Risky Parity Panic Strikes As Correlations Crash To Record Low

Having exploded higher in the run-up to the election, market expectations of the correlation between stocks within the S&P 500 have completely collapsed since to new record lows.

Simply put, massive systemic overlays were placed ahead of the election event, and were forced to be unwound increasingly aggressively as the post-Trump rally caught everyone offside (the unwind would mean relatively heavy selling of Index protection relative to single-name protection).

As a reminder, implied correlation measures the relative demand for macro overlays (index hedges) vs micro risk (individual stock hedges/concerns). The higher it is, the more systemically worried investors are and the more traders believe a high correlation 'event' is due (typically the high correlation event is a big downturn in stocks).

As The Wall Street Journal reports, sectors and styles in the S&P 500 index have started to move independently after seven years of depressed volatility and tighter correlations.

While the S&P 500 climbed to a record for a second day on Tuesday, “there are elements of a bull market and a bear market at the same time,” said Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers.

“You’re seeing pressure on different sectors. In a typical bull market, you’re going to get all stocks going higher.”


“It makes it very interesting for the stock picker and the active manager who’s on his game,” Mr. Wilkinson said.


The relationship between growth and value stocks in the benchmark equity measure has also decoupled, with the rolling correlation between the two groups sliding since voting day, FactSet data show. A Republican sweep of the U.S. presidency and Congress has boosted the inflation outlook, pushing investors into value names. Before the election, investors crowded into growth companies in 2015 amid a sluggish economy and then poured money into low-volatility equities in the first half of this year.

But it is not just correlations between individual stocks that is crashing. The correlation between bonds and stocks has collapsed back to its norms...


Which, as we noted previously, is raising notable concerns over a risk-parity fund blow up. As BofA warns: "Latent risk remains worth monitoring, as (i) leverage is still near max levels across a variety of risk parity  parametrizations, (ii) bond allocations are historically elevated, and (iii) markets continue to be sceptical of a 2016 Fed hike."

If BofA is correct, it would mean that a day which sees a -4% SPX drop and +1% bond rally (good diversification) would generate no selling pressure, "underscoring the critical role played by bond-equity correlation in governing the severity of risk parity unwinds."


However, a troubling scenario is one where even a relatively benign 2% selloff of the S&P coupled with just a 1% selloff of the 10Y could result in up to 50% deleveraging, which in turn would accelerate further liquidations by other comparable funds, and lead to a self-fulfilling crash across asset classes.


Which incidentally sounds like precisely the scenario that could happen when the Fed tries to raise rates, and is also why asset classes continue to move without fear of any rate hike, as they now realize - very well - just how trapped the Fed truly is. That said, in short order, we will see if the Fed, for once, has the intestinal fortitude to actually raise rates in the face of the extreme volatility awaiting equities in the event they do... we doubt it.

As RBC's Charlie McElligott notes, the classic risk-parity pain-trade ensues-- developed mkt sovereign bonds, stocks, EM, credit and commodities (ex-crude) all under the cosh right now at the same time (shocker--a strategy built on a core concept of ‘negative correlation btwn bonds and risk stocks’ is going to be exposed in a regime change of this magnitude).

And as the chart below shows, Risk Parity funds are plunging...

As is clear, he massive decoupling between stocks and risk-parity funds is not unpredented... but has not ended well in the past (for stocks).