Investors get ready, because it looks like the next recession is on the horizon and the Fed is set to start it. And we are not talking about a distant horizon. The Fed has now made its goal a task that has been nearly impossible historically. That is to boost the unemployment rate without causing a recession. The odds of failure are very high and the Fed has never successfully achieved it in its history. The reason the Fed wants to boost unemployment is that labor markets are very tight, which will produce unacceptably high inflation. Accordingly the Fed must intentionally walk up the unemployment rate to keep things in check. The tool it will use is gradual rate rises to slow down growth and boost unemployment.
FINSUM: We think the Fed is probably going to fail in this exercise, either by being too dovish and letting inflation get too high, or by being overly hawkish. Either way we do not see a good outcome. This cycle might have just crested.
Bonds have stopped their losses and there is a clear reason why—the market does not believe that the Fed is going to be as hawkish as many feared. The Fed’s January minutes were not as aggressive on raising rates as many suspected, and now bond traders are afraid that inflation may run quite hot without the Fed doing anything about it. Therefore, there is upward pressure on yields, but that force is being contained by the fact that rates are unlikely to be hiked aggressively. The current consensus, based on Fed comments, is that inflation could run to 2.5% before the central bank would become concerned.
FINSUM: The economy is doing quite well at the moment and the Fed doesn’t want to disrupt that by hiking too early.
Despite a seemingly very hawkish Fed, bond traders just aren’t buying it, according to Bloomberg. Traders think the economy is burning very hot, and that the Fed, despite rhetoric, is actually content to just stick to only gradual rate hikes. According to one CIO, “The bond market is telling the Fed we see rising inflation pressures and if you are going to be gradual and crawl into three more rate hikes this year we are not going to wait around”, continuing “The long end of the yield curve is tightening for the Fed”.
FINSUM: Fed minutes did not show that the bank was considering four hikes this year, and the market thinks they should be.
In an article that contrasts strongly to some others we are running today, here is a different view on bonds coming out of the Wall Street Journal—that the bull market is far from over. The argument is based on two interconnected factors. The first is that rates and yields do look likely to rise in the short term, but at the same time, there are many signs the business cycle is poised to end, which will bring on a recession. When that happens, yields will once again plunge, keeping the bond market surging.
FINSUM: If a recession does come then rates and yields will likely drop again. Unless of course inflation sticks around and we get caught in a stagflationary period.
Whether one likes it or not, Treasury yields hitting 3%, which they look bound to do, will be a major event. The big question is what to do once it happens. Is it the signal of a sharp move higher in yields, or will it be the climax to a short-lived selloff? The reality is that if Treasuries move just a little above three, there could be a strong wave of selling. However, strategies betting against volatility have been paired back in recent weeks, so the selling might not be as furious as one might fear.
FINSUM: Nobody has any idea what will happen if Treasuries move above 3%. As far as bonds, we expect that there will be more and more organic buyers above 3%, which should keep things in check. On the stock side, we do not see why a move higher would be too bad, as the spread to equity yields will still be wide.