You may normally think of it in terms of stocks, but “buy low, sell high” applies to bonds just as much, and that is a good way to think of the market right now. With yields having fallen so far since last year, one strategist said it was time to accept the “the present the Fed has given us”, and swap out bonds for floating rate securities, which have lagged this rally. The scale of returns in the bond market is impressive. For instance, the iShares 20+ year Treasury Bond ETF has risen over 9% since the beginning of the year.
FINSUM: It seems unlikely to us that bond yields are going to drop much further, which means there is little reason to wait for further gains.
With all of the volatility of the last months, bond ETFs are taking on a new life. As an asset class, bond ETFs have surged in popularity in recent years as a much easier and cheaper way of accessing bond market liquidity. Recently, bond ETFs have seen their role morph. Whereas they have often been seen as a safe haven from periods of volatility, they are now being used as a risk management tool, says the head of iShares U.S. Wealth Advisory Product Consulting at BlackRock.
FINSUM: So many of the newer bond ETFs are designed to thrive in volatile markets, not just provide a low volatility safe haven. This means they are more of a proactive than reactive product.
Jay Powell, head of the Fed, has been working on a year-long project to overhaul one of the Fed’s most important goals. That goal is full employment. The Fed only has two mandates, stable prices in the economy, and maximum employment. Yet the definition of maximum employment is now up for debate. At the core of the consideration is the idea that having a job is different than having a good job. The difference between the two means the Fed may use a different calculation for measuring employment. That potential change has huge implications, as it would likely lead to looser monetary policy both in the immediate future and further out.
FINSUM: We think there is a big difference between the quality of different jobs in the economy which needs to be accounted for by the Fed. The current way of measuring employment was designed when most jobs were permanent and full-time, but with the rise of the gig economy, measuring methods need to shift to account for the changing nature of the labor market.
The market is overly reliant on a rate cut, say UBS and Goldman Sachs. Both banks think investors are banking too strongly on the Fed cutting rates. The market is currently forecasting three 25 bp rate cuts by the end of the year. Treasury markets have surged, but too far says Goldman. UBS believes “Markets now imply that the Fed will cut rates by around 70 basis points this year and 35 bps next year. We find this excessive … We believe it would take a recession to provoke the magnitude of rate cuts currently being priced by the market, and this remains unlikely in our view”.
FINSUM: We do not believe the Fed will cut rates this sharply unless there is a recession, but maybe that is exactly what markets are expecting (just look at the yield curve).
Investors have been unsure of how the Fed would handle the trade war. Recent minutes from the Fed showed no indication that the central bank was thinking of cutting rates even though the market expects it. However, the silence has finally been broken as Fed chairman Powell announced yesterday that the trade war is on the list of the Fed’s concerns and that the central bank would act to protect the economy from its fallout. In his own words, Powell said the Fed would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion”.
FINSUM: We took this as a pretty strong affirmation that the Fed is watching the trade war situation closely and is ready to act. Markets liked it.