Bonds: Total Market
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?
There has been a lot of fear about bonds lately. Higher inflation readings, a more hawkish Fed, and 3% Treasury yields have gotten investors nervous. However, bonds might be in for some big gains, especially Treasuries. The reason why is that there is a huge pile of short positons held by hedge funds who are betting against Treasuries. Yet, yields have been stubborn over the last couple of weeks and now it appears the positon might be broken by a strong short squeeze that would send prices higher.
FINSUM: We had not paid much attention to this, but given the weak US inflation reading that has just been released, this may play out very soon.