Lessons from a Financial Blowup

The Archegos implosion teaches the same lessons that apparently need to be taught over and over again.

1. High leverage eventually brings margin calls.
2. Margin calls equal disaster.
3. Margin calls come when too much leverage is attached to securities linked to market volatility.
4. All securities are linked to market volatility.
There is no such thing as uncorrelated assets anymore. Investment strategies founded on the belief that the securities held are somehow immune from previously “uncorrelated” volatility are anachronistic. Combine these investments with substantial leverage intended to enhance returns, and this strategy ends in disaster.

If it’s zero eventually, great quarterly performance is meaningless.

It’s risk-adjusted return, idiot.

Economics, Advanced Technology, and Social Media

Fundamental drivers for pricing valuations in public markets have changed. Now, there is a new interaction among factors unseen just recently. Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence have had a profound impact on the tools available and analysis presented to even the most amateurish investor. Social media, such as Reddit, Twitter, and other platforms, have allowed access to information and influence from media “stars” driving demand in an almost herd-like mentality driving up prices, and causing extreme volatility. Finally, technology has enabled a trading floor to be in everyone’s pocket. That same trading floor allows access to any information on anything from anywhere, and communication with anyone or, via social media, receive communication and information (regardless of how dubious) from anyone about any security or investment strategy.

These factors will cause unprecedented market volatility, along with extreme price movements for well-known (or perhaps more accurately, well-publicized) companies and their securities. While the supply of securities remains somewhat constant, demand for those securities is increasing (sometimes exponentially) because many more investors are now chasing those same securities.

The price of anything cannot escape supply and demand dynamics. Recent IPO activity is an attempt to meet growing demand (and raise capital at attractive prices). The new supply from IPO’s, secondary stock issuances, and most recently and monumentally, SPAC offerings, still do not provide enough supply to quench a growing and overwhelming demand. The valuations, especially those given to the SPAC’s, are entering stratospheric levels that could hardly be justified under normal market conditions. Successful investors are the ones who understand adding return without corresponding risk is the most critical component of successful investing, especially given the new equation for valuation:

Economics + Advanced Technologies + Social Media = Price

These three components are now inexorably linked and constitute an influential role in determining valuation from now on.

The More Things Change…

The pandemic has challenged many preconceived notions about the economy, markets, and public policy – and has impacted the way we live. But the inescapable truth remains unchanged:

There is no magic answer. No solution other than superior skill enables an investor to earn a high return safely and dependably. That is even more true in today’s low-interest rate, low return Tower of Babel world.