The big rally in ten-year Treasury bonds has created a worrying situation in the bond market—a steepening inversion. Despite the broad based rally, the negative spread between ten-years and three-month yields actually grew, as did the spread between two- and thirty-year bonds. Oil also plummeted 5%, as did the Dollar, a reflection of traders’ bets that the US is likely headed for a downturn and easier monetary policy.
FINSUM: The current inversion could just be a product of markets flows dictated by the trade war. What is worrying is that negative spreads actually widened instead of just staying flat, which adds more weight to the inversion-recession story.
The yield curve has been injecting fear into markets all year. Investors understandably panicked when the spreads between short-term and long-term Treasuries bonds inverted a few weeks ago. However, investors have been looking at the yield curve with the wrong lens, argues Barron’s. If you actually pay attention to what has been happening recently, you will see a distinct picture of spreads rising, which is a very bullish indicator. Moving averages on the spreads have been growing, the first instance of such in a long time. A number of macro factors are supportive of wider spreads, including a now dovish Fed and strongly rising oil prices, which have injected more fear of inflation.
FINSUM: We think spreads are headed in the right direction. Taken as a whole, the market is starting to look like a good buying opportunity right now. It seems odd to say given stocks are at an all-time high, but if you look at the back drop, the situation looks pretty bullish.
Every investor seems to assume that this bull market is nearing its expiration date. Good things must come to an end, after all. However, Barron’s is arguing (rather adamantly) that this bull market could perhaps go on for another ten years. Reminding us of the old adage that bear markets don’t die of old age, Barron’s says there is just no sign of real weakness. “As far as the U.S. economy is concerned, there is no obvious sign that it has deteriorated”, says the publication. What about the yield curve? They say that is just an adjustment to tighter monetary conditions and not predictive of a recession in this case.
FINSUM: There is undoubtedly an element of superstition/intuition which is making investors feel like this bull run must come to an end soon. But the reality is that the underlying conditions for that to happen may not be in place.
What is the biggest short-term risk to markets? Is it a recession, China trade relations, and EU meltdown? None of the above. Rather, it is the upside risk of better economic data. A short burst of good US economic data, and the resulting comments from the Fed, could send US bond markets into a tailspin after the huge rallies of the last several weeks. The market for long-term Treasuries looks overbought, which means a reversal in economic data could bring a lot of volatility which could even whiplash equities.
FINSUM: At this point, a round of good economic data, and a stray hawkish comment from the Fed, would deeply wound bonds and hurt equities too (because everyone would again grow fearful of hikes).
The yield curve is the center of attention right now. The short end is yielding more than the long end, everything feels upside down. So how to play it? Yields on long-term bonds have fallen so steeply that it seems foolish to think they will continue to do so. Inflation is still around and the Fed still has a goal to get the country to 2%, which means yields seems more likely to rise than fall (unless you think a recession is imminent). Accordingly, there are two ways to play this curve. The first is to use a “bullet” strategy by buying only intermediate term bonds, which tend to do well when the yield curve steepens, especially if short-term rates actually fall. For this approach, check out the iPath U.S. Treasury Steepener ETN (STPP). The other option is to remain agnostic as to direction, buying something like the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond fund (AGG).
FINSUM: Our own view is that we are not headed into an immediate recession, and thus the long end of the curve looks overbought.