Monday, July 21, 2008

A glimpse at the shortsellers

July 21 (Bloomberg) -- Investors worldwide are betting more than $1 trillion on a collapse in stock prices.

Managers from William Ackman to Jim Rogers made a total of at least $1.4 billion in July with wagers against U.S. mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, data compiled by Bloomberg as of last week show. Harbinger Capital Partners staked $665 million that U.K. mortgage lender HBOS Plc would drop and Sao Paulo-based hedge-fund manager Francisco Meirelles de Andrade's short selling of Cia. Vale do Rio Doce is also paying off.

More than $1.4 trillion of equities worldwide are now on loan, about a third higher than at the start of 2007, data compiled by Spitalfields Advisors, the London-based firm specializing in securities lending, show. Almost all of that is being used to speculate that shares will fall, according to James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University who studies short selling. The global economic slowdown, $453 billion in bank losses and an explosion of funds that can profit from stock declines spurred the increase in short selling, helping send 22 of 23 countries in the MSCI World Index into bear markets.

``It's a huge amount of money,'' said Peter Hahn, a London- based research fellow for Cass Business School and a former managing director at Citigroup Inc. ``Shorts have come a long way. They are getting into the mainstream, and long holders need to understand the shorts are not evil.''

$11 Trillion

While U.S. and U.K. regulators tighten rules on short sellers amid concern they're accelerating more than $11 trillion in global stock losses this year, countries from Indonesia to India are opening up to the practice, which involves borrowing stock to sell it on the expectation it can be purchased at a lower price before paying back the loan.

Assets at so-called 130/30 and 120/20 funds, or those that are allowed to both hold stocks and short them, may climb to $2 trillion by 2010 from $140 billion in 2007, according to a study last year by Westborough, Massachusetts-based Tabb Group. Spitalfields estimates these funds may borrow an additional $600 billion by 2010.

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