Every advisor is likely already aware of the huge ruction that occurred in money markets this week. A number of short-term stresses sent over-night borrowing rates up to 10% this week before the Fed had to intervene to inject tens of billions of Dollars of liquidity to calm things down. Most media outlets have explained this as a number of cyclical short-term factors, without really giving any specifics. The whole episode has been curiously vague. This has led to an unusually fertile environment for rumors and speculation.
FINSUM: So our readers will know that we have been reporting for years, and we must say that this has been one of the oddest, mostly poorly reported, and vague events we have ever covered. None of the cited reasons of this money market flare up make much sense relative to the scale of money the Fed has pumped in. One of the best rumors we have heard is that there may be a bank failure coming. Just before this market flare up, oil jumped almost 20% in a day, its single largest one-day move ever. That kind of black swan event could easily destabilize a large financial institution if it was positioned the wrong way, and ultimately led to the kind of short-term funding desperation we saw before the last Crisis. This analysis is probably all wrong, but the situation must be taken seriously.
Treasury bonds and their associated funds just had one of the worst periods on record. Specifically, they had their worst week since Trump was elected. The iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF fell 6.2% in a week, the sharpest drop since bond markets panicked on Trump’s surprise election. What is odd about the big drop is that the stock market remained relatively muted throughout. Usually, big losses in Treasuries come when there is a big risk-on rally in stock markets.
FINSUM: There has been a huge rally in bonds, and in the last week, a lot of the pessimism has faded from markets as economic data is relatively stable and trade war fears are ebbing. Accordingly, this could be the start of a real rout.
If higher inflation could be a headwind to rate cuts by the Fed, then there is new data today that could prove a tailwind. New figures show that retail spending was significantly weaker in August than in past months. The data showed that core retail spending stagnated after several months of strong expansion. The data is crucial because consumer spending, and American consumer health generally, has been a bedrock of the economy.
FINSUM: The American consumer has been keeping the economy afloat despite a lot of negative signs around the margins. This could either be a blip or the start of a worrying trend.
Everything you think about the direction of rates could be wrong. That is the general fear after this week’s inflation report. US core consumer prices hit a one-year high in August at 2.4% year-on-year growth, ahead of the Fed’s target. Importantly, it was also a bit higher than expectations. The Fed’s new cutting agenda is partly predicated on the fact that inflation has been so subdued, so any change to that assumption could prove disruptive to a cutting cycle.
FINSUM: We don’t think one month’s report will change the Fed’s path, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on. It is going to make September’s inflation report a lot more important.
One of the biggest banks on Wall Street has just made a bold call on gold. Citi says that the precious metal is likely to shoot to $2,000 or more within the next 24 months. The bank argues that a dovish cutting cycle by the Fed will be a catalyst for price gains, which will be supported by a weakening economy and worries over the trade war. According to Citi, “We expect spot gold prices to trade stronger for longer . . . posting new cyclical highs at some point in the next year or two”. Standard Chartered, another big bank, also made the interesting comment that “It does seem that gold’s status within the portfolio has been reignited”.
FINSUM: The most interesting comment here is about gold’s role in a portfolio. For many years it seemed that investors had forgotten about gold’s role in diversification, but it finally seems to have made a comeback.
If you look at some of the areas hardest hit by fears over the economy and the trade war, there is cautious optimism starting to show up. One of the best examples of this is the corporate bond market. Investors have been pulling money from the stock market and sticking it in bonds. They appear to be unworried about high debt levels or the possibility of default. In this move, there is an underlying faith that the US economy will stay solid, otherwise credit-worthiness would be seriously in question. Spreads to Treasuries are very low too, further reflecting the optimism.
FINSUM: It seems like the market is worried that stock valuations are tapped out, but that there may not be a significant downturn. In such a case, corporate bonds look like a good bet.