Posts tagged US treasury yields
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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Let's get the story right

I have trampled around in the same weeds recently, so I will keep it short this week. Equities are doing what they’re supposed to, trying to complete a V-shaped recovery from the swoon earlier this month. Last week was a corker, even for the portfolio, which benefitted from solid earnings reports. Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal had me one-on-one on Monday, where I duly warned that the S&P 500 remained overvalued relative to other asset classes. Even Gartman couldn’t have done it better. On this occasion, though, I am happy to double down. A V-shaped rebound to a new bull run looks like wishful thinking to me. Equities are the least of macro investors’ problems, though. The puzzle of the day remains the link between rising U.S. yields, a firming cyclical outlook and a falling dollar. In my last post, I asked the question of whether foreign savings would come to aid of a U.S. economy at full employment—with a record low savings rate—about to be jolted by fiscal stimulus. Open macroeconomics suggest that such an economy should open up a large external deficit, and Japan and Europe have the savings to make it happen. Alternatively I suggested that perhaps the rest of the world doesn’t fancy financing excess spending and investment in the U.S.

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A lot of noise, less signal

I promise that I will not do an explainer of the VIX this week. Instead, I will lead with some observations on markets and finish with a war-story from the world of retail investing. The return of equity volatility has engendered two responses. Firstly, it seemed as if investors breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when it became clear that we could peg the swoon to the blow-up of short-vol ETFs and related strategies. It is always scary when markest fall out of bed, and even more if so if we can’t explain why. Blaming excessive risk-taking in short-vol strategies assured that the sell-off, while painful, would be short.  Secondly, every strategist note that I have subsequently read—and comments from policymakers—have echoed this sentiment. A sell-off was long overdue and is perfectly normal. There is nothing to worry about, and underlying economic fundamentals for risk assets remain robust. Many have even welcomed the volatility as a sign of healthy markets. I have no particular reason to disagree, but my spider sense tingles when investors and strategists welcome a 10% puke in equities. I understand that macro traders are excited but real money and long-only? The logical response from markets would seem to be: “Oh, so you think you’re tough?”

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Searching for a new Narrative

Everyone is now talking about the flattening yield curve in the U.S., and it appears that a consensus is emerging for a Fed-induced recession—or severe slowdown—in 2019. The rationale here is simple. If the Fed hikes three times a year and 5y-to-10y yields won’t get traction, the curve will invert at some point in the latter part of 2018. This, in turn, has historically been one of the best pre-cursors for shift in the U.S. economic cycle. It warms my heart to see that attention has turned to the 2s5s. Forget about the 2s10s and 2s30, the 2s5s is all we need. If markets truly believe that the Fed is about to steer the U.S. economy into a slowdown, 5-year yields won’t go anywhere as the fed funds rate edge higher. If, on the other hand, markets think the economy will keep trucking despite higher rates—perhaps because the Fed gets behind the curve on tax cuts—they will move to sell 5-year notes, in size.  Alternatively, markets could take the position that the Fed is unlikely to push too far on the short end in light of still-record low policy rates in Europe and Japan. If that’s your tipple, you are buying 2y notes, and selling the 5y. I have to assume that this month’s Fed meeting will give markets some guidance on these questions.

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