Bonds: Total Market
Ten-year Treasuries are currently sitting at 2.85%, and according to Barron’s, they aren’t going anywhere. The reason why seems to be three part: a weak inflation outlook, trade war, and the combination of so-so growth and a hawkish Fed. All of this makes investors comfortable with sub-3% yields, and the bonds are being supported by their safe haven nature. Another problem is that US yields are much higher than in other developed countries, such as in Europe, keeping demand for Treasuries high.
FINSUM: We see longer end yields as pretty pinned at the moment. There is not much to be bullish about in the long term economic outlook, so it is hard to see why Treasuries would slide.
One of the biggest arguments of the junk bond market is this: one needs to be careful of junk bond indexes because they automatically skew investors to the companies with the most debt, making portfolios inherently more risky. The argument has a seemingly sound logic which is similar to the “skew” often referred to in equity ETFs. However, the reality is the complete opposite, as the companies with the most debt actually tend to be larger and have more conservative levels of leverage. The larger companies with the highest total debt in the high yield market tend to have lower default rates, so there is actually no correlative relationship between more debt and higher risk. The analysis is from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
FINSUM: This is very useful analysis, because the more debt = more risk fallacy is an easy-to-fall-into mental trap.
Many investors are worried about rising yields, which could wreak havoc on everything from the economy, to income stocks, to all manner of bonds. Well, for what it is worth, Morgan Stanley has just put out a piece arguing that the 3.12% yield seen on the ten-year Treasury recently is it, the peak. Morgan Stanley says that yields will stop rising and they are advising clients to go long Treasury bonds at current yields. The argument stands in contrast to Pimco and JP Morgan, who both see yields moving towards 4%. The one caveat to the call is if trade tensions get settled quickly, as turmoil on that front is one of the bullish drivers they see for Treasuries.
FINSUM: If trade tensions keep flaring we agree that Treasury yields are likely to stay flat or fall as investors flee to safety.
All eyes on the Fed. Not only is the winding down of the Fed’s balance sheet a potentially major issue to Dollar liquidity and emerging markets, but the market has rate worries to deal with. The big question is how low the US jobless rate can go before it sparks big inflation. Currently sitting at 3.8%, the Fed needs to decide how long it can tolerate the hot market before hiking rates quickly. The US jobless rate has only twice been so low. Once in the 1960s, which led to a decade of high inflation, and once in 2000, which was followed by a recession.
FINSUM: There is currently a big disconnect between the rate rises the market is pricing in versus what the Fed is forecasting. The market may lose that gamble very badly.
Investors beware, the fundamentals of the junk bond market are looking terrible. The deterioration of the market has been happening for a long time, and thus it makes it easier not to realize it. The junk bond market is now about twice the size it was in 2007, and credit quality is lower. Protections for investors, in the form of covenants, are also much weaker as issuers were able to use the ultra-low rate market to their advantage. Now the big worry is that Libor is rising and many companies have floating rate debt that they cannot cover once it reaches certain levels.
FINSUM: According to the WSJ, the market should expect $500 bn of junk bond defaults over the next three years, and this figure could amplify considerably.
Investors hang onto your hats, a big fixed income rout might be coming. While it was easy to write Italy’s big bond losses off to its recent political crisis, the Wall Street Journal is arguing that all risky bonds may be in for a reckoning. There are a couple reasons. One is that just as in Italy’s two-year bond, many fixed income securities may hit a “double bottom”, which could lead to serious losses. But more fundamentally, many investors are now starting to view bonds higher up the quality spectrum more favorably, which means the market may suffer a significant “risk-off” period. Global high-yield bonds are down almost 4% already this year.
FINSUM: Our bigger worry than the points mentioned here is that as safer bonds start to get better yields from rising rates, there is less and less incentive to buy junk. That is a major change from the paradigm of the last few years.