Negative bond yields dominate the globe, and US yields are headed inexorably lower. The bond rally that has unfolded year is hard to over-state, with the 30-year Treasury at an all-time low. However, all those gains look likely to reverse sharply, as signs are on the horizon that US inflation is about to jump. The trend in CPI looks likely to show a bump after a series of lower annual highs. The movement is exactly the same as the one that preceded gold’s big jump this year. According to the data, CPI looks likely to rise to 2.5%, which would virtually eliminate the possibility for negative yields on the 30-year bond.
FINSUM: While calling higher inflation is a dangerous game in the post-Crisis world, the general analysis here is reflective of the fact that yields are way too low for how healthy the economy looks in data.
Bank stocks are probably not a good bet right now. They suffer when rates fall and they are quite exposed to economic slowdowns (in other words, ignore the new idea that banks are safe dividend producers like utilities). However, there are some banks and financial stocks that look likely to win in the near- to medium-term. Three names to consider: JP Morgan, Amex, and Discover. JP Morgan is basically just a very healthy bank with increasingly competitive pricing which looks likely to grow EPS nicely over the next few years. Amex is an interesting pick because it has a very high quality customer base, and its unique charge card revenue base is not so exposed to falling interest rates, making it much more defensible in a low rate/recession environment.
FINSUM: The Amex pick is quite unique. Their customer base is higher end, so less affected by recession. And their unique revenue model (for a card company) means they have lower interest rate exposure.
This is a tough market. Stocks are right near all-time highs and bond yields are near all-time lows. So how can an investor find steady current income and keep the door open to capital appreciation? Enter an underappreciated asset class—convertible bonds. Often referred to as “equities with training wheels”, convertible bonds have a lot of the upside of stocks due to their conversion feature, but also the downside protection of bonds because of their income feature. According to a convertible fund manager at Franklin, “You don’t get all the equity upside, but you can only fall so far because you have the downside protection of the bond”. Look to find converts with 7% of the equity upside of stocks, but only 50% of the downside risk.
FINSUM: Converts have actually outperformed a 60/40 balanced portfolio historically (by almost 2% per year with a similar level of volatility!). Some funds to look at include FISCX, PACIX, and AVK.
It is finally happening—riskier junk bonds are seeing outflows as investors shy away from the lowest rated credits. Junk bonds have been coated in Teflon for the most part, with the riskiest bonds rallying for several months. But recently, alongside recession fears, investors have been more anxious about how such credits might fare in a downturn. Accordingly, spreads between CCC-rated bonds and BB-rated bonds have jumped to 8%, the highest level since 2016.
FINSUM: This makes a lot of sense, and is one of the more logical moves in the high yield market we have seen in some time.
The muni market has traditionally been a safe haven for investors seeking steady returns. However, things are beginning to change. The huge drop in yields is fueling some very risky behavior in certain corners of the muni bond market. With yields on even the riskiest munis down to about 4%, highly speculative borrowers, such as those building risky mall developments or far-away housing projects are raising muni money through governmental agencies.
FINSUM: Investors need to look out for these kind of deals. However, what could be more troublesome is how they will inevitably end up in many popular funds without investors even having awareness of them.