Bonds: Total Market
It is no secret that credit has expanded mightily in the last several years. The investment grade corporate bond market has completely ballooned, but leveraged loans have been another important area of growth. And while the risk of IG corporate bonds is well understood, the risks of the latter are less apparent. Leveraged loans are popular right now because they have floating rates, but those rates are a big risk. The reason why is not in the extra payments themselves, but because most leveraged loans are issued to refinance existing debt. The issue is that when corporate borrowers come back to the market to refinance, they might find many less lenders and much higher rates. The is so because as rates rise, other safer asset classes become more attractive.
FINSUM: The whole corporate sector has been binging on low rates for years, and there is bound to be a reckoning. The scale of that reckoning is the big question.
This has been a week of divergent views on bonds. Earlier this week we ran a story arguing that there would be no bear market in Treasuries. It was a solid argument. However, now there is a contention out there that ten-years, specifically, might struggle. The reason why is that demand at auction has been falling for the bonds just at a time when the US needs to issue more and more to cover its deficit. In addition to excess supply, the other big issue seems to be that short-term Treasuries are yielding so much relative to ten-years, that there is little incentive to buy them.
FINSUM: In one sense this is bad, but in another good. The downside is that holders of ten-years (which are a huge component of fixed income indexes) will be hurt as yields rise. But on the positive side, this is exactly the kind of force that keeps the yield curve from inverting as longer-term yields rise alongside shorter-term ones.
With all of the bearish stories swirling around lately (us included), it was refreshing to find an alternative view today. Bloomberg has put out an argument that there will be no bear market in store for Treasuries. The story is from the top ranked bond strategist in the world, who points out that a decline in structured credit and related products means that Treasuries are a much higher component of overall fixed income indexes these days. This concentration is likely to keep rising over the next decade, which means indexes and benchmarks will need to buy Treasuries, a critical factor which will keep demand high. Another important point is that the stock market is losing its appeal compared to short-term Treasuries, as the yield of the latter is way ahead of the former and likely to stay that way.
FINSUM: This is excellent analysis from a highly reputably source. Our only addition would be to point out that US and global demography also reinforces the key points, as the aging of the world means there will be a higher demand for income investments over the next decade.
They had been paused for a couple of months, but in the last week, things started to change. Treasury yields once again broke above the 3% barrier last Wednesday. The number is a psychologically important and has proved a stalwart level for the yield to breakthrough. It did so earlier this year, before quickly falling back into the 2.8% range. Yields seemed to be pushed higher by a sharp rise in Japanese bonds yields following action by the BOJ.
FINSUM: Treasury yields are hard to handle right now. On the one hand, the economy looks fantastic, which should send them higher, but at the same time the Fed looks hawkish and the risk of recession seems to be rising, which would keep things in check.
In what could come as very welcome news for investors across all asset classes, Fed Chief Powell has indicated that the Fed may take a break from hikes for a while. The question is when this pause in hikes will occur, and the Fed is debating this internally. The central is expected to introduce the words “for now” in regards to its plan for near-term hikes, a new phrase that signals conditionality. According to a former Fed economist, “Given that there’s no visible inflation threat -- not in the data and not in the FOMC forecasts -- it makes sense to inject conditionality on future moves”.
FINSUM: We hate analyzing Fed speak, but a pause in hikes seems like a good idea to us. With inflation low, there is no reason for the Fed to forcefully invert the yield curve and cause a recession.
Bond yields had been rising quickly in the US. The rise seemed to come out of nowhere for American investors, but most analysts said the quick jump in ten-year yields was due to a possible policy change by the BOJ to a less accommodative stance. However, the BOJ announced today that it would make only very minor changes and would remain highly loose in its monetary approach. The bank said it would not join other global central bank’s in tightening policy, and would leave rates ultra low for an extended period.
FINSUM: This is good news for bond investors, as Japanese tightening was interpreted as a major threat. This should help keep US yields looking attractive versus global yields, which will in turn keep them lower.