The US stock market celebrated the 30th anniversary of Black Monday with the 2017 version of a rocky trading day: Stocks sold off early, with S&P 500 futures recording their steepest post-midnight drop of the year. But the dip was reflexively and aggressively bought, and stocks even poked back into the green seconds before the close as algos mistook a repetitive Politico headline about Jay Powell’s chances of becoming the next Fed chair for news - leaving us with yet another record close.
Of course, the historical juxtaposition of the 1987 crash with today’s unnaturally placid markets practically forced even the most bullish of traders to question how much longer the present market paradigm - where markets listlessly drift through a seemingly interminable series of record highs while trading volume and volatility remain suppressed - can possibly last.
With that question in mind, Real Vision released a video early today containing interviews with some of the biggest names in the hedge fund universe. Though the interview was shot a few weeks ago, remarks from Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass resonated with market's mood.
Bass discussed what he sees as the many short- and long-term risks to the US equity market, including the rise of algorithmic trading and passive investment, which have enabled investors to take risks without understanding what they’re doing, leaving the market vulnerable to an “air pocket."
And with so many traders short vol, Bass said investors will know the correction has begun when a 4% or 5% drop in equities snowballs into a 10% to 15% decline at the drop of a hat.
“The shift from active to passive means that risk is in the hands of people who don’t know how to take risk. Therefore we’re likely to have a 1987 air pocket. This is like portfolio insurance on steroids, the way algorithmic trading is now running the market place.
Investors are moving from active to passive, meaning they’re taking the wheel themselves all at a time when CTAs are running their own algo strategies where they’re one and a half times long and half short and they all believe they can come out at the same time."
“If you see the equity market crack 4 or 5 points, buckle up, because I think we’re going to see a pretty interesting air-pocket, and I don’t think investors are ready for that,” Bass said.
When it comes to identifying potential catalysts, Bass said the US’s deteriorating relationships with both China and North Korea present significant long-term risks...
“Our trade relationship with China is worsening our relationship with north korea whatever it is continually worsens. We’ve got three people at the head of these countries that are trying ot maike their countries great again, I think that’s a real risk geopolitically."
...While the unwind of G-4 central bank stimulus could hammer equities and bonds in the short term.
"But when you think about it financially, which is actually easier to calculate, the financial reason is the G-4 central banks going from a period of accommodation to a period of tightening, and that’s net of bond issuance."
In summary, investors better snap up those out-of-the-money S&P 500 puts before it’s too late, because central banks - try as they might - can’t forestall the return of volatility forever.