Bonds and stocks are sending different signals right now, and it is hard to tell which side is correct. Bonds are reflecting an increasingly bearish outlook on the economy, with yields falling. Stocks, on the other hand, have been jubilant so far this year. The reality is that both sides cannot be correct. Historically speaking, bonds have usually been more astute is measuring the direction of the economy and markets, and if that is the case, then we would be headed for a downturn.
FINSUM: The Fed really weighed in with its view yesterday and they are clearly worried about the direction of the economy. Are bond investors right again?
Right now might not seem like the most important time to buy rate-hedged or short duration funds. The Fed is supposed to be on “pause” after all. However, in our view, now might be a critical time to have some rate hedged assets in the portfolio. The reason why is that yields have pulled back strongly from just a couple of months ago, including yesterday, but given the fact that it is almost purely the Fed which has caused the sharp reversal, rates could swing just as wildly higher if their comments, or economic data, changes. In other words, the bond market looks overbought right now because of Fed comments, but it could easily snap back to where it was in December in violent fashion.
FINSUM: We think this is a time for caution on rates and yields given how strongly the market has reversed over the last couple of months.
There are a lot of good reasons to own Treasuries right now, and a lot of reason to be nervous about them. Let’s take a look. The biggest risks in the market at present are mostly about the budget deficit, which makes Treasuries look weak and inflation likely to jump (as it has historically during such spending). However, there are a lot of positives too. The big one is that the Fed looks ever more likely to adopt a permanently dovish stance as it may be changing its thinking about inflation. Additionally, economic weakness will be bullish for Treasuries, so coming to the end of the cycle is not catastrophic.
FINSUM: The best place to be on the yield curve is clearly at the short end—less rate risk and decent yields.
The market seems to have forgotten about 2013’s Taper Tantrum. The bond markets appear to feel like they are back in the driver’s seat, and seemingly no one expects the Fed to suddenly turn hawkish. A similar set up existed in 2013 prior to the big market meltdown referred to as the “Taper Tantrum”. The thing to bear in mind is that Fed chief Powell has made clear he doesn’t like being bossed around by the White House or the markets, so will not be afraid to be one step ahead of markets in making a sudden hawkish move. It is important to remember then that a survey of economists shows that they expect another rate hike this year.
FINSUM: The Fed is made up of economists, so that survey could have value. That said, we do lean towards the “no further hikes” in 2019 camp.
It is time to get out high yield. The sector has been seeing heightened fears for months, and prices have performed so well in the first two months of the year, that there is little value left. High yields returned 6.4% in January and February after the market came to a virtual standstill at the end of 2018. Part of the reason for the outperformance is that investors are demanding less spread to Treasuries, a fact that has not carried over to the investment grade market.
FINSUM: The pendulum has swung too far, and investment grade bonds now appear a much better value than high yield.