Bonds: Total Market
After what was a great run for much of this year, ETFs investors are fleeing bonds. After yields fell sharply for most of 2019, investors have been stung this month as yields have shot higher. Ten-year Treasuries have gone from 1.7% to 1.9% yields, causing over half of all bonds to lose value. Investors have been pulling billions out of funds as a result. The iShares 20-year Treasury ETF has lost 7.8% since August 28th. One of the areas that has been more durable is high yield, where average prices have risen a little over 1% in the same time frame.
FINSUM: Bonds losing is a sign that investors are getting less worried about a recession, which in our view is an optimistic sign.
For many years Pimco was the undisputed leader in bonds. While that reputation may now be arguable given Bill Gross’ departure, Pimco is still undoubtedly highly respected. Therefore, their warning this week is worrying. The firm says it is shunning corporate bonds because of the big risk of a quick fall in prices. The firm’s CIO, Dan Ivascyn, says “The credit sector has been well behaved but if people begin to really fear recession, we can see underperformance quickly … this is the sector most prone to overshooting on the downside”. Pimco is also worried about Treasuries as they see no further room for a rally and instead are favoring agency MBS.
FINSUM: Total debt has grown hugely and a lot of it is of borderline credit quality, so a real downturn in economic expectations could lead to a lot of selling and downgrades. We tend to agree with Pimco here.
Probably the world’s most famous hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio, who runs the largest hedge fund in the world, has just made an interesting comment about equities. Dalio, who runs Bridgewater, says that he does not see a big bust coming in equities, just a “great sag”. Speaking about corporate debt levels and the risk of a blow up in fixed income, Dalio says “Those extremities we are reaching are not such that it is likely to have a debt crisis. But you have reached the limits of that so it creates a big sag versus a big bust”.
FINSUM: We think this is a pretty nuanced view. A big meltdown similar to 2008 does not seem likely, but a long-term growth overhang from too much debt does seem a distinct possibility.
The bond market is doing something that it usually doesn’t—it is scaring stocks. Generally speaking, big sell offs in stocks drive moves in bonds, but rarely do moves in bonds spook stocks. Except for right now, that is. The ten-year yield dropped to 1.48% recently, below the two-year’s 1.51%, signaling another 2y-10y inversion which is a classic recession indicator. But the 3m-10y is even scarier as it touched a fresh new low of negative 51 basis points.
FINSUM: The bond market thinks a recession is coming and that Fed policy is too tight. The velocity with which that sentiment is driving yields is spooking stocks, and rightly so.
The inverted yield curve may be odd, and negative yields in Europe may be strange, but the weirdest current perversion of markets (or is it the “new normal”?) is in Denmark specifically. That oddity is the negative rate mortgage. Yes, homebuyers are getting paid to take out mortgages to buy a home. Jyske Bank, Denmark’s third largest lender, is offering a mortgage rate of -.50% before fees.
FINSUM: So this is already happening in Europe, but it may have limited effects given the continent’s demographic struggles. It is hard to imagine this happening in the US, but if it did, we bet it would cause a housing boom.
Bloomberg has published a very insightful article about the current state of the market. In particular, it offers a view of how the big run up in bonds is likely to end. The fears that are driving the bond market—mostly that de-globalization will cause a recession—can only end two ways. Either the recession and de-globalization never materialize, in which case yields shoot back up, causing big losses in bonds. Or, the breakdown of global trade does happen, In this scenario, goods likely become significantly more expensive (especially in west) because there is no more labor and cost arbitrage. In this scenario, inflation then jumps, again sending yields much higher and sparking losses. In other words, the current bond market can only end in tears.
FINSUM: This was a very insightful argument in Bloomberg today. While there are some nuances that might cause some different outcomes, the basic contention is quite astute. Stocks seems a much better bet.