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.
Rate cuts are going to send shares higher and bond yields lower, right? A win-win for portfolios. Not so fast, as the effect a Fed cut will likely have on portfolios could be anything but predictable. The truth is that monetary easing is not the economic steroid it once was, and investors know it, so the odds of a pop in the market seem low. This is doubly true because much of the possible gain from rate cuts has already been priced in by the market due to how well the Fed has telegraphed this move. If any stocks should do well, it would be small caps, which are more reliant on borrowing and thus would gain the most from lower rates.
FINSUM: This cut has been so anticipated that it will likely be greeted by a shrug. If anything, we think there are more downside risks.
The broad expectation is that rate cuts will boost all bonds. To some degree this is likely true. However, not all bonds will be affected to the same degree. For instance, safe bonds—think investment grade corporates and Treasuries—have likely already seen most of the gains they will. But high yields are a different story, as they are much more likely to see a decent rally, as lower borrowing costs are a bigger boon to those companies and the cuts themselves will help sustain the economic cycle, which is more important for them than for ultra-safe companies.
FINSUM: This seems to be pretty good analysis. This rate cut has been widely projected and safe bonds have already seen gains, so junk may be the biggest beneficiary.
The muni market seems healthy. Other than the cases where budgets are exploding, the market as a whole has characteristically low yields and looks stable, especially because of excess investor demand from the recent tax changes. However, there are structural concerns about the market. Nuveen and Vanguard have come to dominate the market through their funds, sucking up to two-thirds of all the Dollars flowing into the market in the last decade. This is because investors have been increasingly buying muni funds, not individual securities. However, according to UBS, this is a big risk. “When everyone runs for the exit at the same time…no one wants to be the buyer of last resort … The concentration in large municipal asset managers will have ramifications during volatile times in that it will make the swings greater one way or another”.
FINSUM: Everyone has been warning about big runs on fixed income funds in a market downturn, but evidence of such has yet to materialize.
Barron’s has published an interesting article which argues that there are ten asset bubbles waiting to pop in markets. According to an analyst cited in the publication, further coordinated global central bank easing is likely to exacerbate these bubbles and turn a “run-of-the-mill recession into a full blown financial crisis”. The ten asset bubbles cited are in the following asset classes: US government debt, US corporate debt, US leveraged loans, European debt, Bank of Japan Balance sheet and related equity holdings, unprofitable IPOs, crypto and cannabis, growth and momentum stocks, software and cloud stocks, ETFs (especially fixed income).
FINSUM: So the whole world is in a bubble except the asset class that most people pay the most attention to—US stocks. The thing about many of these “bubbles” is that the economy is still plenty healthy to cover them (such as companies’ ability to cover interest etc).