Not only did the stock market fall 3-4% yesterday, but something very unusual happened alongside it—yields rose. Historically speaking, it is rare for yields to rise when there is a big stock selloff, as investor generally flee to the safety of Treasuries. Selloffs can portend economic weakness to come, which makes bonds seem more attractive.
FINSUM: This is quite a worrying development and is reflective of the current environment. No one can get comfort from the “safe haven” of Treasuries because it seems very likely yields will keep rising on the back of the strong economy. In other words, there is no place to hide (other than in hedged investments).
Many are worried the bond market turmoil will grow worse. Bonds sold off fiercely last week, and the US jobs report, while not as great as expected, still reinforced the fact that rates are headed higher as the economy strengthens. However, many economists and analysts think the rise in yields will abate or even reverse in the coming weeks. Yields are at 3.23% on the ten-year Treasury now, but the average forecast of 58 economists surveyed says they will end the year at 3.08%. Even the worst bond market bears, like Goldman Sachs, think yields will only rise gradually to finish the year at 3.4%.
FINSUM: Our personal view is that yields had their big move upward and will probably now trade in a band at least until the next Fed meeting.
Treasury yields stayed pinned for most of this year. For many months it seemed like they were stuck in the ~2.85% range. This raised some hopes that we might have reached the crest in this hiking and rate rise cycle. However, Treasury yields have jumped considerably higher lately, and are now sitting close to their seven-year high of 3.11% from May. Yields have been moving higher as the trouble in emerging markets and Italy has waned, making investors turn to more pro-risk investments.
FINSUM: Yields are going to move in line with macroeconomic movements, especially right now. If the trade war worsens, or starts to show signs of hurting EM economies, expect a big retreat in yields.
One of Wall Street’s favorite trades has gone down the tubes this year, and for a classic reason. One of the hottest trades of this year has been to short ten-year Treasury bonds. Many institutional money managers believed that the bonds would see their yields rise and prices fall as the Fed raised rates and the US continued to grow at a quick pace. However, the opposite has happened recently, and ten-year Treasury bonds have seen their yields fall from well over 3% to just 2.83%. The reason why is a short squeeze. Short interest in the bonds rose from a net short position of around 75,000 futures contracts at the beginning of the year to almost 700,000 now.
FINSUM: We think there are a lot more factors keeping yields low than a short squeeze, but it is definitely a considerable component.
Trump spooked currency and Treasury markets yesterday. Speaking in the context of the US’ trade tussle with China and others, Trump said he wasn’t thrilled with the Fed’s interest rate hikes. He said that in the trade battle with China, the Fed should be accommodative with its policy. Trump called Beijing a currency manipulator, and said the Euro was being manipulated also. Speaking on Trump’s comments and his new consistency in criticizing the Fed, one analyst said “This is now a serious headwind to the dollar”.
FINSUM: It is true that a constantly strengthening currency is difficult to deal with in a trade war, but that the same time, the Fed’s job is to look at US economic fundamentals. That said, how rate decisions would affect the economy via a trade war do seem like they would be within the Fed’s purview.