Investors need to face reality (not that they aren’t), this Fed is more hawkish than any since the Crisis, and despite the market turmoil there will be yet another hike before the end of the year. Rates will keep rising so long as the economy stays strong. That means investors need to prepare. They have mostly done so by fleeing bond funds, but that may not be wise, as there are some very attractive funds that can help offset interest rate risk. For instance, check out the ProShares Investment Grade—Intr Rt Hdgd (IGHG) and the iShares Interest Rate Hedged Corp Bd ETF (LQDH). IGHG is particularly interesting because while both funds go long corporate bonds and short treasuries to produce zero duration, IGHG holds less BBB rated bonds and has a higher quality portfolio, all of which has let the fund appreciate this year even as rates rose strongly.
FINSUM: There are some very solid and creative bond funds out there to help offset rate risk while still earning decent yields. Given where equities are right now, these seem like good buys.
In 2010, Meredith Whitney, famed market analyst, made a bold call that still haunts her and the muni market to this day—that there would 50 to 100 sizable defaults in the next year. The call, which came on 60 Minutes in 2010, led to a major backlash by the muni market. Besides Detroit and Puerto Rico, which were widely forecasted, her predictions never came true, or at least were certainly far too early. To this day, many of the problems that haunt the muni market, like shrinking populations in indebted areas, are still definitively long-term issues that are not going to immediately take down the market. Even the pension deficit is not as bad as many perceive, with a 71% funded ratio on average (economists say the optimal number is 80%).
FINSUM: The muni market gets a lot of bad press, mostly because of the handful of dire situations, but on the whole it has been quite steady.
There is a significant minority of investors who have a very particular worry about the Treasury market right now. That worry is that foreign demand for Treasuries is slumping, which could cause a big sell-off or sustained period of losses. The potential issue has two parts—the first is that a huge amount of Treasury issuance is set to take place, the second is that foreign holdings of Treasuries are at their lowest in 15 years. The combination of seemingly low demand with high supply is making some think the bonds could be in for a rout alongside forthcoming auctions. JP Morgan strategists estimate that yields on Treasuries will rise 7-8 basis points for every $200 bn of Treasuries sold. Foreigners hold $6.3 tn of Treasuries.
FINSUM: This could be a problem, but given that central bank reserves have not been growing, it makes sense that foreign Treasury holdings haven’t either. Foreign governments still need Dollar liquidity, so there is a built in demand for Treasuries which we think won’t simply evaporate.
If one thing is apparent about the Fed, it is that Jerome Powell and his team are much more hawkish than Yellen or Bernanke. Therefore, it looks like rates are going to continue to rise (even in the face of a market protest, such as is occurring). With that in mind, investors need to find ways to hedge their portfolios or profit from rising rates. One area to look is at bank ETFs. Banks tend to do well as interest rates rise as the lift in rates boosts their net interest margins, a key source of revenue for the sector. Accordingly, take a look at the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) and the SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF (KRE), both of which had been attracting capital. Additionally, see the First Trust Nasdaq Bank ETF (FTXO), Invesco KBW Bank ETF (KBWB), and the SPDR S&P Bank ETF (KBE).
FINSUM: Banks stocks seem to be a good buy so long as we don’t get an inverted yield curve.
It might come as no surprise, but that does not mean it isn’t noteworthy. Alongside the big surge in volatility this month, gold has risen considerably. The precious metal has risen 3.2% this month to $1,230 per ounce, no small feat considering that stocks initially started falling because of worries about rising rates. Gold has been shunned for most of the year as stocks rose, but is now being sought out as a haven from volatility. An analyst at UBS summarized the situation this way, saying “Price action in the past couple of weeks has shown signs that gold is slowly reasserting its role as a safe haven … In the near term, a pullback in the dollar, weakness in equities and the potential for a soft patch in US data would be upside catalysts for gold”.
FINSUM: Gold rising when the Dollar is strong and rates are being hiked is quite noteworthy. It will be interesting to see how fast gold might fall if this correction in stocks reverses.
Italy looks like it is in bad shape. It is openly defying the EU’s budget rules by running an excessive deficit, and what’s worse, it looks likely to be downgraded to junk status by ratings agencies. Moody’s already downgraded the country to Baa3, its lowest investment grade rating and just one rung above junk status. Yields have been swinging wildly on the country’s bonds as a result.
FINSUM: We are quite worried about the implications if Italy gets downgraded to junk, as it could mean lots of funds need to sell the bonds because of their mandates. What kind of sell-off could that spark?