As U.S. stock markets conclude one of the wildest and worst weeks since the global financial crisis, here are 10 things to know about the selloff:
1. It is driven by technicals, not fundamentals. The ongoing market correction doesn’t reflect a worsening of economic and corporate fundamentals. Rather, it is being driven by technical factors, including the unwinding of “short-volatility” trades (more on these below), the testing of relatively new products, and a shift in investor conditioning away from the “buy-the-dip” paradigm.
2. It is inherently unsettling. One of the reasons why this selloff is so unsettling is the difficulty of pointing to familiar culprits, be they economic, geopolitical or corporate-related. This makes investors and traders more jittery, more suspicious, and less confident about what will happen next.
3. Diversification is not translating into risk mitigation. Government bonds, the traditional “safe assets,” have not provided any meaningful risk mitigation, which adds to investor discomfort. Indeed, rather than increase in price, some have declined concurrent with the selloff in “risk assets.”
4. It follows a highly unusual period. The selloff follows an atypical time of extremely low market volatility and stocks that seemingly only went up. Before the recent turmoil, U.S. stocks went more than 400 days without a 5 percent drawdown, and in 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average registered more than 70 highs.
5. It is characterized by an unwinding of the short-volatility trade in its many forms. The main technical driver is an unwinding of short-volatility positions. Some of these were taken directly through relatively new products, such as those that offer investors the inverse of the move in volatility indexes like the VIX. Some were constructed via derivative positioning. And some reflected the extent to which investors departed from their natural investment habitat, stretching far and wide for returns. In some cases, this was turbocharged by leveraged positions that, once volatility spiked, triggered margin calls that forced investors to sell a wide spectrum of holdings.
6. It is global rather than domestic. Although some have been tempted to blame U.S.-specific factors such as the increase in the government budgetary funding requirement and the latest wage data, few market indicators support this view (particularly when it comes to interest-rate differentials across advanced economies). Indeed, the signals from interest rates around the world point primarily to higher global growth and inflation.