Recently it was reported that the Harvard Endowment had fallen at least 22 percent and was on its way to possibly a 30 percent loss once alternative investments are considered (see previous blog post). Now, the WSJ is reporting that the Yale Endowment has fallen 25 percent since the end of June when the endowment was valued at $10.1 billion (see WSJ article). Of interest is how marketable securities in the endowment "only" fell 13 percent, giving Yale a problem similar to Harvard - decreasing alternative investments, such as real estate and private equity, have caused the overall losses to be more severe than expected. As with Harvard, the diversification and increased use of alternative investments has helped Yale weather the downturn in the equities markets, but at the cost of decreased liquidity. The subsequent fall of less traded real estate and private equity markets has introduced a form of liquidity risk that was either unexpected, uncovered, deemed unimportant, or some combination of the three.

Fortunately, such endowments do not have the same problems with redemption requests that hedge funds experience, and can therefore possibly hold assets longer, waiting for more liquid markets. On the other hand, the academic endowments do rely on their investments for funding scholarships and supporting the general operating budget, among other things. At Yale, the endowment supports 44 percent of the $2.7 billion annual budget, or nearly $1.2 billion per year. With a decline of twice this amount in the endowment, belts at Yale will definitely needed to be tightened given that a guaranteed 16 percent return on the remaining approximately $7.5 billion would be needed in order to pay current expenses and still keep the principal in place. Of course, this just got more difficult now that the market is on its back, not to mention that the only sure bet in town - Bernie Madoff and his "guaranteed return" hedge fund - are out of business. Difficult times indeed.

It turns out that the Madoff hedge fund losses will cause the Credit Suisse / Tremont Hedge Fund index to post a 4.15 percent loss for November, quite a bit larger than the preliminary data that was showing a monthly decline of 0.7 percent (see WSJ article). As this fraud unfolds and the details become more transparent, there is likely to be even more losses and levels of exposure and negligence uncovered.

There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding the surge in volatile late-day trading that has occurred since the summer sell-off and fall credit-crisis began to unfold. In November alone, an average of 26.2 percent of trading volume in S&P 500 stocks took place in the final hour of trading, with 17.1 percent of the trading occurring in the final 30 minutes (see WSJ article). Furthermore, for eight of the ten worst days for the S&P 500 since September 1st of this year, 29 percent or more of the move took place in the final hour of trading, with three instances in which over half of the market decline occurred during the last hour. Much of the blame for the late day sell-offs has been assigned to hedge fund redemption selling, or simply nervous traders unwilling to hold positions overnight. A possible new culprit may be ETFs, in particular, leveraged ETFs.

Leveraged ETFs, now numbering over 100 in total (see lists here and here), have recently become popular since they allow market participants to take 2X and 3X positions on popular stock and sector indexes. Many of the leverage ETFs utilize swaps and options to achieve their leverage ratios. Not surprising, when the linked index or sector falls, corresponding stocks in the ETF have to be sold at a two to three times greater rate, increasing the moves in the indexes. In fact, the trend has become so predictable that many proprietary trading desks actively trade the levered ETFs toward the end of trading days with large moves, knowing that increased buying or selling is on its way. While the VIX has been coming down over the last few weeks, it is still at elevated levels, indicating that the next big daily move up or down is likely to be capped off with an equally impressive last hour move, generated in part by momentum investors taking a position in leveraged ETFs. For once, the market (myself included) has someone else to blame besides the hedge funds for late day trading volatility.