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.
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.
Investors beware. US equity prices now seem to be entirely at the mercy of bond yields. Stocks have consistently struggled as yields have moved higher, and today Treasury yields seem to have broken an important threshold. Treasuries traded as high as 3.13% this morning, the highest level in seven years. Stock markets unsurprisingly fell. The markets were initially spooked by a solid US retail sales report that seemed to indicate the Fed might hike more aggressively than expected.
FINSUM: Yields definitely seem to have a strongly upward trend at the moment and have definitively broken out of that 2.9% band they had been locked in for a few weeks. Next stop 3.50%?
Stock markets are moving sideways, bond yields are shooting higher, and there is a great deal of uncertainty about the direction of the economy. Investors are understandably nervous. With that in mind, Barron’s has published a piece outlining the best places to park your or your clients’ cash. The answer is short-term bond funds, which are almost all yielding over 2% and have significant insulation from losses related to rate rises. For instance, the Vanguard Short term bond fund is yielding 2.76% and has only lost less than 1% this year despite rises in yields. ETFs that track floating rate bonds are also a good idea given the environment. For example, the iShares Floating Rate Bond (FLOT), which yields 2.21%.
FINSUM: Short-term bond yields are finally significantly higher than equity yields, which means there is at last a good, and likely less risky, alternative to stocks.
The long-time biggest bond shop on Wall Street (actually they are in California) has just put out a stark warning to investors—ten-year Treasuries are going to hit 3.5% in the near term. The manager thinks yields will make it to that level this year but then stall. Above 3.5%, they say, yields would have a detrimental effect on growth and that as yields rise investors will be moving their money into different asset classes.
FINSUM: A 3.5% yield on the ten-year would be a pretty attractive proposition to many, and it seems likely that given how that figure would be simultaneously appealing and a warning of poor future growth, investors will likely move out of equities.
Despite the hopes of investors, yields moved higher yesterday, with ten-year Treasury yields now back above 3%. For a while the momentum higher had been stemmed, but yesterday saw yields move sharply upwards. The move got the Dollar back on track, but it left equities nervous about what may lay ahead. Some market watchers say the recent market moves are a preamble to a correction.
FINSUM: Markets (stock and bonds) are bouncing all around, essentially momentum-less. We think things are going to be this way until a strong narrative takes hold—either trade war and recession, or something that renews the bull market.
Individual bond sales to retail clients may be about to take a hit. The reason why is a new set of rules being enacted on brokers that require them to disclose the price at which they bought bonds before they sell them to clients (if it occurs on the same day). The idea of the rule is to give investors a clear idea of the price they are paying for bonds. Brokers are worried that the new rule will cut into their fees and lead investors to stop buying bonds in favor of bond funds.
FINSUM: So we understand the thrust of this rule, but as a counterargument, we ask our readers to consider: what other industries have to disclose their margins to customers during a transaction? When you buy a new iPhone, does apple need to say they have a 90% margin on the phone?