After what was a great run for much of this year, ETFs investors are fleeing bonds. After yields fell sharply for most of 2019, investors have been stung this month as yields have shot higher. Ten-year Treasuries have gone from 1.7% to 1.9% yields, causing over half of all bonds to lose value. Investors have been pulling billions out of funds as a result. The iShares 20-year Treasury ETF has lost 7.8% since August 28th. One of the areas that has been more durable is high yield, where average prices have risen a little over 1% in the same time frame.
FINSUM: Bonds losing is a sign that investors are getting less worried about a recession, which in our view is an optimistic sign.
One corner of the bond market, or rather credit market, is having a tough time and it may be a negative sign for the rest of fixed income. CLOs, or collateralized loan obligations, which have been a star for several years, recent tumbled. In aggregate, CLOs dropped 5% in October, and those close to the market see more volatility to come. According to Citigroup “We think there’s more volatility coming … We recommend investors reduce risk and stay with cleaner portfolios and better managers”. CLOs are a key funder of the leveraged loan market, and weak demand there can flow through to boost borrowing costs to all corporates.
FINSUM: This is akin to a warning coming out of the high yield market, as what it reflects is worries about how leveraged companies might handle a downturn.
Bank of America has just made a bold call on the direction of yields. The bank has sharply increased its forecasts for where bond yields will be at the end of the year. Its previous forecast for the ten-year was 1.25%, but it has just moved that up to 2%. It made similar adjustments to its forecast for German and British bonds. “Relative to our more pessimistic revision in August, the US and China are working to de-escalate trade tensions, no-deal Brexit risks have been banished for now, global data have started to stabilize, and central banks have shifted from dovish to neutral policy stances”.
FINSUM: Based on the change in mood amongst investors and central banks, this forecasted change makes total sense to us.
In what comes as a very worrying announcement for investors, Goldman Sachs has just said that it may be time to cash out of equities. Goldman says that the current mass rotation out of equities and into bonds mirrors what happened before the Crisis. “Decelerating US economic growth, trade and geopolitical uncertainty, and near-record high starting equity allocations have likely contributed to the rotation from equities to bonds and cash this year”, says Goldman. Any steadiness in equities will probably just be artificial. “The peak in buyback activity arrived in 2018 after the Trump administration’s tax cut fueled a wave of repurchase programs. Buybacks are projected to fall 15% in 2019, and drop another 5% in the following year”, Goldman said.
FINSUM: In principle this seems like a sound assessment. The problem is that all the worries Goldman is citing have been on the table for a while and yet stocks have been rising.
For many months there has been a great deal of fear about the threat of BBB bonds falling into the “junk” category. The whole fear is based on the idea that as the economy slows, this huge group of companies would get downgraded and there would be forced divestiture, sending bond prices strongly lower. However, the opposite has happened. Over the last few months, BBB bonds done nothing but strengthen. In fact, the spread between BBBs and Treasuries just hit a 52-week low, showing investors renewed faith in what is the largest segment of corporate bonds.
FINSUM: Unsurprisingly, the price growth has led to a bunch of new issuance. It is important to remember that though prices have risen, the risk of a recession and downgrades is still very much there.