Hedge funds and short sales. An open debate

IE Focus - Hedge FundsIE Focus | By Rafael Hurtado, Professor at IE Business School

The collapse of the stock market has highlighted the shortcomings of the hedge fund system of short sales and fuelled debate on the need to set limits and rules for this type of operation.In recent months, and in particular after the great crash of the stock markets as from September 2008, the hedge fund system of short sales has been a subject of analysis and debate by many players on financial markets. The consequences and system of short sales are a source of great controversy in the financial sector.

Short sales take place through the loan of securities. A short position (short sale) takes place through the sale of an asset that is not held by the investor, but borrowed through an intermediary and later bought to pay the loan. The profit is obtained if the initial sale is completed at a higher price than the purchase price. With a short sale, the investor obtains greater profit if the price of the asset falls.

On many occasions, hedge funds not only involve short sales, but also use a significant amount of leverage. For a short sale, an intermediary must lend a certain number of shares. Some companies say that they have uncovered signs of their shares being lent as part of a chain. This type of transaction involves further risk.

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