Posts tagged Bonds
Front-running Easy Money

In a nutshell, this is what my models are telling at the moment: the three-month stock-to-bond ratios in the U.S. and Europe have soared, indicating that equities should lose momentum in Q2 at the expense of a further decline in bond yields. That said, the three-month ratios currently are boosted by base effects from the plunge in equities at the end of last year. They’ll roll over almost no matter what happens next. Moreover, the six-month return ratios are still favourable for further outperformance of stocks relative to fixed income. Looking beyond relative returns, my equity valuation models indicate that the upside in U.S. and EM equities is now limited through Q2 and Q3, but they are teasing with the probability of outperformance in Europe. Finally, my fixed income models are emitting grave warnings for the long bond bulls, a message only counterbalanced by the fact that speculators remain net short across both 2y and 10y futures. This mixed message from my home-cooked asset allocation models is complemented by a mixed message from the economy. The majority of global growth indicators still warn of weaker momentum, but markets trade at the margin of these data, and the green shoots have been clear enough recently. Chinese money supply and PMIs showed tentative signs of a pick-up at the end of Q1, a boost reinforced by data last week revealing that total social financing jumped 10.7% y/y in March.

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It's time to play defense

After two weeks on the road seeing investors, I am convinced that portfolio managers are becoming increasingly sceptical about the synchronized global recovery. That’s probably a good shout. I recently surveyed global leading indicators, and didn’t like what I was seeing. The data since have been worse. My in-house diffusion index of global leading indices has been flat since the start of the year. Its message is simple, global manufacturing accelerated sharply for most of last year, but momentum petered out in Q1. It doesn’t yet point to an outright slowdown, though other short-leading indices, such as the PMIs, do. The signal is more uniformly downbeat for the global economy if we look at liquidity indicators. Inflation is rising, with oil prices at a 12-month high, and nominal M1 growth is decelerating. Historically, this has been one of the more reliable omens for slowing growth in the global economy. Of course, investors don’t have to peruse economic data to tell them that something is afoot. Let me see whether I can remember everything. We have had wobbles in emerging markets, the return of political risk and higher bond yields, and even euro-exit chatter, in the Eurozone periphery as well as the morbid fascination that Deutsche Bank is going to blow a hole in the European, and perhaps even in the global economy.

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Buy the Long Bond?

I said my peace on global growth and EM currency crises last week, so I won’t belabour those here. I am struggling, however, to square the circle on the dollar and U.S. bonds. The story for the greenback appears simple; interest rate differentials suddenly matter again. The Fed is on the move, but expectations for tighter monetary policy elsewhere has been pushed back, especially in the U.K. and in the Eurozone. Even in Japan, few believe that the BOJ will do anything, anytime soon. HSBC’s FX Chief, David Bloom, does an admirable job explaining this in a recent segment on Bloomberg TV. By this account, the rout in EM is as much about a shift in G4 central bank expectations as it is about the lagged effect of higher short-term rates in the U.S. and structurally-vulnerable balance sheets. As long as European and Asian central banks drag their feet, and the Fed keeps going, the dollar will continue to rally; its simple. The problem with this story is that it assumes that the combination of a hawkish Fed and higher U.S. bond yields persists. Almost all my models are telling me to fade this story. For starters, the curve continues to lurk as the proverbial elephant in the room. 

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It's that yield curve again

For all the talk about a flattening U.S. yield curve, it is ironic that it steepened last week, albeit slightly. The trend, though, is clear enough. The 2s5 and 2s10s have flattened 27 and 32 basis points in the past year, respectively. Another 12 months at this rate and the curve would invert by the middle of next year. This wouldn’t be odd. It’s normal for the curve to flatten as monetary policy is tightened, and it is also normal for the Fed to keep going until the curve inverts. If you believe that an inverted curve is a good recession indicator—which is debatable—this is tantamount to saying that the Fed will keep going until something breaks, consistent with what almost always happens at the tail-end of policy tightening cycles. This probably won’t prevent investors and analysts from continuing to pay close attention to the yield curve. I have sympathy for that, for two reasons. Firstly, it is not clear to markets whether the Fed cares about a flattening curve or not. Some members of the FOMC do, some don’t. Secondly, if the shape of the curve is important to the Fed, the recent pace of curve flattening challenges the prediction by economists and markets that the Fed funds rate will be hiked by 25 basis points three-to-four times in 2018 and 2019.

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