Bonds: Total Market
The yield curve is very close to inverting, an action that is widely considered to be the strongest and most reliable indicator of a forthcoming recession. Investors are afraid of it, and with good reason. So what is the best way to approach one’s portfolio as a dreaded inversion looms? The first tip is to re-evaluate any bank stocks you own. Banks become less profitable as the yield curve flattens, so they could see some big losses. Secondly, mentally prepare that returns over the next five years are probably going to be a lot lower than in the previous five. Be selective with your purchases and be defensive. Finally, don’t be too afraid to buy stocks you have a high conviction on, and that hold strong risk/reward profiles.
FINSUM: These seem like sound tips. Another obvious one is to buy stocks and bonds that will perform better in this kind of environment, such as strong dividend growing stocks or floating rate bonds.
There has been a lot of focus, including both worry and skepticism, surrounding the potential inversion of the yield curve. The two and ten-year Treasury are now just 20 bp apart. Because yield curve inversions have been a very reliable indicator of recession, many are worried. However, some are skeptical that the current near-inversion means much because of how distorted long-term bond prices have become because of quantitative easing. The reality though, according to the FT, is that it doesn’t matter if long-term yields are artificially low. Because the market believes in the predictive power of inversions, companies, consumers, and investors will act as though we are headed into a recession, and thus create one in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
FINSUM: This is an interesting argument that relies strongly on the concept of herd mentality amongst investors. We tend to agree that an inversion may cause an adverse reaction in the economy and markets.
Investors in fixed income need to be aware of a brand new loophole that was just opened to Delaware-based companies. A new provision allows companies (specifically LLCs) to split in two and divide their assets and liabilities between them as they see fit. The rule would allow companies to put certain assets beyond the reach of creditors, for instance putting debt in one entity and assets in another. The big problem is that most bonds don’t have provisions to protect against this behavior because it didn’t exist as a concept or legal process until it was approved this month. Another issue is that many contracts are written from the perspective of New York law, but that might have not much weight with Delaware-based rules.
FINSUM: This is a messy problem for anyone who owns private or smaller company debt. We thought investors should be made aware right away.
One of the ways that investors or advisors might think to diversify their risk is to invest in a number of different managers. The reality is, however, that many of those managers, especially within an asset class, will all have similar looking portfolios, which means you may be much less diversified than you think. The obvious analogue is index tracking funds. There would be no point in buying multiple ETFs from different providers that all track the same index. Yet that is what investors are doing in some markets. This concept is particularly relevant for the riskier end of the credit markets right now, where the market seems to be poised for the same kind of correlated fall as happened during the Crisis. In CLOs for instance, many of the largest loans are held by a majority of the major managers.
FINSUM: This seems like a smart and timely warning. Correlation can doom even the best diversification efforts, especially when it is credit driven.
Retail investors have often had trouble accessing the corporate bond markets. Bond are traded in $1,000 increments and usually move in multi-million Dollar transactions, putting the asset out of the reach of most (new corporate bond ETFs aside). However, there is an easier way to directly own bonds—so-called baby bonds, or bonds sold on stock exchanges like the NYSE in $25 increments. The total market size for the bonds is around $20 bn and the securities are usually senior unsecured. Issuers like them because they are callable after just five years. Frequently the bonds have higher yields than their convention counterparts. Finally, they pay interest four times a year rather than twice.
FINSUM: This is an interesting if niche asset class, but there is some appeal in the unique terms these “baby bonds” have. There are also some big name issuers like AT&T and eBay.
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.