Academic Papers

Ponzi Funds


Many active funds hold concentrated portfolios. Flow-driven trading causes price pressure, which pushes up the funds’ existing positions resulting in realized returns. We decompose fund returns into a price pressure (self-inflated) and a fundamental component and show that when allocating capital across funds, investors are unable to identify whether realized returns are self-inflated or fundamental. Because investors chase self-inflated fund returns at a high frequency, even shortlived impact meaningfully affects fund flows at longer time scales. The combination of price impact and return chasing causes an endogenous feedback loop and a reallocation of wealth to early fund investors, which unravels once the price pressure reverts. We find that flows chasing self-inflated returns predict bubbles in ETFs and their subsequent crashes, and lead to a daily wealth reallocation of $500 Million from ETFs alone. We provide a simple regulatory reporting measure – fund illiquidity – which captures a fund’s potential for self-inflated returns.