Bonds: Total Market
If anything is becoming clearer about coronavirus’ effects on the economy, it is that job losses are going to be staggering. But what will be the knock-on effects? One of the many looks likely to be a serious credit crunch. Without income flowing in, many borrowers are going to be late or default on payments, which means lenders will run short on money and everyday companies will not get their normal cash flow. Not only will this hurt earnings and weaken credit ratings and corporate solvency, but it will likely cause a serious decline in consumer credit scores that will have a lingering effect on credit for years.
FINSUM: Everyone seems to be trying to mitigate this threat. Banks are suspending mortgage payments, credit bureaus say they won’t report delinquency etc. This is unprecedented, but it remains to be seen how it plays out (and for how long).
The bond market looks primed for a big correction, says a top asset manager. Bonds have been surging in price as yields fall because of fears over coronavirus, but they seem likely to have a sharp pullback once the news cycle focusing on the virus moves on. That is the argument coming out of asset manager WisdomTree. According to the firm’s head of Fixed Income Strategy, if we have a sharp “V” shaped recovery, then bonds might see yields jump sharply (and prices fall sharply).
FINSUM: WisdomTree made one other excellent point that is not as obvious. US companies are starting to seek alternative suppliers away from China. As this happens, there is likely to be a transitory pickup in inflation since prices are probably going to be higher from suppliers outside of China. Accordingly, bond markets might also react sharply to a rise in inflation.
Bonds have been in a bull market for the entire living memory of almost everyone in the financial industry. Yields are extremely low, prices are high, and stocks are peaking every week. Even if you are worried about bonds, the odds that they keep rising seem strong given some undeniably supportive factors. Those include a Fed that not only says it has no intention of hiking rates, but is actually undertaking a stealth form of QE by buying $60 bn of Treasury bills every month to make sure the financial system has adequate cash reserves.
FINSUM: Everything in the market is pointing to a repeat of the post-Crisis market paradigm—ultra-low rates, rising stocks. Should we expect a different outcome this time?
Investors seem to have every reason to worry about bonds. Prices are high, yields are low, and low quality companies are accessing easy financing even in the face of an uncertain economic future. With all that said, there might not be any reason to worry at all. Central banks are still gaming the system. From the Fed being really conservative with rates, to the ECB and BOJ doing massive QE, the whole central bank mechanism is conspiring to prop up bond prices in a major way.
FINSUM: As long as that pre-condition of huge central bank support is in place, it is hard to see bonds taking much of a hit.
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.