FINSUM is at the Inside ETFs conference in Hollywood, FL this week, and we wanted to bring you a little live coverage. Yesterday, there was a major session at the event discussing the outlook for fixed income. The consensus was that even though the Fed has paused, there is now way to tell when rates may rise again. Further, while China’s economy looks weak right now, that could turn around rapidly in the event of a trade deal with the US. Finally, all of the five panelists discussing fixed income said the ”liquidity mismatch” between ETFs and fixed income instruments is overblown and that there is not nearly as much to worry about as some think.
FINSUM: Fixed income’s outlook is murky right now. On the one hand, the Fed has paused, but on the other, rates could start rising anytime. On balance, we do think the risk-reward is slightly in favor of a shorter-duration long position.
High yield had a very bleak run to finish 2018. The asset class went over 40 days without a single sale as the junk credit market seized up. However, it has made a comeback in a major way. The first five weeks of 2019 saw a staggering 5.25% gain in the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index. New issues were quite oversubscribed (more than double), and the general mood has completely shifted.
FINSUM: The Fed backing off on rates sure makes a difference! It is interesting the market reacted this sharply given that high yield is relatively more insulated from rates. In our view, the turnaround is largely a relief rally that the Fed won’t push the economy into a recession.
Hate him or love him, you have definitely heard of him and may respect him. Paul Krugman is one of the most famous economists in the world, and he has just put out a warning we think investors need to hear. Krugman’s big fear is that trouble is building in the economy and the Fed doesn’t have much firepower to help stimulate things if and when growth heads backwards. “There seems to be an accumulation of smaller problems and the underlying backdrop is that we have no good policy response”. Krugman argues that hiking rates was never “grounded in the data” to start with and that “Continuing to raise rates was really looking like a bad idea”.
FINSUM: What we know is that a recession will come at some time, what we don’t know is when. Krugman has given sometime in the next two years as his timeline, which to us wreaks of a lack of confidence.
Stock investors and bond investors are showing a big disconnect right now. That mismatch in sentiment could cause some big losses. Fixed income investors have been buying bonds aggressively, keeping yields pinned at low levels and the curve very flat. However, equity markets have been rallying strongly, which will alleviate some pressure on the Fed, allowing them more margin to raise rates again. However, the bond derivatives market shows the market is betting there is a 98% chance rates are in exactly the same place as now in one year’s time.
FINSUM: Bond investors are too comfortable with the Fed right now. Powell et al have been quite hawkish for awhile now, only very recently backing off. We don’t think it would take much to get them back on track, and the equity market is paving the way.
Some advisors are always searching for the next blow up on the horizon. Well, with that in mind, Fitch has just put out a warning to investors that the next big market storm will likely start in credit funds. Fitch’s warning is predicated on the well-trod idea of a liquidity mismatch between the daily liquidity that open-end bond funds offer, and the relative illiquidity of their underlying holdings. In December, open-ended loan funds saw steep withdrawals, which led to big losses.
FINSUM: This is a fairly well-covered topic, but it is still a big risk. It has not yet happened on a major scale, but if it did, the potential for losses is massive.