The yield curve narrowed continuously throughout most of 2018. The spread between 2- and 10-year Treasuries fell to just over 9 basis points in December and sits at 14 now. Where is it headed? The answer is likely towards an inversion. The Fed is releasing its minutes, and once it does, it seems likely the spread will continue to narrow. There are two scenarios that would likely create an inversion. The first is if the Fed minutes show that the central bank may raise rates again soon (sending short term yields higher). The other, and perhaps more likely, scenario is that the Fed expresses some anxiety about a recession (pushing long-term yields lower).
FINSUM: This is interesting because the two most likely scenarios for what the Fed might say/do in the near-term both add up to the same thing—a yield curve inversion.
FINSUM is at the Inside ETFs conference in Hollywood, FL this week, and we wanted to bring you a little live coverage. Yesterday, there was a major session at the event discussing the outlook for fixed income. The consensus was that even though the Fed has paused, there is now way to tell when rates may rise again. Further, while China’s economy looks weak right now, that could turn around rapidly in the event of a trade deal with the US. Finally, all of the five panelists discussing fixed income said the ”liquidity mismatch” between ETFs and fixed income instruments is overblown and that there is not nearly as much to worry about as some think.
FINSUM: Fixed income’s outlook is murky right now. On the one hand, the Fed has paused, but on the other, rates could start rising anytime. On balance, we do think the risk-reward is slightly in favor of a shorter-duration long position.
High yield had a very bleak run to finish 2018. The asset class went over 40 days without a single sale as the junk credit market seized up. However, it has made a comeback in a major way. The first five weeks of 2019 saw a staggering 5.25% gain in the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index. New issues were quite oversubscribed (more than double), and the general mood has completely shifted.
FINSUM: The Fed backing off on rates sure makes a difference! It is interesting the market reacted this sharply given that high yield is relatively more insulated from rates. In our view, the turnaround is largely a relief rally that the Fed won’t push the economy into a recession.
Hate him or love him, you have definitely heard of him and may respect him. Paul Krugman is one of the most famous economists in the world, and he has just put out a warning we think investors need to hear. Krugman’s big fear is that trouble is building in the economy and the Fed doesn’t have much firepower to help stimulate things if and when growth heads backwards. “There seems to be an accumulation of smaller problems and the underlying backdrop is that we have no good policy response”. Krugman argues that hiking rates was never “grounded in the data” to start with and that “Continuing to raise rates was really looking like a bad idea”.
FINSUM: What we know is that a recession will come at some time, what we don’t know is when. Krugman has given sometime in the next two years as his timeline, which to us wreaks of a lack of confidence.
Stock investors and bond investors are showing a big disconnect right now. That mismatch in sentiment could cause some big losses. Fixed income investors have been buying bonds aggressively, keeping yields pinned at low levels and the curve very flat. However, equity markets have been rallying strongly, which will alleviate some pressure on the Fed, allowing them more margin to raise rates again. However, the bond derivatives market shows the market is betting there is a 98% chance rates are in exactly the same place as now in one year’s time.
FINSUM: Bond investors are too comfortable with the Fed right now. Powell et al have been quite hawkish for awhile now, only very recently backing off. We don’t think it would take much to get them back on track, and the equity market is paving the way.