The bond market took on a very strong position about the Fed in its recent rally—that rate cuts were likely this year in order to stimulate the economy. However, upon the release of the most recent Fed minutes, that view appears to be quite clearly wrong. The Fed minutes show no indication at all of cuts to come this year. Instead, those at the Fed merely indicate that hikes are likely to be put on hold for the rest of the year.
FINSUM: We don’t think there is much of a chance the Fed will cut this year. Recent economic data has been a little better, which means they seem much more likely to stand pat than to cut.
A rising tide lifts all boats right? Well it also means credit scores get lifted alongside the economy. Goldman Sachs thinks this is a problem. The bank is arguing that credit scores have been artificially inflated by FICO, a dangerous development that could have implications for all sorts of lending. Goldman thinks that current FICO scores are not an accurate reflection of consumers’ ability to pay in an economic downturn, meaning there is much more credit risk sloshing around in the economy than is currently priced into the market.
FINSUM: The big risk here is really at the lower end of the lending spectrum. There are 15 million less consumers with scores of 660 or below than there were before the last Crisis. Therefore, the risk of borrowers in that area is probably being underappreciated.
There is a LOT going on in fixed income markets right now, and for the most part, those developments are confusing. Treasury bonds had a huge rally, and then a little pull back, on worries about the economy. But at the same time, the riskiest bonds—high yield—have been doing very well even though they are the most likely to suffer in a recession. So where should investors have their money in fixed income? Long-dated municipal bonds might be one good idea. Advisors will be well aware of their tax exempt status, but what is interesting right now is that they appear a relative discount. 30-year munis have yields over 3%, well above Treasuries, making them look like a relative steal.
FINSUM: These seem like a good buy right now, especially with the rate outlook being so dovish.
US core retail prices came in soft in new data this week. The US core consumer price index, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.1% from the previous month and 2% from a year earlier in March. The readings both underperformed expectations, but are not considered indicative of a recession or any real economic trouble.
FINSUM: This data reinforces the idea that we are in a goldilocks moment with the economy. Let’s see if that continues. If it does, it sets up a nice environment for asset price growth.
The FINSUM team came across an interesting ETF recently, run by a team that we really liked. We always pay special attention to small caps because we think it is an area where strong research and a well defined strategy can create a lot of value. That is exactly the feeling we get with the LeggMason Small-Cap Quality Value ETF (SQLV). The fund is run by George Necakov, and experienced portfolio manager from Royce & Associates, themselves a specialist in small and microcap portfolio management that has been around since 1972. The fund seeks to create outperformance by tracking the results of an index made up of small cap stocks with relatively low valuations. The fund uses a multi-factor approach to choose companies with high profitability and low relative valuations. SQLV has an expense ratio of 60 bp.
FINSUM: This fund is still small but we like their approach and George seems like a very competent manager. Small cap value is an area where one needs a considered and labor-intensive approach and this ETF appears a great way to get some simple and reliable exposure.
Investors have been very worried about the yield curve’s recent inversion, and with good reason—an inversion is the most reliable indicator of a forthcoming recession. That said, there are two important factors to note. The first, of which most readers will be aware, is that it takes an average of 18 months for a recession to arrive once the curve inverts. However, the second factor, which is less well understood, is that the specific pairing of yield curves that are inverted also makes a difference. The media and market have been totally focused on how the 3-month and ten-year yield has inverted, but the best indicator historically has been the two-year and ten-year, which is still 18 basis points or so shy of an inversion.
FINSUM: The signal from the 2- and 10-year pairing has been a much better indicator. Accordingly, the inversion the market has been obsessing about may be less relevant.