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.
Bloomberg has put out a very bearish article on the economy. The publication is arguing that there is a 2/3 chance of a recession beginning this year, and that a bear market is likely to happen alongside it. As evidence of the pending downturn, the article cites these as indicators: the nearly inverted yield curve, the big fall in stocks in Q4, weak housing activity, terrible February payrolls, and the fact that the rest of the world is slowing. One of the most acute worries though is that the Fed will keep hiking as part of an effort to leave itself room to cut rates in the next recession, an action which could drive the economy into a recession.
FINSUM: Again, much of the direction of assets and the economy depends on the Fed’s mindset. If the central bank returns to hiking, a recession looks like a sure thing. But if not, it is far from certain.
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.
Stocks have been doing well this year, but we are willing to bet that the sectors that have been performing best over the last 12 months are not the ones you expect. With all the fears over rate hikes in the last year, it is hard to imagine that utilities and REITs are both up nearly 20% in the last 12 months, far ahead of the S&P 500’s 4.08%. Even tech is only up about 5%.
FINSUM: The most exciting thing about this performance is that the runway for income investments looks like quite strong—the Fed is unlikely to hike, which means there seems to be little rate risk.