Earlier this year JP Morgan’s letter to shareholders, Jamie Dimon let it slip that there are some very disturbing things going on in today’s capital markets. Prices can gap in illiquid markets, Dimon explained, and that has the very real potential to spark a panic, causing illiquidity to spread to previously liquid markets. Dimon warned that one should not be fooled by relatively tight bid-asks; it’s market depth tells the true story, and as JP Morgan’s Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou will tell you, some markets (the Treasury market for instance) are getting quite thin indeed.
The dangers associated with a widespread lack of market depth are of course exacerbated by the presence of HFTs. This was on full display during last October’s Treasury flash crash. Here’s what Dimon had to say on the subject: "..then on one day, October 15, 2014, Treasury securities moved 40 basis points, statistically 7 to 8 standard deviations– an unprecedented move – an event that is supposed to happen only once in every 3 billion years or so." "Some currencies recently have had similar large moves," Dimon added, referencing the carnage that accompanied the SNB’s abandonment of the euro peg in January (as well as countless other flash crashes and rips) and presaging precisely what we’ve seen this week on the heels of China’s move to devalue the yuan.
The takeaway from all of this is not, as Dimon concluded, that statistics can’t be trusted, but rather that when things that are supposed to happen once every 3 billion years start happening once every three months, or every three weeks, then something is definitively broken.
Here, courtesy of Citi’s Matt King, is a look at some of the major one in a billion year events that have taken place over the last four years:
As King notes, either there’s a "widespread case of the hiccups", or something else is very, very wrong.