MacroScope

Who are hedge funds dating?

The world of hedge funds is as mysterious as it is profitable, and remains highly opaque even after a raft of new reforms aimed at strengthening financial stability. While there is general agreement among policymakers that the the so-called shadow banking system was at the epicenter of the financial crisis of 2008, hedge funds still face little or no regulatory scrutiny, despite their size and importance in financial markets.

That worries Andrew Lo, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. For him, the basic registration requirements for hedge funds are not nearly sufficient to give regulators a broad sense of the potential risks present in the markets. On the sidelines of an International Monetary Fund meeting, Lo compared the relationship to that of a parent keeping tabs on a growing teenage child.

Let’s say you’re a parent and your child has started dating. You don’t necessarily need to know everything they are doing, but you’d at least like to know who they are going out with.

That’s a particularly apt analogy since the main concern for financial sector regulators is that losses in the unregulated sector might deal a large blow to the banking system itself, forcing another round of bailouts.

Lo, who also runs an investment fund called Alpha Simplex, said during his presentation that the Dodd-Frank financial reform law still leaves regulators powerless to manage this highly-influential part of the financial system:

Giant FX market now $4 trillion gorilla

Global foreign exchange has always been one of the biggest markets in the world but its exponential growth keeps accelerating. The triennial survey by the Bank for International Settlements shows global foreign exchange market turnover leapt 20 percent to $4 trillion, compared with $3.3 trillion three years ago.

FXBIS

The increase in turnover was driven by growth in spot transactions, which represent 37 percent of FX market turnover.  Turnover was driven by trading activity by “other financial institutions” — a category that includes hedge funds, pension funds and central banks, extending a trend seen in the past several years where buyside firms are increasingly trading currencies themselves, via prime brokerage, rather than turning to interbank dealers.

Also notably, emerging market currencies are gradually increasing their share in the marketplace. Turnover of the Russian rouble has increased its share in total turnover to 0.9 percent of 200 percent (FX is double counted as transaction involves two currencies), up from 0.7 percent three years ago, while the Brazilian real rose to 0.7 percent from 0.4 percent. The Indian rupee’s share rose to 0.9 percent from 0.7 percent. The dollar keeps its dominance, although off its 2001 peak, with its share standing at 84.9 percent.

Frustrated Greeks

The Greek debt crisis appears to be entering a new phase, in which the country is no longer just waiting to get needed help but getting concerned that others — including euro zone powerhouse Germany — may actually be making it hard for them to recover.

First, there is Prime Minister George Papandreou (right in photo). His concern is that speculators are pushing  the cost of borrowing so high that it is undermining the plans he has put in place  for deficit reduction.  Papandreou is known for being a mild-mannered sort, so any kind of irritability is worth noting.Greeks

But Theodoros Pangalos (left), the deputy prime minister and once foreign minister, has no such reputation to hold him back.   He has launched an attack on Germany, saying that a) it is allowing its banks to mess around with Greek bonds and b) that it suits Berlin in any case to let the euro fall.

Economic Ties?

Ties

As rare as it is to get any two economists to agree, the chances are even slimmer of hearing three Nobel economics laureates concur.

And so it was that each of the award winning economists — Eric Maskin (2007), Michael Spence (2001) and Robert Merton(1997) — all had their own take on the legacy of three years of financial and economic crises when they spoke to a conference organised by Pioneer Investments  in London last week.

 To be fair, they broadly coagulated around the inevitability of greater regulation of banking and finance and also on the enormity of China’s now imposing position in world economic affairs.

The word on Gordon Brown from Cayman

Gordon Brown is truly having a rough time. Rebuffed by the United States, International Monetary Fund and others for floating the idea of a tax on financial transactions at this weekend’s G20 meeting, he has now got short shrift from the Cayman Islands.

McKeeva Bush, the veteran Caymanian politican who is now premier of the British Overseas Territory, popped in to the Reuters London headquarters for a chat this week. His main concern was to explain plans for making the islands an easier place for financial services personnel to live in. He would like some of those 8,000 hedge nearly 10,000 funds that are registered there to be more than just brass plaques. But, when asked, he also had time to dismiss the idea of a transaction tax out of hand.

“That’s an old hat. I have been hearing about it for 25 years. It’s just not practicable. It will not work.”

New power brokers of the world

It’s been a few years since oil exporters, Asian governments, hedge funds and private equity firms became the new power brokers of the world given their growing wealth in the global economy.

But there is no doubt that the credit crisis has halted the power brokers’ rapid ascent. According to a new report from McKinsey Global Institute, their collective assets posted no growth at the end of 2008 from the previous year, holding steady at $12 trillion.

However, they are expected to sharply boost their wealth in the next four years. The report expects foreign financial assets held by Asian sovereign investors and oil-exporting nations to more than double to $21.7 trillion by 2013 from the current $9.7 trillion.

from Global Investing:

End of carry trade unwind?

Merrill Lynch's monthly poll of fund managers around the world has a bit of a surprise in the small print. More investors now reckon the Japanese yen is overvalued than see it as undervalued. This is the first time this has been the case since Merrill began asking the question, said by staff to be about eight years ago.

It clearly reflects a 13 percent dive in dollar/yen this year and a 24 percent plunge in euro/yen. But does the new view of value suggest that the unwinding of the carry trade is over? Another question from the Merrill poll shows hedge fund deleveraging levelling off.