This year marks the seventh anni-versary of the Long-Term Capital Management meltdown, but the shadow cast by the collapse of the highly leveraged bond hedge fund is still big enough, and dark enough, to send a chill through world markets.
It happened again most recently in May, when a mere rumor one morning that several hedge funds’ bond portfolios had been hit with losses following S&P’s downgrade of General Motors Corp. debt apparently was enough to spook the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a 103.23-point loss, around 1%.
The following morning, the financial papers played the hedge-fund angle high, although none of them was ever able to substantiate the rumors, and the hedge funds involved denied they had suffered GM-related bond losses. To their credit, most of the major papers dealt with the hedge fund rumors in their leads, or clearly identified the hedge fund concerns as rumors in the headlines. The exception was USA Today, which in its online edition slapped this headline on its market wrap story: “Hedge fund missteps hit stocks hard.”
Although the story itself alluded to the losses as rumors, research and casual conversation has in the past revealed that sometimes people never get past headlines, which in this case could leave those people with the impression that hedge funds had misstepped when in fact that was only rumored to be the case. Of course, USA Today has not yet become the go-to source for market news among knowledgeable people in the financial industry, but with a circulation of around 2.2 million, it is clearly a major source for news–including business news–for many Americans. Seeing a headline about hedge fund missteps associated with the following day’s market decline likely confirmed the suspicions and vague mistrust of hedge funds held by those who heed the headlines.
Historically, hedge funds and rumors have gone together like twisters and trailer parks. Hedge funds can make for easy targets, since at least among the general public they are shrouded in mystery, and mainstream news reports often don’t do much to demystify them.
Of course, hedge funds don’t always help their own cause as they generally do not disclose their positions and do not comment on rumors, or sometimes much of anything else, to reporters.