Bonds: Total Market
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.
Safe 5% yields sound very enticing right now don’t they? Well, they are actually not as hard to find as you think if you take a broader perspective. That perspective is to look at standard municipal bonds and examine their real-world yields, or how they compare to taxable bonds. For instance, for a couple living in California with a $250k per year income, a municipal bond yielding 3.0% is equivalent to a taxable bond yielding a whopping 5.8%. This is because of the new tax system brought in by Republicans. One muni expert comments that “I would argue that munis are more attractive than they’ve ever been because, with the loss of various deductions, including SALT, one’s taxable income is higher than it’s ever been”.
FINSUM: This is a very good insight and one to which HNW individuals and advisors need to pay attention. Once investors really come around to this, it could spark a muni bond run.
US Treasuries took a nose dive last week on fears over Italy. They fell from well over 3.1% to well under 2.9% very quickly. However, don’t get used to those levels. The reason why is that the underlying economy is fundamentally solid, with wages and jobs strong, growth solid, and corporate tax cuts likely to give a boost. The Fed also seems likely to continue hiking, even if only slowly.
FINSUM: All these reasons aside, our own view is that yields were on a solidly rising path until the Italy issue. Since we seen that as only a temporary problem (for global markets), we suspect bond investors will regain their views.
Credit rating agency Moody’s has just put out a broad and scary warning to investors: when the economy turns around, we have may have a junk bond crisis on our hands. Moody’s says that there will be widespread junk bond defaults in the next recession stemming from huge issuance and heavy indebtedness. With rates so low following the Crisis, indebted companies issued hugely risky and burdensome debt that was eagerly gobbled up by investors. According to Moody’s “The record number of highly leveraged companies has set the stage for a particularly large wave of defaults when the next period of broad economic stress eventually arrives”.
FINSUM: All that issuance was always going to come back to bite. Credit-worthiness was low and investors gave up a lot of safeguards. It seems inevitable the bill will come due.