A major feature of the run-up in stocks like AMC has been a battle between short selling hedge funds and bullish retail investors. The small investors have often sensed they’re not being treated fairly.
And when it comes to margin calls, it turns out they’re quite right.
A margin call happens when a trader borrows to fund a trade and the trade moves against him. If he doesn’t post more funds, the broker will close out his trade, whether he likes it or not.
An average investor generally gets two to five days to resolve a margin call. But the rules for the big boys are very different.
According to a new report from Credit Suisse, it gave troubled hedge fund Archegos Capital Management weeks to meet a margin call. The tactic Archegos used to deflect the demands for more cash was incredibly simple: claim they were too busy to respond.
On February 23, 2021, the PSR [Prime Services Risk] analyst covering Archegos reached out to Archegos’s Accounting Manager and asked to speak about dynamic margining. Archegos’s Accounting Manager said he would not have time that day, but could speak the next day. The following day, he again put off the discussion, but agreed to review the proposed framework, which PSR sent over that day. Archegos did not respond to the proposal and, a week-and-a-half later, on March 4, 2021, the PSR analyst followed up to ask whether Archegos “had any thoughts on the proposal.” His contact at Archegos said he “hadn’t had a chance to take a look yet,” but was hoping to look “today or tomorrow.”
No retail investor would ever get away with this. If Robinhood or any other retail broker didn’t get a response in an exact time window, they would liquidate the shares. And the special treatment extended to Archegos here would likely apply to any big client, like Citadel, Melvin Capital, or others.
This gives hedge funds a systematic advantage. They can borrow money and magnify their bets, and if the trades go against them, they can stall indefinitely and hope their position recovers.
All I can tell you is what I do: never buy on margin. Investing is risky enough without adding to the risks with borrowed money. But whatever strategy one chooses, hedge funds and small investors should at least be treated equally.
More on AMC and hedge funds:
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