More some time now, bonds have been sending worrying signals to investors. The huge plunge in yields has been seen as a warning sign that the economy may be headed south. However, more recently, fixed income is sending more comforting signals. In particular, the recent narrowing of corporate bond spreads. Bond spreads had been rising for some time, but have leveled off recently, showing fixed income investors are not as worried about the economy and corporate performance. The overall spread is still well below where it was in the 2015-2016 growth scare.
FINSUM: The leveling off of spreads is a good sign that some stability is coming back to the market.
You may normally think of it in terms of stocks, but “buy low, sell high” applies to bonds just as much, and that is a good way to think of the market right now. With yields having fallen so far since last year, one strategist said it was time to accept the “the present the Fed has given us”, and swap out bonds for floating rate securities, which have lagged this rally. The scale of returns in the bond market is impressive. For instance, the iShares 20+ year Treasury Bond ETF has risen over 9% since the beginning of the year.
FINSUM: It seems unlikely to us that bond yields are going to drop much further, which means there is little reason to wait for further gains.
Deutsche Bank is an uber dove. The bank has just come out saying it expects the Fed to make three full rate cuts before the end of the year. “Over the past month, downside risks to the outlook for the US economy and Fed have built”, said Deutsche Bank, continuing that a mix of different concerns, from the trade war to weak inflation, are pointing to “more negative outcomes”. Pimco thinks the Fed won’t cut this month, but that it may cut by 50 bp in July, saying “we wouldn’t expect Fed officials to wait for the economic data to confirm declining US growth — if they do, they could risk a more meaningful shock to economic activity”.
FINSUM: The odds of a downturn certainly seem higher than an upturn, which means the Fed is much more likely to cut than to hike. That said, three rate hikes in the next six months sounds a bit aggressive to us, especially because the Fed would want to leave some firepower if the economy really heads downward.
With all of the volatility of the last months, bond ETFs are taking on a new life. As an asset class, bond ETFs have surged in popularity in recent years as a much easier and cheaper way of accessing bond market liquidity. Recently, bond ETFs have seen their role morph. Whereas they have often been seen as a safe haven from periods of volatility, they are now being used as a risk management tool, says the head of iShares U.S. Wealth Advisory Product Consulting at BlackRock.
FINSUM: So many of the newer bond ETFs are designed to thrive in volatile markets, not just provide a low volatility safe haven. This means they are more of a proactive than reactive product.
The market is overly reliant on a rate cut, say UBS and Goldman Sachs. Both banks think investors are banking too strongly on the Fed cutting rates. The market is currently forecasting three 25 bp rate cuts by the end of the year. Treasury markets have surged, but too far says Goldman. UBS believes “Markets now imply that the Fed will cut rates by around 70 basis points this year and 35 bps next year. We find this excessive … We believe it would take a recession to provoke the magnitude of rate cuts currently being priced by the market, and this remains unlikely in our view”.
FINSUM: We do not believe the Fed will cut rates this sharply unless there is a recession, but maybe that is exactly what markets are expecting (just look at the yield curve).
Investors have been unsure of how the Fed would handle the trade war. Recent minutes from the Fed showed no indication that the central bank was thinking of cutting rates even though the market expects it. However, the silence has finally been broken as Fed chairman Powell announced yesterday that the trade war is on the list of the Fed’s concerns and that the central bank would act to protect the economy from its fallout. In his own words, Powell said the Fed would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion”.
FINSUM: We took this as a pretty strong affirmation that the Fed is watching the trade war situation closely and is ready to act. Markets liked it.