Carole’s Short of Logic on “Brexit Disaster Capitalism”

In the wilder corners of Twitter, the remainiacs have a meta-conspiracy theory they call “Brexit Disaster Capitalism”, it has a number of components and is based on some far-fetched premises;

  • Brexit will be a disaster and lead to economic collapse.
  • Prominent rich Brexiteers know this, they intend to profit from it by selling short stocks high to buy back low after the disaster.
  • City tycoons and hedge fund managers financed the Brexit campaign to bring about the collapse from which they will profit massively whilst the rest of us suffer.

The fact that Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, has an interest in a fund management firm is cited as proof. The latest incarnation and attempt to shore up the theory is based on the publicly-disclosed short interests of various fund managers who have given money to the Tories, Vote Leave or Boris Johnson’s campaigns. Carole Cadwalladr tweeted last night that they have aggregate short positions of some £4,563,350,000. Four and a half billion quid of shorts by Brexit-backing fund managers sounds like a huge amount. Except it isn’t in relative terms.

The UK stock market is capitalised at over £4 trillion, so that aggregate short position is equivalent to something like a tenth of 1% of the market. Nothing unusual. Long/short funds usually trade stock pairs, so the funds most likely won’t even be that short in net terms because a fund goes short one stock and hedges the position long another stock (hence the term “hedge* fund”). The profit (or loss) is from the difference in the stocks’ relative performances.

More obviously, these funds are overall net long the market, if these rapacious plutocrats were betting on disaster, why would they be positioned to profit massively when the broad stock market went up and lose when it went down? Publicly available data, for example, shows that the prominent Brexiteer donor Paul Marshall’s firm has £1.3 billion in short positions on the UK stock market. His firm manages some £30 billion of assets. Which suggests he is in reality geared to profit far more from rising than falling stock markets.

Incidentally, if the fund managers had been short since referendum night they would have lost their fortunes, given the FTSE is up over a 1000 points since the referendum. The whole “Brexit Disaster Capitalism” conspiracy theory does not make sense even if you accept the premise that Brexit will be a disaster. The hedge fund managers are long the market in the expectation stocks will continue to rise…

*The hedge might also be against derivatives or the relevant market index. To go short without hedge is to be nakedly short. A brave trade.

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