Hedge fund margin calls appear to be playing a role, perhaps a substantial one, in the precipitous fall in stock prices. One hedge fund manager told us yesterday that a West Coast hedge fund was supposed to have dumped a lot of risky fixed income positions late in the day yesterday. That affected the stock market over the fear that the distressed prices its paper was fetching would force banks and other financial firms to mark similar assets down, leading to further losses.
But some believe that hedge funds are also liquidating stocks. And this research note claims that some prime brokers have arbitrarily tightened their margin requirements, This is not only plausible, but it has happened before.
From Bull’s Eye Research (hat tip reader Marshall):
The selling has reached historic proportions. There literally is a “run on the market,” as investors worldwide are dumping stocks. It seems that the major catalyst for this selling is the fact that the newest large banks primarily J. P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and possibly Morgan Stanley as well — have issued massive margin calls to hedge funds and other professional traders who use these banks as prime brokers.
These calls were not issued because of market losses, but more because the banks arbitrarily decided that they wanted their customers to use less leverage. Margin rates as low as 15% for broker dealers were raised to 35%; hedge funds who had been used to operating on high leverage were told that they had to bring accounts up to a much larger percentage of equity.
In this illiquid environment, where all manor of exotic securities literally have no bids, the only place to raise the cash to meet margin calls was to sell stock. That is what really set this market over the edge — as the first notice of these calls were issued on October 2nd and 3rd. There was something of a grace period to meet the calls, but funds realized they weren’t going to be able to meet them other than by selling stock. There are rumors that the most massive of the calls are due Monday (October 13th). If so, this market could continue to decline through then.