Contagion from Liquidity Crunch at Junk-Bond Funds to Trigger “Material Second Round Effects”: EU Securities Regulator

The costs of dodging negative interest rates.

In the event of a market shock, 40% of European funds focused on junk-rated bonds — ironically named “high-yield” funds — would not have enough liquid assets on hand to meet investor withdrawals, even if the withdrawals in one week amount to only 10% of the fund’s net asset value, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) warned this week, raising yet more concerns about the risks associated with the liquidity mismatch at funds that offer daily redemptions while holding illiquid assets that can take much longer to sell at survivable prices.

In the wake of liquidity problems at H2O Asset Management and the recently gated £3.7 billion Woodford Equity Income Fund, two UK-based firms that remain under ESMA authority until (or unless) the UK leaves the European Union, central banks and financial regulators have issued a string of warnings about the liquidity risks posed by open-ended funds.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney caused consternation in the fund industry by saying that open-ended funds like Woodford’s are “built on a lie, which is that you can have daily liquidity for assets that fundamentally aren’t liquid.” They could even pose a systemic risk, the Bank of England warned in July. Similar concerns have been raised in recent weeks by the European Systemic Risk Board, the Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund and the G20’s Financial Stability Board.

Now, it’s the turn of Europe’s top securities regulator to sound the alarm. As part of what it calls a “pure redemption shock simulation,” the regulator examined roughly 6,600 bond funds that were set up under UCITS (Undertakings for the Collective Investment in Transferable Securities), the EU regulatory framework for mutual funds. These UCITS funds had an aggregate net asset value (NAV) of €2.5 trillion. ESMA wanted to determine how these funds would cope if investors demanded redemptions worth the equivalent of 10% of a fund’s value in a week.

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