Ten-year yields are low, very low, compared to where they were just a few months ago. Recently poor news on the trade front has sent yields spiraling lower, all the way down to 2.30%. The speed of the rally in Treasuries also prompts the interesting question of whether China weaponizing its Treasury holdings even matters. Yields have fallen so steeply, and there is so much momentum supporting the bonds, that even if China were to dump its holdings, it is hard to imagine that yields could jump back to even where they were a few months ago.
FINSUM: Let’s say hypothetically that China dumps its Treasuries. How far would ten-year yields rise? Maybe to 2.8%? We wouldn’t even be back to where we were in the fourth quarter, and it is hard to imagine that move having much of an impact on the economy itself.
The big rally in ten-year Treasury bonds has created a worrying situation in the bond market—a steepening inversion. Despite the broad based rally, the negative spread between ten-years and three-month yields actually grew, as did the spread between two- and thirty-year bonds. Oil also plummeted 5%, as did the Dollar, a reflection of traders’ bets that the US is likely headed for a downturn and easier monetary policy.
FINSUM: The current inversion could just be a product of markets flows dictated by the trade war. What is worrying is that negative spreads actually widened instead of just staying flat, which adds more weight to the inversion-recession story.
China has a massive hoard of US Treasury bonds worth over $1.2 tn. Many have speculated that as part of a trade war with the US, Beijing may flood the market with these bonds in an effort to enforce pain on the US economy. Recent market data shows it is likely already happening. China recently dumped $20 bn of Treasuries, a move that cannot be accounted for as part of normal market flows. The move was China’s largest sale in more than two years. The sale came in March, just before US-China trade tensions were again heating up.
FINSUM: Our view is that China is more likely to threaten doing this and perhaps do some in small chunks than actually pull the trigger. However, even if they do, yields have fallen so far recently that it is hard to imagine they would rise much beyond where they were a few months ago.
The market shave been hoping, clinging, to the idea that the Fed will cut rates soon. Bond markets have all but assumed it with pricing, and even equities seem to favor the odds. However, the release of the most recent Fed minutes have all but put to bed those hopes. The notes clearly show that while the Fed is willing to leave rates where they are for some time, there is no appetite to cut.
FINSUM: One important caveat to these minutes is that the meeting was held just before the big blowup in US-China trade talks. At the time of the meeting, it looked like it would be smooth sailing to a deal.
China is beginning its retaliation against the US’ increasing intense trade policy. The country is unloading its holdings of US Treasuries at the fastest pace in two years alongside the big rupture with Washington over trade. Its US Treasury bond holdings are one of China’s arsenal of weapons to retaliate against the US’ tariff hikes. According to Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, “The sheer size of [China’s] reserves and that this is even becoming a conversation means the market should take it seriously”. The country owns $1.12 tn worth of Treasuries.
FINSUM: This is quite a risk for the US as someone would have to absorb all those sold assets, and if they flooded the market, it would cause major volatility and sharp yield rises.