Robin Wigglesworth writes that Wall Street’s latest obsession is bond market liquidity. Lael Brainard writes that these concerns are highlighted by several episodes of unusually large intraday price movements that are difficult to ascribe to any particular news event, which suggest a deterioration in the resilience of market liquidity.
Nouriel Roubini writes that investors’ fears started with the “flash crash” of May 2010, when, in a matter of 30 minutes, major US stock indices fell by almost 10%, before recovering rapidly. Then came the “taper tantrum” in the spring of 2013, when US long-term interest rates shot up by 100 basis points after then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted at an end to the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities. Likewise, in October 2014, US Treasury yields plummeted by almost 40 basis points in minutes. The latest episode came in May 2015, when, in the space of a few days, ten-year German bond yields went from five basis points to almost 80. These events have fueled fears that, even very deep and liquid markets – such as US stocks and government bonds in the US and Germany – may not be liquid enough.
Charlie Himmelberg and Bridget Bartlett write that market liquidity is the extent to which investors can execute a fixed trade size within a fixed period of time without moving the price against the trade (which should not be confused with monetary liquidity, access to short-term funding, or liquid assets held on company balance sheets). Steve Strongin writes that one $10 million trade that historically may have taken a day to get done now needs to be split into 20 $500,000 trades that take a week or two to execute. From an investor’s standpoint, that is very uncomfortable because we live in a 24-hour news cycle so information is flowing much faster, but your ability to execute trades is now much slower. It also means that certain types of investment strategies—such as arbitrage strategies that rely on the ability to quickly identify and act on market dislocations—no longer work nearly as well, if they work at all.
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