The massive outperformance of the smallest and most trashy companies over the past year, month, week, day etc... stalled this afternoon. No news; no macro data; no change in the situation in DC. So what was it? We suspect the answer lies in the all-time record levels of margin that we recently discussed holding up the US equity market. Interactive Brokers, it would appear, have seen the light and over the next week or so will be increasing maintenance margin to 100% - effectively squeezing the leveraged momentum chasing muppets out of the market (or at the very least halving their risk-taking abilities).
As we warned previously,
Margin Debt still contrarian bearish
Using closing basis monthly data, peaks in NYSE margin debt preceded peaks in the S&P 500 in 2007 and 2000. The March 2000 peak in NYSE margin debt of $278.5m preceded the August 2000 monthly closing price peak in the S&P 500 at 1517.68. The July 2007 margin debt peak of $381.4m preceded the October 2007 monthly closing price peak of 1549.38 for the S&P 500. Margin debt reached a record high of $384.4m in April and the S&P 500 continued to rally into July, August, and September. This is a similar set up to 2007 and 2000.
Bonus Chart - Margin debt: the long-term overlay
Going back to January 1959, margin debt and the S&P 500 have moved together for the most part. But leverage is a double edge sword and can exacerbate sell-offs, leading to deeper than expected market pullbacks.
Still think the "market" is driven by earnings or fundamentals? or just leverage and marginal credit expansion (shadow banking repo... etc.)?