The WSJ carried an interesting story today (subscription required) about hedge fund bearishness on the euro relative to the USD (i.e., a falling euro exchange rate):
Some heavyweight hedge funds have launched large bearish bets against the euro in moves that are reminiscent of the trading action at the height of the U.S. financial crisis.
The big bets are emerging amid gatherings such as an exclusive “idea dinner” earlier this month that included hedge-fund titans SAC Capital Advisors LP and Soros Fund Management LLC. During the dinner, hosted by a boutique investment bank at a private townhouse in Manhattan, a small group of all-star hedge-fund managers argued that the euro is likely to fall to “parity”—or equal on an exchange basis—with the dollar…
Our interest isn’t motivated by the anti-euro call, which is rather conventional and uninteresting (Robert Mundell, one of the intellectual architects of the EMU, has recently predicted movement towards EUR-USD parity, and USD parity is something of an underlying objective of the EMU, if not the ECB).
Rather, it’s in the social and market dynamics involved, and how strongly they illuminate the ongoing importance of financial market regulatory reform.
The WSJ notes that this was an invitation-only event at a private home, and included some major global macro hedge fund players. While that’s not a bad thing per se, it definitely creates some potential market asymmetries and risks:
- Asymmetries to the extent that a small number of players with (relatively) massive amounts of capital and the ability to take highly leveraged bets (that’s the implication of “career trade”) may all be thinking and moving in the same direction; and
- Market and economic risks may because concerted, highly leveraged bets are likely to accelerate what might otherwise be a more orderly return to parity, i.e., one that unfolds over a longer period of time that allows for interested agents to adjust without too much trouble.
That last one is the more interesting point in our opinion, because of what it implies about the theoretical ideal of market efficiency. If EUR-USD is bound to return to parity, is it less destructive to let it “happen naturally”, or is it healthier in the long term to allow levered up speculators to (attempt to) correct mispricings as soon and as quickly as possible?
We have some qualms with the latter approach, because: (1) it may create more market and economic havoc than would otherwise occur; (2) if successful, the “rents” associated with the resulting dislocation (even beyond the mere price adjustment) accrue to a small number of privileged players; and (3) if those bets go badly, the damage could very well spread beyond the hedge funds’ assets (LTCM being the archetypal example).
Of course, those rents accrue to a hedge fund’s passive partners too, so there may be outside institutions that benefit, rather than just the funds’ general partners (emphasis on “may”). But speculators aren’t just messing with an asset class here; they’re impacting the very measuring rods of economic activity and financial obligations, and some of them are able to employ astronomical leverage in doing so, if they desire.
If the net social costs of that activity are negative, it becomes immaterial who the ultimate beneficiaries of the managing partners’ actions are. It also highlights how critical it is to do regulatory reform well, but soon. Speculators are absolutely critical to financial markets and economies, but optimization requires some degree of financial constraint. How many more ‘object lessons’ will we require on that point?
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