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The Recent Liquidation Avalanche As Explained By Dan Loeb, And Why He Is Back To Shorting Stocks Again

From Dan Loeb's latest letter to investors:

Before October, both market corrections and rallies back had been quick and dramatic this year. We feared that there had been a paradigm shift until the last few days, but it now seems the market may be continuing this established pattern. Pinpointing the cause of the initial sharp market movement downward is conjecture at best. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate Economist and expert in heuristics, has written extensively about the dangers of our tendency to attribute causation to associated events. Keeping his research in mind, we caveat our explanations for October’s correction and volatility.

 

In early October, a confluence of events transpired in relatively short order, including weaker economic data, political uncertainty, a potential global plague, and bureaucratic meddling, which caused fear to spike, sentiment to decline, and investors to de?leverage. The month got off to an especially rocky start for hedge funds when a court dismissed a claim in connection with the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac GSE complex. Many investors were oversized in this trade and their forced selling kicked off the “de?risking” cycle. Next, oil prices declined sharply and many funds who had large positions in E&P companies suffered enormous losses. Then last week, AbbVie halted its announced inversion transaction with Shire, inflicting great pain on the arbitrage community. Opaquely blaming mysterious “meetings with the Treasury Department”, AbbVie walked away from an entirely lawful deal that it had touted as enormously accretive and strategic as recently as two weeks ago, incurring a substantial $1.6 billion break?up fee. A rational conclusion is that instead of a legislative solution that might require comprehensive tax reform, this Administration has decided to unilaterally curb inversions using whatever means are available. Needless to say, this regulatory uncertainty (along with prior detours from the rule of law) will be a wet blanket on top of investors until transparency and a level playing field are restored to the markets.

 

Amidst this unwind, our analysis showed us that while some fear was warranted, some was exaggerated, and so we took steps to mitigate volatility and simultaneously take advantage of the market mayhem. Over the past week, after initially reducing our exposures, we realigned our portfolio by lifting hedges, taking on new positions, and re?establishing investments in companies we had previously exited at much higher prices.

 

Going forward, we expect that the US will remain the best place to invest, credit opportunities will stay slim, and large cap opportunities with a constructivist angle will become more promising. Although consensus has shifted to lower growth, slower inflation, modest rates, and continued monetary expansion, we think the markets will resume an overall upward trajectory in the US through year?end.

 

Amidst this volatility and performance dispersion, we struggle with our instinct that it is a good time to short stocks with the reality of the past few years of short?selling carnage. We were intrigued by investment legend Julian Robertson’s recent comments that, “we had a field day before anyone knew anything about shorting. It was almost a license to steal. Nowadays it’s a license to get hosed.” There is no doubt that the complexities around single name short selling have increased massively following 2008 – partly as a function of government regulation and intervention, partly due to negative rebates being the norm – but we have slowly been getting back in to the shallow end of the pool.

Full letter: