Economists at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington have begun to take notice of hedge funds' growing use of leveraged trades in the $25.1 trillion Treasury market. In a recent paper posted on the Fed's website, the economists highlight the need for continued and diligent monitoring of these so-called basis trades, as they could potentially pose a financial stability vulnerability.
According to Daniel Barth and R. Jay Kahn from the Fed board, along with Robert Mann from the U.S. Treasury Department, it is highly likely that the basis trade is making a comeback, at least to some extent. Data from both the Commodities Futures and Trading Commission and the Treasury Department's Office of Financial Research indicate that hedge funds have been increasing their positions in this type of trade.
The basis trade involves leveraging to exploit price differences between Treasury futures and cash Treasurys. It essentially entails taking a short Treasury futures position, a long Treasury cash position, and borrowing in the repo market to finance the trade and provide leverage.
Given the potential risks associated with such trades, it is crucial for regulators to closely monitor hedge fund activities and their sustained large exposures. By doing so, they can better safeguard financial stability in the Treasury market.
The research conducted by these economists sheds light on an increasingly prominent trend within the hedge fund industry, urging for a cautious approach moving forward.
The Trade: A Unique Perspective on U.S. Government Debt
In the world of finance, hedge funds have found a significant way to express their bearish outlook on U.S. government debt. This approach sets them apart from asset managers and individual investors, leading to a fluctuating performance in the 10-year yield BX:TMUBMUSD10Y during August.
Insight: A Divide Emerges in the U.S. Treasury Market
A thought-provoking concern arises due to this particular trade. It poses a potential vulnerability to financial stability as it is highly leveraged and susceptible to fluctuations in futures margins and repo spreads. Notably, the unwinding of cash-futures basis trade by hedge funds played a role in the destabilization of the Treasury market in March 2020. The report from Barth, Kahn, and Mann highlights that these cash-futures basis positions could once again face stress during broader market corrections. Consequently, it is crucial to maintain continuous monitoring and vigilance in this trade.
As the week nears its end, Treasury yields ranging from 1-year to 30-year (BX:TMUBMUSD01Y - BX:TMUBMUSD30Y) remain relatively steady or slightly lower in anticipation of the nonfarm payrolls report for August, which will be released on Friday.