Yields on the ten-year Treasury note crossed the 3% threshold this week and seem set to stay there for some time, sparking a big change in bond markets. Bloomberg argues that yields at this level change everything for all asset classes. The reason why is that a jump in yields to above 3% starts to cause a shake out amongst highly indebted companies, boosts the Dollar, and in turn, makes emerging markets less attractive.
FINSUM: To be honest, our biggest concern was not even discussed by Bloomberg, which is how higher yields affect the arithmetic for whether to put money in richly valued stocks, or into bonds that are starting to offer acceptable returns. 3%+ yields really could put an end to this bull market.
There have been growing fears over the real estate market for the last couple of years, and now one corner of the market is in the middle of a growing apocalypse. Retail real estate is currently on trend to have by far the worst year in memory. Already in 2018, 77 million square feet of retail store space has been closed. In 2017, which was seen as the pinnacle of the collapse, 105m closed the entire year. The sector has been hit by the rise in ecommerce and changing shopping habits. Now landlords don’t even know what to do with all their space. They will likely “Try to re-let it as a gun range or a church—or it’s going to go back to being a cornfield”, says a head of real estate at a private equity firm. The US has 24 square feet of retail space per person, by far the highest in the world.
FINSUM: Not only do you have ecommerce as a threat, but consumer spending is starting to tighten as we near the end of this cycle. This is going to be a major bust.
Despite a very poor three months, there have been increasing amounts of articles arguing that Bitcoin may be a tipping point where it moves higher. However, Bloomberg has published a piece saying it is at a so-called death cross. The cryptocurrency’s 50-day moving average has dropped to its nearest point to its 200-day moving average in nine months, a move which spells doom for technical analysts. If it crosses below the 200-day threshold, it would signal the “death cross”.
FINSUM: While this does seem significant, we would argue that technical analysis is not as relevant in Bitcoin. The reason why being that the fundamentals of the market (e.g. a sound regulatory environment) are unstable, and there is little trading history from which to weigh technical indicators.
Those close to Michael Cohen and the situation say that the lawyer seems poised to turn on his friend, Donald Trump, if put under pressure by investigators. At least that is what long-time Trump legal advisor, Jay Goldberg, is telling the president. Goldberg was a former prosecutor who has advised Trump since the 1990s. Trump reportedly called Goldberg asking for advice, and the Wall Street Journal quotes Goldberg as saying “On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen ‘isn’t even a 1,’”. He explained that if Goldberg were faced with criminal charges, he would tell all.
FINSUM: So it looks like Goldberg is going to tell all, but what nobody knows is how much of value he might really have to say.
For the first time in half a century, Sweden is seriously prepping its country for the possibility of war. Growing national anxiety over the threat of Russia has led the government to send out 4.7m information pamphlets to all households informing them of what to do in the event of war. “All of society needs to be prepared for conflict, not just the military. We haven’t been using words such as total defence or high alert for 25-30 years or more. So the knowledge among citizens is very low”, says the government. The country is also considering whether it should join NATO.
FINSUM: The Baltics and Scandinavia are particularly exposed to possible Russian military aggression, so it makes sense they are nervous.
Something monumental, and very troubling, happened in China his week. The central committee there recommended scrapping the two-term limit for leaders, meaning Xi Jinping will stay in power indefinitely. This has “has put us back 30 years”, said one Chinese commentator close to the situation. One Australian academic comments that “We’ve had so many steps backwards [under Xi] … Media controls have become stricter, internet controls have become stricter. And now one of the few seemingly effective checks on a senior leader’s power — that he can only be in power for two terms — is now just being completely cast aside”.
FINSUM: Even for a country with no elections this seems quite authoritarian. We don’t suspect any immediate fallout, but this could be a slow-building drama.
Alongside the rise in bond yields, investors have been pouring money into short-term bonds, says Barron’s. With rates and yields rising, short-term bonds have less rate risk. But even more, their yields look very attractive versus long-term bonds. Two-year treasury yields are now over 2.5%, versus just 3% on a ten-year note.
FINSUM: Why wouldn’t one be putting money in short-term bonds right now? They are relatively insensitive to rate hikes and are offering solid above-inflation yields.
Something very odd is happening in the stock market. Despite the fact that rates look likely to rise and yields are rising sharply, financial stocks are losing ground. This is the opposite of what one would expect, as higher rates boost profit margins for banks and the like. No one is quite sure why, but it seems that instead of boosting hopes for earnings, higher rates have investors worried about a weaker economy to come, which would be negative for banks, which are quite tied to economic performance.
FINSUM: To us this is a quite a bearish view, as it indicates that investors see stagflation coming on (higher rates with zero or negative growth.
Many advisors seem to be confused about the new SEC fiduciary rule proposal, and we can commiserate. While the rule is called a new fiduciary rule, by all accounts, it really is not. While it does compel additional disclosures to clients and efforts to minimize them, it does not try to eliminate conflicts entirely. It has no best interest contract, and no capacity for clients to sue advisors they are unhappy with. It also has no uniform standard for brokers and advisors and maintains the distinction.
FINSUM: This rule is very different than many were expecting. Perhaps its biggest impact will be in reforming and restricting who can use the word broker, which in our opinion does a great deal to make the market more transparent to clients.
Sometimes looking at raw materials is a great way to get a signal on the economy, especially as they are frequently leading indicators for what is coming. Well, one metal is screaming of bad times to come—silver. Gold is priced at 82x silver, the highest level in two years, which is a seen as a poor indicator. “Money managers tend to favor gold when they think markets might turn rocky and discard silver when they are worried about slower global growth crimping consumption”, says the Wall Street Journal. 55% of demand for silver is for industrial purposes, which links it more with fundamental metals like copper.
FINSUM: So this is an interesting insight, but because silver is not a pure industrial commodity (it is also somewhat of a value store), this comparison does not seem quite as pertinent. Gold to copper would be more interesting.
Sometimes we just have to run a story for fun that has no relevance to markets or investing. This is one of them. Evidently, last week a plane flowing over Siberia (Yakutia to be exact) had its cargo hatch break open. When it did, $368m worth of gold bars, silver, and diamonds fell from the sky down onto the frozen landscape. The “drop” happened right near the airport and the company who owned the goods had to get trusted staff to recover the bounty, but not before going through metal detectors before they went home. Now locals think that not all the gold has been recovered and flights to the area are sold out all over Russia as treasure seekers come to the frozen region.
FINSUM: Sorry for the irrelevance of the story, but treasure falling from the sky and oversold flights full of treasure hunters was too much not to share.
The new Apple iPhone X has gotten a lot of hype in media. Aside from all its new features, which are admittedly extensive, its ~50% price hike to $1,000 has received a great deal of attention. That price hike is testing a long-held economic principle which says that as prices for a good rise, demand falls. However, for the last 100 years there has been a view that rising prices could raise demand for certain goods because they amounted to “conspicuous consumption”, or saw their demand rise as prices did because owning them signaled wealth and status.
FINSUM: Apple’s new iPhone X, with a lofty $1,000 price tag, may just prove conspicuous consumption true.