The yield curve is sending increasing warnings that a recession is coming. While the three-month and ten-year yield has been inverted for months, a new inversion occurred yesterday, when the ten-year yield moved below the two-year yield. Even more eye-opening was that the 30-year bond yield fell to just 2.06%. That figure shows that investors have abandoned all fear of rising rates and all economic bullishness.
FINSUM: We don’t know whether to be more worried about a big correction in bonds, or that the economy may actually be as bad as bonds are suggesting! Either way things look bad.
The US’ leading bond manager has just made a bold call. Pimco thinks that US bond yields will follow Europe and go negative. Speaking about the market situation more broadly, Pimco says “The next several years could be the exact opposite of what we saw in the past five to 10 years … That was high returns on financial assets and low volatility. That will be turned upside down”. Pimco is particularly concerned about a recession, believing it would send yields sharply lower. However, that is no sure bet, because if the trade war gets sorted out sooner than expected, yields would likely move higher quickly.
FINSUM: Yields moving lower seems to be the path of least resistance, so we think that is the direction that bonds will trend.
One of the world’s most respected financial columnists—John Authers—has just put out an article arguing that we may be at the bond market’s Dotcom moment. Authers cites the gigantic hoard of negative yielding debt, as well as many charts of soaring 100-year bond prices (check out Austria’s and Mexico’s), to show that the bond melt up may be set to reverse. He argues that at some point soon (it could have already started with the reversal in ten-years yesterday) that investors will revolt against super-low yields, sending prices lower and yields higher. Authers thinks the spark may be unexpectedly higher inflation, which would undermine the whole premise of recent gains. Tariffs are inflationary by definition, so it is not far-fetched to think this could occur.
FINSUM: We think it would take a significant catalyst to cause a big bond pullback (like a much higher than expected inflation report, a suddenly hawkish Fed etc). That is not out of the question, but it does not seem likely.
The big market ruction of the last few days has sent the yield curve inversion to very worrying levels. The spread between three-month bills and ten-year Treasuries has widened to minus 32 basis points. A yield curve inversion has preceded every recession for the last 50 years. “The US has been an island of prosperity in a sea of weakness, but that looks to be ending as the impact on the consumer side from the new tariffs is likely to be bigger than the previous ones”, said a senior portfolio manager at PGIM fixed income.
FINSUM: The last time the yield curve was this inverted was April 2007. That fact alone is major warning sign.
Right now is high time for investors to be worried about bonds. Bond funds have received a lot of fast money in recent months because of the well-telegraphed rate cut. According to BAML, the net inflows into fixed income funds have reached a “staggering record” of $455 bn in 2019. That compares to just $1.7 tn in the last decade. Yields have tumbled this year, with ten-year yields down from 3.2% in November to just 2.06% now.
FINSUM: The outlook for bonds got murkier yesterday with the Fed’s relative lack of dovishness. It is not entirely clear that rates are going to keep falling, so it is not hard to imagine bonds facing some losses now given how much speculation there was of a large Fed rate-cutting program.
The Fed meeting yesterday was not what everyone expected. While the central bank did cut rates 25 basis points, the commentary was far from what investors expected. The attitude on the Fed had turned so dovish prior to the meeting that some thought Powell might cut rates by 50 bp. The whole meeting took a different course, with the Fed saying this was just a “mid-cycle adjustment” and refusing to commit to a further cutting plan. This upset markets, with indexes all diving over 1%.
FINSUM: We think this was smart from the Fed and ultimately good for markets. It left things more uncertain as to policy and direction, which means stocks will trade more on fundamentals. This reinstates the “wall of worry” that always seems necessary to build bull markets.