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The “hope” trade

January 27th, 2009

I heard a disturbing bit of market intelligence from an investment banker friend. Apparently, several large hedge funds (e.g., $8bn+ under management) put on the “hope” trade in December. In the hope trade, these large hedge funds that were down a lot in the first 11 months of 2008 decided to go “all in” in December and try to bid up equity prices before the end of the calendar year. By boosting prices–which were up about 20% for the month of December–they were able to report higher returns for the entire year in the hopes of staving off distributions. A large asset manager who used to manage almost all my money seemed to be engaged in something similar, so this story seems highly plausible to me. (I have managed to extract myself from my manager after sustaining major but not critical injuries to my personal account.)

So far, the strategy has been OK. But has added even more risk to the US economy. If prices go down (as they have so far in 2009) and the limited partners decide to withdraw their money in March, it could put a lot of additional downward pressure on the stock market. Especially with the baby boomers at or near retirement age, stock declines and net capital outflows could become a vicious cycle. Translation: a run on the stock market!

This scenario isn’t set in stone. If you think that economic conditions will materially improve by March, then perhaps the ‘hope’ trade will pay off. Does that seem likely to you? Soon, the day of reckoning may be upon us!

2. politics ,

  1. February 3rd, 2009 at 06:08 | #1

    To put this in short form, yes, the day of “reckoning” is almost here. Several circumstances point us in the direction of a further decline, a steep decline. The stock market has been at an unrealistic level for close to fifteen years now. Its been in the past year that we've seen “cooked books” showing phantom assets in the financial market, as well as across the corporate spectrum. Debt is not an asset, and many corporations and institutions have used debt to boost their ratings and worth.

    The more we see debt showing up as unpayables, the harder the domino effect will be. In turn, the greater the possibility of a “socialized” government intervention. Either “socialism” saves the day, or we fall into a deep depression, the choices are few at this stage of the game. In my opinion, if things (economic improvements) were to fall into place today, it would take at least two to three years before noticable stability entered the markets.

    The bottom line is, “put your money in CD's until the economic horror show is over”. Wait until the smoke clears before high risk investments are considered. A small return is better than no return.

    Sonny Clark

  2. February 3rd, 2009 at 09:49 | #2

    Well put, Sonny. Scary times indeed.

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