Traders ‘Liquidating Positions Everywhere’ Upend Markets

From funding stresses to headaches about trading from home, the Wall Street worry list is a long one right now. One item is creeping up that list fast: Unreliable havens.

Stocks tumbled anew on Wednesday as the turmoil sparked by the coronavirus continued to build. The S&P 500 Index slumped more than 5% at the open, almost erasing a bounce from a day earlier as it tracked losses in both Asia and Europe.

But the most eye-catching moves were in the bond market. European government obligations including bunds tumbled at the same time as stocks in the region. Treasuries fluctuated, threatening to extend their decline a day after the biggest yield jump for 10-year U.S. bonds since 1982. A similar dynamic took hold earlier in Asia.

The synchronized drop is not something that’s supposed to happen, and it’s a threat to classic diversification strategies where bonds are used to hedge stock declines. To add insult to injury, gold — a haven for centuries — is also down in Wednesday trading.

“The worst outcome at the moment is there’s nowhere to hide — your gold is falling, your equities are falling, your bonds are falling,” said Klaudius Sobczyk, a fund manager at PEH Wertpapier AG in Frankfurt. “There is no safe haven.”

The trigger for the latest synchronicity is government announcements of stimulus measures to fight the outbreak, as investors adjust to the likely flood of new debt issuance and its impact on growth.

All the same the bond rout in conjunction with stock declines is one of a series of dislocations sweeping major assets as investors liquidate exposures including bond positions. Illiquidity and extreme positioning make for a dysfunctional market.

Just last week, ETFs tracking U.S. large-cap stocks and long-dated bonds saw their sharpest combined loss since TLT was born in 2002 — another reminder their inverse relationship doesn’t always hold during crises.

Recent moves in risk-free assets — in money and rate markets — is “puzzling” strategists at Citigroup led by Matt King, citing rising inflation-adjusted yields and falling gold.

“Our best guess is that these have been exacerbated by margin calls, by the oil sell-off, and by the unwinding of loss-making positions by risk-parity and other hedge funds and by absolute return funds,” King wrote in a note on Tuesday. “Basically investors have been liquidating positions everywhere, whatever their rationale.”

— With assistance by Justina Lee

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