Blog Post

The decline in market liquidity

Has it become harder for buyers and sellers to transact without causing sharp price movements?

By: and Date: August 12, 2015 Topic: Banking and capital markets

What’s at stake: There has been a plethora of stories on the apparent decline in trading or market liquidity over the past few months with a growing number of analysts pointing out that it has become harder for buyers and sellers to transact without causing sharp price movements. While the Fed remains unimpressed with these developments, several commentators have argued that the next crisis might come from an abrupt and dramatic re-rating of stocks and bonds.

The problem with illiquid markets

Robin Wigglesworth writes that Wall Street’s latest obsession is bond market liquidity.  Lael Brainard writes that these concerns are highlighted by several episodes of unusually large intraday price movements that are difficult to ascribe to any particular news event, which suggest a deterioration in the resilience of market liquidity.

Nouriel Roubini writes that investors’ fears started with the “flash crash” of May 2010, when, in a matter of 30 minutes, major US stock indices fell by almost 10%, before recovering rapidly. Then came the “taper tantrum” in the spring of 2013, when US long-term interest rates shot up by 100 basis points after then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted at an end to the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities. Likewise, in October 2014, US Treasury yields plummeted by almost 40 basis points in minutes. The latest episode came in May 2015, when, in the space of a few days, ten-year German bond yields went from five basis points to almost 80. These events have fueled fears that, even very deep and liquid markets – such as US stocks and government bonds in the US and Germany – may not be liquid enough.

Charlie Himmelberg and Bridget Bartlett write that market liquidity is the extent to which investors can execute a fixed trade size within a fixed period of time without moving the price against the trade (which should not be confused with monetary liquidity, access to short-term funding, or liquid assets held on company balance sheets). Steve Strongin writes that one $10 million trade that historically may have taken a day to get done now needs to be split into 20 $500,000 trades that take a week or two to execute. From an investor’s standpoint, that is very uncomfortable because we live in a 24-hour news cycle so information is flowing much faster, but your ability to execute trades is now much slower. It also means that certain types of investment strategies—such as arbitrage strategies that rely on the ability to quickly identify and act on market dislocations—no longer work nearly as well, if they work at all.

Has liquidity decreased?

In its latest monetary report to Congress, the Federal Reserve writes that despite these increased market discussions, a variety of metrics of liquidity in the nominal Treasury market do not indicate notable deteriorations.

David Keohane writes that measuring liquidity is by necessity slippery — pick your preferred measure of liquidity (bid-ask, price impact, decline in net-dealer inventories) and we are pretty sure we can point you to a problem with it. But the chart below, on growing market size versus declining turnover, is tantalizing.
Technology, regulations and liquidity

RTEmagicC_BEBR_10_08_15.png

Source: Goldman Sachs

Technology, regulations and liquidity

Matt Levine writes that Volcker, capital requirements, etc., drive up the cost of immediacy, but they don’t increase the risk of a crash, because bond dealers were never in the business of buying all the bonds all the way down. Lael Brainard writes that reductions in broker-dealer inventories occurred prior to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, suggesting that factors other than regulation may also be contributing. In assessing the role of regulation as a possible contributor to reduced liquidity, it is important to recognize that those regulations were put in place to reduce the concentration of liquidity risk on the balance sheets of the large, highly interconnected institutions that proved to be a major amplifier of financial instability at the height of the crisis.

Nouriel Roubini sees several reasons why the re-rating of stocks and especially bonds can be abrupt and dramatic. First, when high-frequency traders are inactive, equity markets are in fact illiquid with few transactions. Second, fixed-income assets are illiquid because they’re mostly traded over the counter and are held in open-ended funds that allow investors to exit overnight. Before the crisis, banks used to hold large inventories of these assets, thus providing liquidity and smoothing excess price volatility. But, with new regulations punishing such trading (via higher capital charges), banks and other financial institutions have reduced their market-making activity. So, in times of surprise that move bond prices and yields, the banks are not present to act as stabilizers.

Risks of amplification

Lael Brainard writes that a reduction in the resilience of liquidity at times of stress could be significant if it acted as an amplification mechanism, impeded price discovery, or interfered with market functioning. For instance, during episodes of financial turmoil, reduced liquidity can lead to outsized liquidity premiums as well as an amplification of adverse shocks on financial markets, leading prices for financial assets to fall more than they otherwise would. The resulting reductions in asset values could then have second-round effects, as highly leveraged holders of financial assets may be forced to liquidate, pushing asset prices down further and threatening the stability of the financial system.

Robin Wigglesworth writes that scarred by the financial crisis, retail investors gravitated towards the supposed safety of fixed income. But their funds have bought increasingly illiquid bonds while still offering investors the opportunity to pull out whenever they want. If losses spook investors to do that, asset managers will sell bonds in order to pay investors their money back, the type of scenario that can quickly become a fire sale.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

It’s hard to live in the city: Berlin’s rent freeze and the economics of rent control

A proposal in Berlin to ban increases in rent for the next five years sparked intense debate in Germany. Similar policies to the Mietendeckel are currently being discussed in London and NYC. All three proposals reflect and raise similar concerns – the increase in per-capita incomes is not keeping pace with increases in rents, but will a cap do more harm than good? We review recent views on the matter.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: July 8, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

The breakdown of the covered interest rate parity condition

A textbook condition of international finance breaks down. Economic research identifies the interplay between divergent monetary policies and new financial regulation as the source of the puzzle, and generates concerns about unintended consequences for financing conditions and financial stability.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou and Bruegel Topic: Banking and capital markets Date: July 1, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

The June Eurogroup meeting: Reflections on BICC

The Eurogroup met on June 13th to discuss the deepening of the economic and monetary union (EMU) and prepare the discussions for the Euro Summit. From the meeting came two main deliverables: an agreement over a budgetary instrument for competitiveness and convergence and the reform of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) treaty texts. We review economists’ first impressions.

By: Bruegel and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: June 24, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

The campaign against ‘nonsense’ output gaps

A campaign against “nonsense” consensus output gaps has been launched on social media. It has triggered responses focusing on the implications of output gaps for fiscal policy under EU rules, especially for Italy. But the debate about the reliability of output-gap estimates is more wide-ranging.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou and Bruegel Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: June 17, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

The inverted yield curve

Longer-term yields falling below shorter-term yields have historically preceded recessions. Last week, the US 10-year yield was 21 basis points below the 3-month yield, a feat last seen during the summer of 2007. Is the current yield curve a trustworthy barometer for future growth?

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo and Bruegel Topic: Global economy and trade Date: June 11, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

The 'seven' ceiling: China's yuan in trade talks

Investors and the public have been looking at the renminbi with caution after the Trump administration threatened to increase duties on countries that intervene in the markets to devalue/undervalue their currency relative to the dollar. The fear is that China could weaponise its currency following the further increase in tariffs imposed by the United States in early May. What is the likelihood of this happening and what would be the consequences for the existing tensions with the United States, as well as for the global economy?

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo and Bruegel Topic: Global economy and trade Date: June 3, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

The next ECB president

On May 28th, EU heads of state and government will start the nomination process for the next ECB president. Leaving names of possible candidates aside, this review tries to isolate the arguments about what qualifications the new president should have and what challenges he or she is likely to face.

By: Bruegel and Konstantinos Efstathiou Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: May 27, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

The latest European growth-rate estimates

The quarterly growth rate of the euro area in Q1 2019 was 0.4% (1.5% annualized), considerably higher than the low growth rates of the previous two quarters. This blog reviews the reaction to the release of these numbers and the discussion they have triggered about the euro area’s economic challenges.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: May 20, 2019
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

Is an electric car a cleaner car?

An article published by the Ifo Institute in Germany compares the carbon footprint of a battery-electric car to that of a diesel car, and argues a higher share of electric cars will not contribute to reducing German carbon dioxide emissions. Respondents rejected the authors’ calculations as unrealistic and biased, and pointed to a series of studies that conclude the opposite. We summarise the article and responses to it.

By: Michael Baltensperger Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Green economy Date: May 13, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

All eyes on the Fed

Last week the US Federal Reserve left the federal funds rate unchanged and lowered the interest rate on excess reserves. We review economists’ recent views on the monetary policy conduct and priorities of the United States’ central bank system.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Global economy and trade Date: May 6, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

Is this blog post legal (under new EU copyright law)?

How new EU rules on using snippets from news publishers and on copyright infringement liability might affect circulation of information, revenue distribution, market power and EU business competitiveness.

By: Catarina Midões Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: April 8, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Secular stagnation and the future of economic stabilisation

Larry Summers’ and Łukasz Rachel’s most recent study documents a secular fall in neutral real rates in advanced economies. According to the authors, this fall would be even more marked in the absence of offsetting fiscal policies. Policymaking in a world of permanently low interest rates may be hard to navigate, especially in troubled waters. We review economists’ views on the matter

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo and Bruegel Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: April 1, 2019
Load more posts