Pension Panic Puts Central Banks Back In Intervention Mode

Pension Panic Puts Central Banks Back In Intervention Mode

September 28, 2022, was the day central banks were forced back into intervention mode. For weeks, I've argued that the stronger dollar, bolstered by ever higher terminal rate pricing in the US and relentlessly higher real yields would eventually prove untenable. Something, I said, would break. As it turns out, that something was the UK bond market, and although the rout was plainly catalyzed by Liz Truss's disastrous fiscal unveil, it'd be a mistake to conceptualize of Truss's budget boondoggl
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26 thoughts on “Pension Panic Puts Central Banks Back In Intervention Mode

    1. Just my “guess” is : Some wise CYA “consultant” hired at an egregious rate recommended they put put money into vol-control and other risk-parity strategies. Many rely on the use of futures and forwards, which may explain the margin calls.

    2. I don’t think they necessarily do. The massive rise in rates hit certain risk limits in their models (probably certain VaR limits) and they had to start selling. The massive falls would also have precipitated an increase in margin calls; and in order to cover losses, those investors were then forced into selling government debt. The whole thing then fell apart.

    3. A lot of that is because they’re trading in futures markets. Futures are traded bilaterally, so you have to post collateral with a large number of potential counterparties. For the market to function at all, that collateral has to be a relatively small amount in proportion to the size of potential positions. As such, the funds needn’t have been leveraged at all to be exposed to large potential margin calls with certain counterparties.

    4. Matt Levine’s column today explained this. Essentially they were levered long on safe government debt so that they would not seem underfunded in the event that interest rates fell.

  1. In political economy terms, the global fight against inflation is existential; nothing less than the survival of liberal democracy is at stake. If, going forward, that fight requires a two-step forward one-step back approach, so be it. At the end of the day, inflation must be suppressed and the CB-enabled keep-the-profits-socialize-the-losses paradigm must be kicked to the curb.

      1. No, the emergency QE seems entirely appropriate in the circumstance. But as more things start to break, we all need to be clear about who is getting bailed out — and why.

        1. Seems like an excellent question, and I would love to hear someone with actual expertise in financialized markets (i.e., not me) explain why that was a non-starter.

  2. I saw somewhere that BOE was about to launch QT on Monday. If they do, they will have simultaneous QT and QE. I guess the thing to watch going forward will be the sign and magnitude of QE minus QT. Combine that with inflation and rate hikes and you have something truly exotic to contemplate. Like high inflation stagflation maybe?

    1. No, they postponed the onset of QT until October 31. That was in the announcement today. But it won’t matter. Markets will obviously question whether the new plan is viable. The idea is to keep buying long-dated bonds as necessary until October 14, then commence QT on October 31. I have my doubts.

  3. This situation as outlined by H here is at the crux of the issue developed nations and the merry group of technocrats in charge of policy face. This is the moment we’ll have to be honest, the only way to really tame inflation will also result in calamitous financial events and market meltdowns that are simply too high a price to pay, just ask any UK citizen if they rather pay more for everything or have their pension savings vanish. We must learn to live with elevated inflation and let some of that inflation reduce the % of sovereign debt to GDP, YCC is looking more like the final destination for all DM economies.

    1. This stuff was not covered in the 1950s economic models the Fed still relies on. Maybe some updates need to be done. Start by bringing in people who actually worked on funding and trading desks on the street, not the couple of ex-M&A dealmakers they have.

  4. Rishi Sunak is looking better to the average stunned Tory MP, perhaps? Anyone have a source for bookie odds on a no-confidence vote for Truss?

    1. Stunned is right. This happened so fast, and was so dangerous, that I don’t think the vast majority of people — any people — have had a chance to wrap their minds around it yet. Expect a ton of “Here’s How Close The UK Came To…” articles from the mainstream media over the next week.

      1. Yes, you have to think that perhaps the whole setup of derivatives that we have should not be legal. Is there a regulatory scheme that could make finance boring again? Or is that not really at the heart of the problem?

  5. I have to revise my earlier comment to a different post. Today saw the emergence of two new CB balance sheet tools in addition to QE and QT. This morning we got “QE cum QT” from the BOE, which apparently came hot on the heels of Yellen’s new forged in Japan “See No Evil” tool. (Meanwhile, ironically, the yen barely managed to lift its chin off the floor).

  6. Is no one concerned that we seem to have moved beyond simple moral hazard here? Fiscal lunacy now seems incentivized. Massive tax cuts for the wealthy plus central banks stimulus to prop up the markets is a a double barreled wealth hose to the richest brits (and foreigners involved in British markets). If CBs paper over deleterious effects of incompetence (protecting the masses from the worst of the harm while doling out financial incentives to the rich) its frighteningly Pareto optimal.

    A model I hope doesn’t spread but expect to see increasingly more of.

  7. I do not really grasp why UK pension funds got into this near collapse situation, some enlightenment would be helpful. But isn’t the underlying weakness then really either bad liquidity management on the side of the UK pension funds and/or structural issues that they can’t fulfil long term pension obligations. Where I live (NL) defined benefit was replaced by defined contribution pensions many years ago, which makes it hard to believe such market movements, although not insignificant, would cause a risk of collapse. This does not take away the obvious fact UK government misjudged.

    It also really interests me, because i’m heavily invested into EU banks, which also really plunged starting last friday, I’m trying to understand the obvious contamination risk effect.

  8. Apologies, this whole situation has me riled up. When I see what is happening in the UK, and what is happening more generally in global macro, the analogy that comes to mind is wildfire management (or lack thereof) in California. With the help of a benign neglect attitude on the part of regulators, a lot of bad stuff has built up in the global financial system since at least Glass-Steagall was trashed during the Clinton years, and it’s high time it was cleared out. How to do that is another question entirely.

    1. Most Defined Benefit schemes (outside of the public sector) closed decades ago, but you can’t strip people who are on Defined Benefit schemes from the past of their Benefits! So they still exist and will do for a few decades yet. As for the Derivatives being employed, even buying a Long Dated Bond on repo would cause issues given the scale of the moves we have seen.

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