From FT Alphaville:
Conspiracy theory of the day comes from Donald Coxe, global portfolio strategist at Canadian bank BMO Financial Group.
He’s blaming the sell-off in commodities, the one that’s caused so much trouble for so many hedge funds, on a secret plan cooked up by the Fed. The Globe and Mail reports:
To understand why commodities are plunging now - the S&P/TSX plummeted another 488 points yesterday - you have to go back to mid-July, when the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury first announced steps to support mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The move, which ultimately led to the Treasury taking control of Fannie and Freddie this week, touched off a chain-reaction of market events that culminated with the wrenching decline in commodities.
According to Mr. Coxe, the Fed’s ultimate goal was to trigger a rally in financial stocks, which would, in theory, help banks hammered by the credit crisis raise fresh capital and repair their balance sheets. To accomplish this, the decision to support Fannie and Freddie was deliberately announced on a Sunday, which had the effect of maximizing the reaction from thinly traded financial stocks on overseas markets.
Because many hedge funds were using massive leverage to short financials and go long on commodities, when North American markets opened and banks initially rallied, the funds were forced to cover their short positions.
At the same time, the U.S. dollar was rallying because the risk of holding Fannie and Freddie paper had diminished. The rising dollar, in turn, made commodities less attractive, giving funds that were already scrambling to cover their financial shorts another reason to dump oil, grains and other commodities.
The losses were swift and dramatic. On the Friday before the July 11 announcement, crude oil closed at $145.18 a barrel. Over the following five days, it plunged 11 per cent. “Leverage was being unwound dramatically,” Mr. Coxe said on a conference call last week. “We had a true panic.”
As oil and other commodities were tumbling, fears about the slowing global economy were mounting, giving resources another push downhill. This was also in keeping with the Fed’s wishes, because lower commodity prices would help quell fears about inflation.
Mr. Coxe has no proof that the Fed and Treasury acted in concert to boost financials and sink commodities. He is basing his assertions on conversations with hedge fund managers and on years of watching financial markets. “There’s no doubt whatever in my mind” about what happened, he says.
The future is less certain, however. Now that Freddie and Fannie have been nationalized, the credit crisis is still very much alive and financial stocks are looking as shaky as ever. As for commodities, once the current storm passes, Mr. Coxe is confident they will recover.