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.
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.
Any small cap investor can tell you that the end of the year is not usually a good time. Small caps historically suffer in November and December compared to the rest of the year. However, 2019 looks to be shaping up differently according to the Wall Street Journal. The reason small caps are usually weak at the end of the year is that managers sell off their holdings and mirror the market at the year-end as a way of insulating their annual bonus (which is based on outperformance). However, in years where overall stock performance has been strong, this pattern is less obvious. So, given 2019’s strong gains, it seems like small caps probably won’t suffer so much.
FINSUM: This is by no means a guarantee, but it certainly seems like a more positive structural consideration.
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.
The Fed finally paused. Investors were worried about it, but it happened as many expected. The Fed decided to lower rates another 25 bp yesterday, but said that for the time being, it would stop worrying about the possible trade war. Analysts interpret Powell’s statements as indicating that the Fed wants to wait to see weakness in the US consumer before undertaking any more rate cuts.
FINSUM: Some are perplexed by this pause because none of the three main things the Fed is worried about have actually improved.
For many years Pimco was the undisputed leader in bonds. While that reputation may now be arguable given Bill Gross’ departure, Pimco is still undoubtedly highly respected. Therefore, their warning this week is worrying. The firm says it is shunning corporate bonds because of the big risk of a quick fall in prices. The firm’s CIO, Dan Ivascyn, says “The credit sector has been well behaved but if people begin to really fear recession, we can see underperformance quickly … this is the sector most prone to overshooting on the downside”. Pimco is also worried about Treasuries as they see no further room for a rally and instead are favoring agency MBS.
FINSUM: Total debt has grown hugely and a lot of it is of borderline credit quality, so a real downturn in economic expectations could lead to a lot of selling and downgrades. We tend to agree with Pimco here.