While one can speculate about the causes of today's global risk-on rally (as we did earlier today on two occasions), a more important question is whether after the recent historic rout (which as shown yesterday surpassed the volatility of the 2008 great financial crisis for various, mostly FX-linked assets), stock markets will simply brush it off, forget about all that's happened and as has been the case all too often in the past several years, surge in yet another V-shaped recovery.
According to Barclays, the answer is no.
As the firm's equity strategist, Keith Parker, writes today, active investors considerably increased risk exposures in the week leading up to the UK referendum. That trade did not play out as expected, and as a result this is where active money managers (MFs and HFs) find themselves now:
"By our measures, aggregate equity positioning by active managers is again near post-crisis highs as the market braces itself for a potential acceleration in redemptions after the equity collapse. With cash levels at equity MFs fairly low and net cyclical sector positioning near the highs, we believe managers are unprepared for outflows and lengthy risk aversion. Although there is cash on the sidelines, the current environment of heightened uncertainty gives rise to a “buyer’s strike” as investors wait for a sufficient value cushion to open up before deploying precious dry powder. Finally, short interest has considerable room to rise across cash equities, ETFs and futures."
Barclays goes on to add that it sees scope for "positioning to turn much more defensive at active managers and for equity outflows to pick up."
And the biggest wildcard, and the reason why we suggested recently BofA's "smart money" clients have pulled money in 21 of the past 22 weeks, not just existing redemption requests, but the threat of a surge in "massive redemptions" over the next few months. Here is Barclays: "Weak active manager performance YTD increases the risk of even larger redemptions in H2."
The bank's conclusion: "The positioning overhang coupled with the ‘prove it mindset’ of investors now, points to further equity downside risk as well as a prolonged market bottoming process like we saw in 2011-12, rather than the v-shaped rebounds that have characterized equity markets of late (like January)."
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Finally, since this is a touchy topic for countless 17-year-old hedge fund managers whose only trading strategy during this "business cycle" has been to BTFD, here is Barclays' summary of the key points:
- Composite equity positioning is 2std above average, at the post crisis highs. Funds increased risk exposure considerably in the week leading up to the referendum. US MFs and balanced funds are the most exposed currently, while Europe funds went from underweight to neutral.
- Rebalance bid for equities at the end of month/quarter is unlikely to be material. Our implied US equity vs. bond allocation proxy is still well above recent lows as US equities are down just 3% in Q2. Additionally, the relative spike in equity vol vs. bond vol does not point to net equity buying by multi-asset funds. The rebalance bid may be more pronounced outside the US where the selloff was more acute.
- Elevated equity fund betas combined with redemptions fuelled prior selloffs. US equity MF beta is 2.5std above average despite equity MF redemptions running $30-40bn a month. The selloffs in 2011 and 2012 were preceded by elevated MF beta, underperformance, and redemptions – which then helped fuel the corrections.
- Short interest has considerable room to rise. S&P 500 short interest in single stocks is at 2.15% compared to about 2.4% at the recent highs; this implies nearly $50bn in potential selling pressure. ETF short interest is also at all-time lows and a rise to September levels would also imply about $50bn of selling pressure. Finally, S&P futures positioning is net long, compared to being net short in February.
- Sector positioning turned much more cyclical heading into the referendum. Net cyclical minus defensive positioning by our measures has risen toward the highs, and is reversing. US equity MFs are the most cyclically positioned while global MFs and long-short equity HFs are closer to neutral.