The most noteworthy event in September 2021 was probably the apparent collapse of Evergrande, one of the largest real estate companies in China, whose status is currently unknown. On Thursday, 16th September 2021, Evergrande issued a statement that it will not be able to repay the outstanding interest payments that day. Following this announcement, the financial market was in substantial stress. Equity markets all around the world lost a few percentage points and volatility spiked. Bond trading was under pressure as well, as Evergrande’s bonds were downgraded and frozen from trading. It sometimes was already referred to the next “Lehman Brothers” case. The volatility the stock has seen since is tremendous, as it lost nearly 80% in the first few days after the announcement. It seemed as though the situation had stabilized, but since not all due payments were paid on Friday, 24th September 2021, the status is unknown. If nothing else happens, which is highly unlikely, the company would enter a grace period following bankruptcy. There are three critical features involved in Evergrande. Firstly, China and Chinese people are heavily engaged with the company, as the company has sold many buildings already without having built them yet. A default would cause huge issues for the affected people. Secondly, many companies are frequently doing business with Evergrande, in particular construction, design and other suppliers, could also face bankruptcy alongside Evergrande. Lastly, the collapse of Evergrande would pose a substantial risk to the financial system of China. The latter one is in particular difficult, as the company has outstanding debt at more than 250 banks, which could put additional pressure on China’s ability to offer cheap debt, which is necessary to maintain growth level. Moreover, it does not make a China a more appealing place to invest for foreign investors, which were already on the decline since the recent developments
In such a highly uncertain environment, cryptocurrencies tend to thrive. Since the middle of July 2021, cryptocurrencies have performed very well. In particular applications on layer one chains, such as Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH), surged during this time. These applications can be split into several categories. These include for example, decentralized exchanges (DeX) and decentralized finance (DeFi). DeX’s are on the rise and are continuously optimized. At the current time, Uniswap v3 is the DeX with the largest trading volume ($800m in 24h), followed by PancakeSwap v2 with around $378m in 24h. In total, 10 different DeX’s have a daily trading volume exceeding $100m. These numbers are quite impressive given that centralized exchanges are young themselves. Binance, by far the largest cryptocurrency exchange, has a daily volume of $23bn. Coinbase, probably the most famous one due to going public, only has a daily volume of around $3bn. DeX’s have two major advantages compared to centralized exchanges. They tend to be cheaper, as only the gas for the transaction needs to be paid and they typically have no downtime, which occur quite frequently for centralized exchange in highly stressed environments. Yet, DeX’s remain a relatively small proportion of cryptocurrency exchanges. Over the last months, FTX was the most talked about exchange for several reasons. FTX is a cryptocurrency derivatives exchange and made headlines with its last funding round. FTX raised $900m and is now valued at $18bn. This is especially remarkable, as the company was valued at $1.2bn a year ago. Furthermore, there is barely any day without announcement about their attempt to increase their brand awareness. Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen and Stephen Curry are just some brand ambassadors. They have also secured the naming right for stadiums, e.g. the Berkeley stadium, and have entered a multi-year sponsorship deal with the famous e-sport team TSM. Despite the significant spending on their brand awareness, the public seems to react well to their efforts, as their token (FTT) has reached a new record high, as shown in Figure 9. Another significant player among cryptocurrency exchanges is Bakkt, the first exchange that offered physically settled BTC futures and options and being owned by the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). Although, it is known that Bakkt will go public since January 2021, it is widely anticipated that this should take place relatively soon. It is certainly interesting to find out where the second cryptocurrency company will end up after its SPAC listing valued at $2.1bn. The other category mentioned previously, DeFi, is more well-known since its application are very diverse. DeFi is typically measured by the total value locked (TVL) in DeFi, which is shown in Figure 10. Shortly before the most recent crash, TVL reached almost $100bn. At the time of writing, TVL is around $87bn. This is remarkable as at the beginning of 2020, TVL was only several million. Yet, the metric is not entirely transparent and various sources claim hugely different values. The issue with the metric is the tracking of the capital committed, measured by the collateral to make decentralized applications (DApps) comparable, as some of them are levered. But the measurement of TVL is difficult for several reasons. Firstly, the measure counts all values of different chains and the respective sub-chains. As they launch frequently, there can be mismatches. Secondly, various DApps allow all kinds of collaterals and those can be traded centralized, on-chain or off-chain, which makes their aggregation difficult to track. Lastly, value locked may be misleading, since liquidity can be added and removed very quickly, which poses additional tracking difficulties. DApps in DeFi also have the potential to revolutionize the traditional banking system, as basically any function from traditional banking is already available as DApp. Many early DApps focused on payment solutions, as many see the current payment methods
from the banking system as flawed in particular cross-border transactions, the time they require, and the fees associated with transactions. There are also many non-blockchain based solutions out there already with online banks, such as Revolut, or Wise that recently went public. Newer DApps started focusing on the lending function of the current banks. At the current stage, most capital in DeFi flows into such lending applications. The most valuable ones are Aave, Maker and InstaDApp, which all have around $13bn value locked in the application. InstaDApp is an asset management platform for DeFi platforms. It makes transactions between DeFi platforms easy, and it does not trigger fees, except the gas costs for the movement of assets. InstaDApp has now fully issued their token (INST). The price development of INST is shown in Figure 11.
Hedge funds have had their best Q1 performance in more than two decades, despite the recently negative coverage caused by the Archegos collapse and the Gamestop short squeeze. Nevertheless, these negative events have not affected the performance numbers of hedge funds to a large degree. In particular, since hedge funds delivered a good performance in 2020, while mitigating the drawdown when Covid-19 emerged. As a result, hedge funds have seen increased inflows. Figure 1 shows the returns of hedge funds over the last year. Hedge funds lost less in Q1 2020, then they did not manage to keep up with the growth of the S&P 500 during Q2 and Q3 2020. However, since then, hedge funds performed equally or better compared to the S&P 500. Our equity strategy benchmark is down slightly in March 2021, largely driven by strategies focusing on tech and healthcare, which had a stellar 2020. Other strategies that struggled in 2020 are now the key drivers of the returns. The best equity strategy is up almost 17% in 2021.
Alternative Markets Update March 2021
In the current uncertainty in the markets, macroeconomic factors play an important role aside from Covid-19 and the vaccination efforts. Inflation is a major concern in 2021, even though it was very obvious in 2020 already. However, in 2020, it was completely overshadowed by Covid-19 and the tremendous surge in equity markets among others. Inflation is a concern around the world, caused by the severe interventions undertaken by central banks. In particular in the US, where the FED intervened with money printing on such a scale that it cannot be compared to any other economy. This was largely required, as conventional monetary policy was not enough, for example, lowering the interest rates to the area around 0%. Even quantitative easing could not solve the problem, even though the FED’s balance sheet ballooned. Figure 1 shows the FED’s balance sheet over the last five years. At the beginning of the crisis, the federal reserve was at around $4.3tn. In 2020, this increased by 76% to $7.3tn and is still rising in 2021. Currently, it is at almost $7.7tn. In comparison to 2008, during which the federal reserve increased by 151%, the balance sheet increased by “only” $1.3tn in absolute terms. It is important to note that during the last two decades, the FED’s balance never declined by more than 1% on an annual basis with one exception being 2018 with a decrease of 8%. Interest rates in the US have recovered quite spectacularly over the last months. Figure 2 shows the development of interest rates in major economies over the last few months. The US interest rates are higher than any other interest rate from the UK, Europe or Japan, both short- and long-term. The short-term interest rates have remained very stable, while the long-term rates have increased a lot, for example, the 10-y US treasury note is soon back at 2%.
Alternative Markets Update February 2021
Hedge funds did not do that well in January 2021, as they could not continue their strong upward trend from the last quarter in 2020. Equity-related and fund of hedge funds strategies were down between 0% and 2%, whereas fixed income strategies ended the month slightly positive. Global macro strategies were in between the equity and credit strategies. Our most profitable strategies in January were crypto-related strategies, one of which is up almost 100% in one month only. This was driven largely by the growth in altcoins, in particular smaller ones. February 2021 is likely to affect equity strategies badly, as last week, stock markets dipped, due to profit taking in technology stocks and somewhat larger concerns about inflation. The inflation concerns are rising, as interest rates are increasing at the longer time horizon. In particular in the US and the UK a yield curve steepening is happening. This is further increased by the development in the central banks’ balance sheet, which have strongly grown. Figure 1 shows the central bank balance sheet over the last 15 years including a projection until the end 2022, which implied that the G4 central banks’ balance sheets will almost double since the start of 2020. Moreover, according to Figure 2, global debt has skyrocketed as well since 2020, as the global debt increased from around $220tn to $270tn at the end of 2020 and is expected to grow to close to $300tn at the end of 2022.