, BIS said in the report. Bonds now trade in smaller transaction sizes than they did before, “… large trades seem less suitable for trading on electronic platforms because prices move quickly against participants who enter large orders due to the transparency of the market infrastructure.” “It “discourages market-makers from accommodating large trades if they fear that they cannot unwind their positions without risking a sizeable impact on prices.”

BIS in its quarterly review report (March 2015) stated (source: FINRA’s TRACE data), the average transaction size of large trades of U.S. investment grade corporate bonds (so-called “block trades”) declined from more than $25 million in 2006 to about $15 million in 2013.

This is a sign of illiquidity since “trading large amounts of corporate bonds has become more difficult.” Trades facing constrained liquidity puts investors, especially large investors, to a disadvantage.

Capacity to buy/sell without too much influence on the market prices are deteriorating. Lack of liquidity can causes wild swings in the bond prices, which then can affect the rest of the financial markets. Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.

They are connected, but let me tell you why they are so important. The U.S Treasury securities market is the largest, the most liquid, and the most active debt market in the world. They are used to finance the government, and used by the Federal Reserve in implementing its monetary policy. I repeat, in implementing its monetary policy. Having a liquid market – in which having no problem buying and selling securities without affecting the market price – is very important to the market participants and policymakers alike.

Examples of high volatility in a low liquidity:

  • Flash Crash (May 2010)

In a matter of 30 minutes, major U.S. stock indices fell 10%, only to recover most of the losses before the end of the trading day. Some blue-chip shares briefly traded at pennies. WHAT A SALE! According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report, before 2:32 p.m., volatility was unusually high and liquidity was thinning, a mutual-fund group entered a large sell order (valued at approximately $4.1 billion) in “E-mini” futures on the S&P 500 Index. The large trade was made by an algorithm. The “algo” was programmed to take account of trading volume, with little regard, or no regard at all, to the price nor time. Since the volatility was already high during that time and volume was increasing, this sell trade was executed in just 20 minutes, instead of several hours that would be typical for such an order, 75,000 E-mini contracts (again, valued at approximately $4.1 billion).

May 6, 2010 - SPY Volume and Price Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 – SPY Volume and Price
Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 - SPY Volume and Price Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 – SPY Volume and Price
Source: SEC Report

According to the report, this sell pressure was initially absorbed by HFTs, buying E-mini contracts. However, minutes after the execution of the sell order, HFTs “aggressively” reduced their long positions. The increase in the volume again led the mutual-fund group “algo” to increase “the rate at which it was feeding the orders into the markets”, creating what’s known as a negative feedback loop. That’s the power of HFTs.

This was nearly 6 years ago. Today, there’s no doubt the power of the secretive section of the financial markets, HFTs, are much stronger and powerful and can destroy the markets with “one finger”.

With low liquidity in the bond market and increasing HFT transactions in it, the threat is real. Automated trades can trigger extreme price swings and the communication in these automated trades can quickly erode liquidity before you even know it, even though there is a very high volume. While liquidity in the U.S. bond market is high, it’s not high enough to battle the power of the technological progress.

Let’s not forget. Fixed-income assets such as, corporate bonds, are often traded over the counter in illiquid markets, not in more liquid exchanges, as stocks are.

It’s all about profits. Some, if not all HFTs, act the way they do, to make profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, the creators of the algorithms have to be ethical and responsible. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon since profits are the main goal (mine too) in the financial markets. So why should HFT “be fair” to others? I know I wouldn’t.

  • Taper Tantrum (2013 Summer)

In the summer of 2013, the former Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, hinted an end to the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities (taper off, or slow down its Quantitative Easing), which sent the financial markets, including the bond market into a tailspin.

On June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke during a press conference said, “the Committee currently anticipates that it would be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year.” That sentence alone started the financial market roller coaster.

Yields skyrocketed. The gravity took down the value of greenback (U.S. Dollar). U.S. long-term interest rates shot up by 100 basis points (1%). Even short-term interest rate markets saw the rate-hike to come sooner than the Fed policymakers suggested. Borrowings costs increased so much, as the markets was expecting tightening of the monetary policy, it “locked up” the Fed from cutting the pace of bond buying that year.

Markets' Reaction To June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke Press Conference Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Markets’ Reaction To June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke Press Conference
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

This raises (or raised) whatever the market prices can handle orders that are executed in milliseconds. It points to a lack of supply (dealer inventories), A.K.A illiquidity. I feel bad for funds that have a lot of corporate-bonds in their portfolio. The struggle is real.

An open-ended funds that allow investors to exit overnight are more likely to experience a run, as market volatility increases. A run on funds will force the funds to sell illiquid assets, which can push down the prices lower and lower. Recently example of that is the Third Avenue (“investors’ money are being held hostage”).

Brace for a fire sale. Coming soon in your area.

Market makers, where are you? Come back. I need to sell the investments at a current price, before it goes much lower.

  • October 15, 2014

The financial markets experienced – as the U.S. Department of the Treasury puts it – “an unusually high level of volatility and a very rapid round-trip in prices. Although trading volumes were high and the market continued to function, liquidity conditions became significantly strained.”

On October 15, 2014, the markets went into a tailspin again. The Dow plummeted 460 points, only to recover most of the losses. The Nasdaq briefly fell into a correction territory, only to rebound sharply. The 10-year Treasury yield “experienced a 37-basis-point trading range, only to close 6 basis points below its opening level”, according the U.S. Treasury Department report.

According to Nanex, a firm that offers real-time streaming data on the markets, between 9:33 A.M and 9:45 A.M, “liquidity evaporated in Treasury futures and prices skyrocketed (causing yields to plummet). Five minutes later, prices returned to 9:33 levels.” “Treasury futures were so active, they pushed overall trade counts on the CME to a new record high.”, said the report.

“Note how liquidity just plummets.”

Liquidity in the 10 year as measured by total sizes of orders in 10 levels of depth of book. Source: Nanex
Liquidity in the 10 year as measured by total sizes of orders in 10 levels of depth of book.
Source: Nanex

Again, as I said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.” The mayhem in in the bond market can spread to the foreign exchange (forex) market.

October 15, 2014 - World Currencies Source: Nanex
October 15, 2014 – World Currencies
Source: Nanex

These types of occurrences are becoming common, or the “new normal”. As the Fed raises rates, the market participants will be adjusting their portfolio and/or will adjust them ahead of it (expectations), these adjustments will force another market volatility. But this time, I believe it will be much worse, as liquidity continues to dry up and technology progresses.

Recent market crashes and volatility, including the August 2015 ETF blackout, is just another example of increasing illiquidity in the markets. Hiccups in the markets will get bigger and will become common. Illiquidity is the New Normal.

Hello HFTs, how are you doing? Making $$$? Cool.

With interest rates around 0 (well, before the rate-hike in December), U.S. companies have rushed to issue debt. With the recent rate-hike by the Fed, U.S. corporate bond market will experience more volatility. Lower and diminishing liquidity will “manufacture” a volatility to a record levels that the financial markets and the economy won’t be able to cope with it.  As said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.”, the corporate bond market volatility will spread to the rest of the financial markets.

Oh wait, that already is happening. Reversal of monetary policy by the Fed this year, as I believe the Fed will lower back rates this year, will make things worse.

Liquidity: Peace out!

Technical Analysis: EUR/USD and S&P 500

This post will focus solely on technical analysis of currencies and indices.


EUR/USD (Bearish)

EUR/USD - Daily
EUR/USD – Daily

As you can see on the “Daily” chart, Symmetrical Triangle or contracting wedge (both very similar) has been formed. The trading range is contracting, not far away from breakout. You see the small yellow circle (around 1.1020) that EUR/USD is approaching? That’s where I would short EUR/USD. That’s the place where there are trend resistances, and Simple Moving Average (SMA) of 50 and 100 are approaching. Not only that, but Stochastic indicator should get close to 80 (overbought), as EUR/USD goes to that yellow circle. Let’s take a look at 4H (4-Hour) chart.

EUR/USD - 4H (4 Hour) Chart
EUR/USD – 4H (4 Hour) Chart

The first yellow circle you see on the “4H” chart was a sell single because support-turned-resistance at a rising trend line. Same thing is happening right now to EUR/USD, as it approaches the second yellow circle (around 1.1020).

The reason I’m shorting it in the tightening consolidation before the breakout is because there are many technical reasons to short it. Even if it goes opposite direction, my loss will be very limited (Just above the trend – around 1.1030)

Let’s take a look at 1H (1-Hour) chart.

EUR/USD - 1H (1 Hourly) Chart
EUR/USD – 1H (1 Hour) Chart

On 1H chart, I added Fibonacci Retracements indicator. Fibonacci Retracements basically act as support and resistance lines. The red lines you see on “1H” chart, are resistance lines. 61.8% level (or 0.618%) at 1.1012 is known as “golden ratio”. In my past expensive, 61.8% level has worked well. Plus, 61.8% level connects with the two trend lines in the yellow circle.

I would short EUR/USD as it approaches the middle of  the second yellow circle (around 1.1015). Stop loss: 1.1030 (just above the trends lines and golden ratio (0.618%) level. Target: 1.0890 (just above the support trend as seen in the charts above). My target level (1.890) will change as time goes on, to stay in-line with the support trend.


S&P 500 (Bullish)

Let’s take at look “Weekly” chart, going back as far as 2008.

S&P 500 - Monthly
S&P 500 – Monthly

As you can in the “Weekly” chart, ever since hitting bottom in early 2009, S&P 500 have been in a uptrend. If you look at the white-line, there’s a long channel (you can call it a trend if you want). Current price is just above the 50 SMA (Simple Moving Average). Plus, it’s much closer to the support line of the channel.

Let’s take a look at two “Daily” charts.

S&P 500 - Daily
S&P 500 – Daily
S&P 500 - Daily
S&P 500 – Daily

If you look at any of the two “Daily” charts, you can see that the current price is sitting on 200 SMA and on recent-uptrend support (yellow dotted line). Even though it’s a strong signal to go long, I would not. The reason is that it is a 3rd time in over a month that the price is sitting on 200 SMA and uptrend support (yellow dotted line) , and the recent highs in the uptrend range were unable to reach the trend resistance as well break the previous high. It shows that the bulls are losing control and bears are slowly gaining momentum.

Where I would go long is at the circle shown with yellow arrow (around 2042). It’s just above the strong channel (or a trend) support line (Bold-white line) as shown in all three S&P 500 charts above. My stop loss would be just below the bold-white line. My target would be at the resistance level of 2134.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section, and/or contact me. Thank you.

Jobs Report Surprises To The Upside – IMF Wrong? (You Decide)

Last Friday (May 5, 2015), Bureau of Labor Statistics released non-farm payrolls (jobs report) for May and it was way beyond expectations. 280,000 jobs were added in May (largest since December) vs. expectations around 225,000. It’s a strong sign that the US economy is recovering from the contraction that occurred in first quarter of 2015 (January-March).

Total Non-Farm Payrolls - Monthly Net Change (June 7, 2015)
Total Non-Farm Payrolls – Monthly Net Change – 2014-Present

 

The unemployment rate ticked higher by 0.1% to 5.5% from 5.4%, as more people are entering labor force (because their confidence in the jobs market are increasing). In May, 397,000 people entered labor force, mostly recent college graduates.

Average hourly earnings increased 0.3% on month-to-month basis from 0.1% in April. Over the year, it increased 2.3%, largest rise since August 2013. It’s indication that future consumer spending will increase. When consumers spend more money, companies generate more money and eventually hire more people. Basically, it’s a short-term demand in the economy.

March and April numbers were revised. March was revised from 85,000 to 119,000 (+34,000) and April revised from 223,000 to 221,000 (-2,000).

There were big increases in employment in professional and business services (+63,000), leisure and hospitality (+57,000), and healthcare (+47,000). Meanwhile, employment in mining fell for the fifth month in a row (-17,000) as low energy prices continues to hurt energy companies.

This is the most important US economic report because it shows how first quarter, which contracted 0.7%, are due to transitory factors and guides the Federal Reserve on the path of raising the interest rates. As a result of strong jobs report, June rate-hike door is not closed. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will be meeting on Tuesday, June 16, and Wednesday, June 17. At 2 PM EST, economic projections, statement and federal funds rate will be released followed by 2:30 PM EST press conference. The markets will be extremely violent during the time because it’s highly watched by investors and traders.

After the release of the report, US Dollar (USD) rose. USD against JPY (Yen) soared to a new 13-year high. US markets were mixed as investors/traders differently interpret what the jobs reports means for the future.

 

S&P 500 Index (SPX) - Hourly
S&P 500 Index (SPX) – Hourly
USD/JPY - Hourly
USD/JPY – Hourly

 

The day before the jobs report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed its forecasts for US economic growth and called for the Fed to hold off its first rate increase until the first half of 2016. The IMF said a series of negative shocks, including unfavorable weather, a sharp contraction in oil sector investment, the West Coast port strike, and the effects of the stronger dollar, hindered the first quarter of 2015. Thus, it promoted a downgrade to its growth expectations to 2.5% for this year, from 3.1% in April.

Economic Forecasts Souce: http://www.imf.org/external/np/ms/2015/060415.htm
Economic Forecasts
Souce: http://www.imf.org/external/np/ms/2015/060415.htm

IMF says that FOMC should remain data dependent and act after signs of a pickup in wages and inflation. Well, the jobs report for May was positive, including wages. So is IMF wrong? Did they talk too early? You decide.

In IMF’s view, “raising rates too soon could trigger a greater-than-expected tightening of financial conditions or a bout of financial instability, causing the economy to stall. This would likely force the Fed to reverse direction, moving rates back down toward zero with potential costs to credibility.” —- “raising rates too late could cause an acceleration of inflation above the Fed’s 2 percent medium-term objective with monetary policy left having to play catch-up. This could require a more rapid path upward for policy rates with unforeseen consequences, including for financial stability.”

So when is the right time to raise rates? I believe it’s in July or September (no meeting in August) only if we continue to see pickup in wages, employment, and Consumer Price Index (CPI). Even through the chance of rate hike in June is very low, I would not be surprised if Fed decides to hike rates. Even if they do, it will be surprising to most people at Wall Street and markets will definitely be violent – I would consider it “mini-SNB” (SNB – Swiss National Bank), because of SNB’s action in January (unscheduled release – removing the cap on euro-franc).

Feel free to contact me by going to “Contact Me” above or leave your comments below. Twitter: @Khojinur30. Thank you.