“It’s literally as if the market makers didn’t show up for work,” Curnutt said in a Bloomberg Television interview, referring to options and junk-bond exchange-traded funds such as the iShares iBoxx High-Yield Corporate Bond ETF, known by its ticker, HYG. “The posted bid-offers on the screens illustrated that there was no one in the market posting for something that is one of the more liquid -- usually -- hedges to use.”
Banks have been constrained by rules created after the 2008 financial crisis. That has pushed some market-making activity to other types of financial institutions including Citadel Securities and Virtu Financial Inc., which was one of a handful of firms that rose in trading Monday as the S&P 500 slipped
“The traditional liquidity provider in times of stress -- the bank -- really isn’t there,” John McClain, portfolio manager at Diamond Hill Capital Management, said in an interview. “Banks themselves have a lot more regulation around what they can be doing.”
Still, for all that, trading was relatively orderly in HYG and other debt ETFs, especially compared with the underlying bonds. The liquidity concerns still didn’t mean there was a “full-blown breakdown in markets,” Curnutt said.
Philipp Hildebrand, vice chairman of BlackRock Inc., agreed. “I was there in 2008, and the difference is the financial system essentially seized up, which is not what happened, at least not so far,” he said. “It’s an important signal that the ETF market functions.”
ETFs have been a wonderful innovation which have opened up asset classes which were never previously available to retail investors. They have also allowed the cost of investing to come down and reduced performance deviation from the broad market averages. The challenge is ETFs can often be more liquid than their underlying indices and instruments. That represents a significant challenge in times of stress and particularly during bouts of contagion selling.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top