The law of unintended consequences

A key part of our process is to consider liquidity as core to our understanding of risk. We see risk as coming from the real world rather than as hypothetical, embodying itself in three key measurables: volatility, correlation and liquidity. We find liquidity is often ignored, as it is harder to measure but can often prove the most important risk.

Liquidity is important for a number of reasons, one being that it can disguise other types of risk by making volatility and correlations seem lower than they actually are in practice, a share whose price rarely changes or a fund which prices only monthly will inevitably measure as less volatile, or less correlated simply because it is illiquid.

Most importantly, liquidity can determine how bad things get in times of stress: it often seems unimportant when things are going well, but when things start to go badly it becomes a key determinant of the ultimate outcome. All fund managers, whether they admit it or not, will make mistakes from time to time and the liquidity of their portfolio will determine how able they are to address those mistakes in order to move on. You often hear the adage, ‘run your winners and cut your losers’ but without liquidity, you simply can’t do this.

At the same time, mismatches in the liquidity of the fund and its underlying holdings can cause problems. Over the years, it has become clear that in times of stress, liquidity is more important than any other factor. Examples abound, from Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) through to the open-ended property funds.

Since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), despite recognising the importance of liquidity as either a mitigating factor to avoid disaster or lack of liquidity as a factor in compounding problems, the direction of regulation and changes in market structure have led to there being a continual erosion of liquidity across a range of asset classes. Regulations have discouraged investment banks from holding significant trading books in all securities, leading to greatly reduced liquidity in corporate bonds, while equity trading has moved to ‘dark pools’ where liquidity is superficial and in very small sizes.

Since MiFID II, liquidity in equities has further eroded, with investment banks’ incentive to provide research greatly reduced, as asset managers are now, in most cases, paying directly for that research.

Compounding this, the obligation to disclose notional transaction costs very much discourages dealing, especially in less liquid securities. It is undoubtedly the case that fund managers dealing strategies post-MiFID II have and will change in ways that reduce liquidity, in particular to reduce measured transaction costs by dealing in smaller incremental size. The move towards indexation is also a factor here, although difficult to measure, and it has certainly had an impact on liquidity.

We have always preferred liquid stocks and bonds. As pragmatists, recent declines in liquidity have led us to having an increasing preference for larger and more liquid companies. We have always constrained any relatively illiquid positions to a small part of the portfolio and only in situations where we are seeking specialist niches that cannot be otherwise replicated. As genuinely active asset allocators, the ability to change our portfolios and to respond to changing conditions has and always will be a key part of our strategy.

Risks:

The value of stock market investments will fluctuate and investors may not get back the original amount invested.

The performance information presented in this document relate to the past. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.

Changes in interest rates will affect the value of, and the interest earned from bonds held by the Fund. When interest rates rise, the capital value of the Fund is likely to fall and vice versa.


Important Information:

For Investment Professionals only. Not for onward distribution. No other persons should rely on any information contained within this document.

Source for information: Miton as at 12/06/2019 unless otherwise stated.

The views expressed are those of the fund manager at the time of writing and are subject to change without notice. They are not necessarily the views of Miton and do not constitute investment advice.

Miton has used all reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the communication, however some information and statistical data has been obtained from external sources. Whilst Miton believes these sources to be reliable, Miton cannot guarantee the reliability, completeness or accuracy of the content or provide a warrantee.

Issued by Miton, a trading name of Miton Asset Management Limited the Investment Manager of the Fund which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is registered in England No. 1949322 with its registered office at 6th Floor, Paternoster House, 65 St Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8AB.

MFP19/263.