Stock investors may be in for some big upside surprises while bond investors’ hearts may sink. The new tax regime may have a major unintended consequence for bond markets. With the new lower corporate tax rate, many multinationals are likely to repatriate hundreds of billions of Dollars. For the last several years, much of that money has been parked in Treasuries and other bonds. But with the ability and likelihood of reshoring, companies are likely to pull huge amounts of capital out of bonds and put it into stock buybacks and dividends. This could be a big plus for equities, but bond markets could sink as massive amounts of capital are withdrawn.
FINSUM: This is the first convincing argument we have heard for why any fundamental force, outside of the Fed, could bring about a bond bear market.
The media and many bond market gurus would have you think the ceiling is caving in on bonds. Talk of a massive bear market, surging inflation, and big losses abound. How to make sense of it all? The answer, if there is one, is that reversals in rate environments tend to take a long time, and have historically lasted 2-3 decades before reversing back. Therefore, bond yields may continue to climb steadily, but this shouldn’t be bad for the stock market, so big losses may be avoided. In fact, slowly rising rates can spark structural bull markets. It would also be helpful for pension funds to have higher yields as they could be safe in assuming better returns, helping fund the huge national pension deficit.
FINSUM: We just are not that worried about bonds. The Fed still seems fairly timid, there is high natural demand for yields because of demographics, and inflation and growth aren’t all that strong.
The big bond gurus of Wall Street, Bill Gross and Jeffrey Gundlach, both struck fear in the hearts of bond investors yesterday, saying that the recent Treasury sell-off confirmed that a bond bear market had begun. However, Morgan Stanley is now pushing back against that assertion, saying that Treasuries are still offering value and should be fine. “This isn’t the bear market you’re looking for” says Morgan Stanley. MS says that the Fed is not likely to react sharply to inflation and that the Chinese aren’t going to stop buying Treasuries outright, both factors which will support the market.
FINSUM: While there are some headwinds related to possible tightening, on the whole there are a number of fundamentals which seem likely to continue to support both Treasuries and credit (like demographics—we know we often mention this point).
Bond gurus across Wall Street were calling it the beginning of the bond bear market. Treasuries had dropped significantly, with yields holding over 2.5%. However, the selloff halted yesterday as reports of Chinese plans to stop buying Treasuries were reported as possibly false. A commentator from BNY Mellon explains the situation best, saying “Whether the news of Chinese withdrawal was fake or not, the Treasury market is likely to continue to feel a little fragile, but the fact remains that the hunt for yield goes on and with no real signs of inflation yet and improving growth, there are still no real sellers out there”.
FINSUM: We think that is a very eloquent summary of the current situation. We do not think it is time to be bearish yet.
Some of the biggest names in bonds are making a bold proclamation that all investors need to hear—that the 30-year bond bull market is over. Both Bill Gross and Jeffrey Gundlach are saying that with Treasury yields rising—currently sitting about 2.5% on ten-years—the bond market has entered a new phase. Gundlach says we are entering an era of “quantitative tightening”, which will cause losses for bonds. Gross says the bear market was confirmed when 5y and 10y Treasuries crossed 25y trend lines recently.
FINSUM: We may very well be entering an era of tightening, but that does not mean it will necessary be a brutal bear market, especially with the demographically-driven demand for bonds. Additionally, with the economy going very well, a recession could be coming, which would ease the tightening.
With stocks riding so high and anxiety building about a potential downturn, espousing and building a robust bond strategy is going to be more important than ever. With that in mind Barron’s has put out four bond funds picks for 2018. The picks are the Vanguard Tax-Exempt Bond Index, the Artisan High Income fund, the Prudential Short Duration Muni High Income, and the Dodge & Cox Global Bond.
FINSUM: The Vanguard fund really caught our eye. It has an expense ratio of 0.19% versus an average of 0.8% for its peers, and has more than $190 bn under management, with a lot of expertise managing it.
Most people talk about retail investors’ effect on the stock market, especially when things get bad. But what is much less understood is their role in the bond market. Individual bond buyers are growing force in the bond market and are one of the major factors that has kept bond yields low. The proportion of the US population 65 or older has grown 40% since 2000 and is set to keep growing. Retirees typically buy more bonds as they near retirement, which should keep downward pressure on yields.
FINSUM: So admittedly this WSJ article we discuss absolutely supports the arguments we have been making to our readers for many months. We are not bearish on bonds, despite a lot of comments to the contrary, because there is such a big demographically-driven source of demand.