Pay attention, the yield curve just inverted. And we are not talking about some esoteric swap rate most have never heard of. Yesterday the spread between two-and five-year Treasuries fell below zero, the first major inversion of this bull market. The 2- and 10-year spread is the most typical benchmark for gauging an inversion, but the 2- and 5-year is significant. Yield curve inversions are one of the most accurate predictors of recession, with one preceding the previous several recessions.
FINSUM: One very important thing to remember is that it often takes many months (or years) for a recession to begin once a yield curve starts, so there is still plenty of room for the economy (and markets) to run.
This is a day where investors need to take a deep breath. Markets are plunging, the yield curve just inverted, and there are major fears about the durability of the US-China “truce”. One thing to take heart in is that even though they are good predictors, a yield curve inversion doesn’t mean everything. It is important to note that it is the two and five-year Treasuries that have inverted, not the two and ten, which could mean this is just a temporary kink. For instance, in 1998, this pair turned negative without the rest of the curve following suit.
FINSUM: On top of the last point there, remember that inversions don’t cause recessions, they are just the market predicting slower long-term growth. That said, they seem to create self-fulfilling prophecies.
The credit market taught investors a very good lesson in the Crisis (not that many of them were paid attention to). One of those lessons was that the first signs of weakness in the market should be taken seriously, as they can be indicative of a pending meltdown. This occurred in 2007 before the cataclysm in 2008. It appears to be happening again now, as both US and European credit marks are showing some fault lines. For instance, the downgrade of GE is seen as a sign of weakness very similar to what occurred with Ford and GM in 2005.
FINSUM: There has been an extraordinary credit boom since the Crisis and there are bound to be consequences. The question is what the extent of those consequences will be. The market is starting to feel a bit like musical chairs.
Here is an interesting fact for investors—municipal bonds tend to hold up well during periods of rising rates. The underlying tax benefits of the bonds mean their demand is well insulated even in such periods. The question is where to commit capital. Well, year-end tax loss selling is creating some interesting opportunities in closed end muni funds, says BlackRock. Some funds are selling at significant discounts to the NAVs, sometimes 10% or more. These funds tend to bounce back in the new year, which is called the “January effect”. The discount to NAV allows one to gain even if the prices of the underlying assets don’t budge.
FINSUM: Closed end muni funds look like a great place for some bargaining hunting until the end of the year.
This is a tricky environment for income investing. On the one hand, rising rates generally mean better yields, but at the same time, the chance of rate-driven losses is high. What if investors wanted to get safe 5% yields? Doing so is a little bit tricky and requires a blend of riskier credit and a mix of durations. However, investors can get pretty close with some individual ETFs. For instance, BlackRock’s iBoxx $ Investment Grade Bond ETF yields 4.39% and has shorter dated maturities with comparable credit quality to other funds.
FINSUM: This seems like a good choice, but there are also a number of rate hedged ETFs that have similar yields and almost no interest rate risk.
Those worried about rate hikes will be happy to hear this news. Ever-hawkish Jerome Powell is finally starting to sound just a bit more dovish. Powell says the economy is strong, but could face “headwinds”. He says the Fed is discussing how much and how fast to raise rates and acknowledged that the Fed’s actions could inhibit the economy. He said the Fed’s goal is to “extend the recovery, expansion, and to keep unemployment low, to keep inflation low”.
FINSUM: It is good to hear some public consideration that rates might get in the way of the economy. While we would not exactly say this is dovish, it is certainly less aggressive than previously.