Friday, 13 June 2014

Fund intermediaries and credit creation

If fund intermediaries are allowed to disregard costs and fix their unit price at NTA, this will introduce a systemic source of overvaluation. The ongoing fair value of a fund to a non-controlling investor is equal to the NTA less costs as proportion of asset cash flows. For example, a fund that every year burns 20% of the cashflows generated by its assets has a fair value of 80% of NTA. Funds that set prices above this fair value during times of net investor inflows are deliberately defrauding their investors, as they could not support this price were there sustained net investor outflows. On an aggregate level, such fund intermediaries engage in a completely unregulated and unrecognized credit creation process.

Assume Fund A invests in Asset X, and has management costs equalling 20% of the cash flows generated by this investment each year. Since 80% of the cash flows reach the owners of Fund A, the fair value of the fund would as noted be 80% of NTA. Now assume instead Fund A invests in Fund B that invests in Fund C that invests in Asset X, with each fund manager taking 20% of received cash flows. Since 51% of the cash flows now reach the owners of Fund A, the fair value of Fund A is 51% of NTA. The remaining 49% of cash flows from Asset X are absorbed by the fund managers.

Fund A Fund B Fund C Asset X
Cashflow to owner 51% 64% 80% 100%
Cashflow to fund manager 13% 16% 20%

Despite the funds having fair values ranging from 51% to 80% of NTA, all three can fix their price and issue units at NTA, with all three claiming the full right to the same cash flow. In effect, this means the cash flows from Asset X are rehypothecated into 149%, since 100% of the cash flows are promised to investors and 49% absorbed by the fund managers in aggregate.

In aggregate, fund intermediaries and their price-fixing are a form of shadow banking and contribute to the credit creation process, since they create "assets" that can then be used as collateral for lending. In the example above, if Asset X was worth $1bn, the intermediaries have created a further $490m through deliberate fraud, conjuring $490m worth of collateral from thin air into the economy. If all fund intermediaries in an economy fix their unit price at NTA, the aggregate amount of credit creation this entails is equal to aggregate intermediary costs. In Australia, given the high total cost of fund intermediaries, this synthetic leverage has a significant - and entirely ignored - impact on credit creation.

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