Taiwan boasts the best-performing inventory market of any MSCI index in both the developed or emerging-market universe for the reason that starting of 2020. This week a pointy selloff introduced it near dropping that crown.
The plunge is a basic story of exuberance and leverage, with classes for traders within the U.S. and past.
The speedy trigger was apparently Taiwan’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 for the reason that starting of the pandemic. Sixteen domestically transmitted instances blotted a largely stainless report of maintaining the island mainly quarantined from the remainder of the world.
The market increase since March final yr has inspired ever extra traders to tackle margin debt, which has risen to its highest stage in round a decade. Margin debt magnifies selloffs, as a result of traders whose brokerage accounts are displaying losses are requested to submit extra collateral—a margin name—and need to promote extra shares to lift the money in response.
That explains the breadth of the selloff on Wednesday specifically. At one level, the Taiex index was down by round 9%, taking with it just about each firm no matter its publicity to the home financial system. Take the case of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip maker, which has been an unlimited beneficiary of the huge demand for semis world-wide. It nonetheless tumbled by the same quantity.
In fact, Taiwan’s small variety of Covid-19 instances, whereas dangerous information for residents, has little or no bearing on the efficiency of TSMC, which makes a little bit over 60% of its income from U.S. clients. Even the slightly-less-than-10% of income it makes in Taiwan is probably going an overestimate, since a lot of that shall be gross sales of chips to Taiwanese firms themselves exporting an finish product abroad.
However that gained’t cease its share value plunging, purely on flows from traders who have to cowl themselves, with fewer would-be patrons on the opposite facet. John Maynard Keynes possible by no means really stated “the market can stay irrational longer than you possibly can stay solvent,” however the sentiment is right.
Taiwan is hardly the one place the place leveraged fairness purchases have risen. The U.S., India and Korea are all among the many nations the place margin debt has climbed, because it tends to do when markets are rallying laborious. That carries the danger of messy selloffs, which gained’t discriminate between firms really seeing difficulties and people not affected by the reason for the drop.
Write to Mike Hen at Mike.Hen@wsj.com
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