Unmasking Mutual Fund Derivative Use During the COVID-19 Crisis
53 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2020
Date Written: September 14, 2020
Utilizing newly available data from the SEC on derivative performance and detailed derivative holdings, this paper studies how derivatives impact mutual fund performance, with an emphasis on the COVID-19 pandemic period. In contrast to previous research concluding derivatives are used for hedging, we find that most active equity funds use derivatives to amplify market exposure. Despite the seemingly small weight, derivatives have a significant impact on funds' leverage and contribute largely to fund returns. In response to the initial outbreak of COVID-19, funds trade more heavily on short derivative positions. This behavior is more prevalent among managers residing in states with early state-level Stay-at-home orders, where the risk of recession is likely more salient. Funds that used derivatives for hedging purposes before the crisis significantly outperform nonusers by over 9% during the initial outbreak, as their distribution of derivative returns shifts to the right. By the end of June, they still outperform by 1.6%. On the contrary, funds that used derivatives to amplify market exposure underperform, and their distribution of derivative returns shifts to the left. While they do shift strategies, they are slow to open short positions and remain mostly amplifying funds. Consequently, by the time they shift, the market has already started to recover, so that they lose on their short positions. The shifts in derivative return distributions during the COVID-19 crisis are mostly driven by swap contracts, which have been ignored by prior studies.
Keywords: COVID-19, Derivatives, Mutual funds,
JEL Classification: G01, G11, G12, G14, G23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation