Category Archives: Bonds

The Fed, QE, And Why Rates Are Going To Zero

Summary

  • On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, in his opening remarks at a monetary policy conference in Chicago, raised concerns about the rising trade tensions in the U.S.
  • The extremely negative environment that existed, particularly in the asset markets, provided a fertile starting point for monetary interventions.
  • Given rates are already negative in many parts of the world, which will likely be even more negative during a global recessionary environment, zero yields will still remain more attractive to foreign investors.
  • This idea was discussed in more depth with members of my private investing community, Real Investment Advice PRO.

(Lance Roberts) On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, in his opening remarks at a monetary policy conference in Chicago, raised concerns about the rising trade tensions in the U.S.,

“We do not know how or when these issues will be resolved. As always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near our symmetric 2 percent objective.”

However, while there was nothing “new” in that comment, it was his following statement that sent “shorts” scrambling to cover.

“In short, the proximity of interest rates to the ELB has become the preeminent monetary policy challenge of our time, tainting all manner of issues with ELB risk and imbuing many old challenges with greater significance.

“Perhaps it is time to retire the term ‘unconventional’ when referring to tools that were used in the crisis. We know that tools like these are likely to be needed in some form in future ELB spells, which we hope will be rare.”

As Zerohedge noted:

“To translate that statement, not only is the Fed ready to cut rates, but it may take ‘unconventional’ tools during the next recession, i.e., NIRP and even more QE.”

This is a very interesting statement considering that these tools, which were indeed unconventional“emergency” measures at the time, have now become standard operating procedure for the Fed.

Yet, these “policy tools” are still untested.

Clearly, QE worked well in lifting asset prices, but not so much for the economy. In other words, QE was ultimately a massive “wealth transfer” from the middle class to the rich which has created one of the greatest wealth gaps in the history of the U.S., not to mention an asset bubble of historic proportions.

https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2019/3/8/saupload_Household-NetWorth-GDP-030519.png

However, they have yet to operate within the confines of an economic recession or a mean-reverting event in the financial markets. In simpler terms, no one knows for certain whether the bubbles created by monetary policies are infinitely sustainable? Or, what the consequences will be if they aren’t.

The other concern with restarting monetary policy at this stage of the financial cycle is the backdrop is not conducive for “emergency measures” to be effective. As we wrote in “QE, Then, Now, & Why It May Not Work:”

“If the market fell into a recession tomorrow, the Fed would be starting with roughly a $4 Trillion balance sheet with interest rates 2% lower than they were in 2009. In other words, the ability of the Fed to ‘bail out’ the markets today, is much more limited than it was in 2008.

But there is more to the story than just the Fed’s balance sheet and funds rate. The entire backdrop is completely reversed. The table below compares a variety of financial and economic factors from 2009 to present.

https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2019/3/8/saupload_Economy-Then-Vs-Now-030519.png

“The critical point here is that QE and rate reductions have the MOST effect when the economy, markets, and investors have been ‘blown out,’ deviations from the ‘norm’ are negatively extended, confidence is hugely negative.

In other words, there is nowhere to go but up.”

The extremely negative environment that existed, particularly in the asset markets, provided a fertile starting point for monetary interventions. Today, as shown in the table above, the economic and fundamental backdrop could not be more diametrically opposed.

This suggests that the Fed’s ability to stem the decline of the next recession, or offset a financial shock to the economy from falling asset prices, may be much more limited than the Fed, and most investors, currently believe.

While Powell is hinting at QE4, it likely will only be employed when rate reductions aren’t enough. Such was noted in 2016 by David Reifschneider, deputy director of the division of research and statistics for the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., released a staff working paper entitled “Gauging The Ability Of The FOMC To Respond To Future Recessions.”

The conclusion was simply this:

“Simulations of the FRB/US model of a severe recession suggest that large-scale asset purchases and forward guidance about the future path of the federal funds rate should be able to provide enough additional accommodation to fully compensate for a more limited [ability] to cut short-term interest rates in most, but probably not all, circumstances.”

In effect, Powell has become aware he has become caught in a liquidity trap. Without continued “emergency measures” the markets, and subsequently economic growth, cannot be sustained. This is where David compared three policy approaches to offset the next recession:

  1. Fed funds goes into negative territory, but there is no breakdown in the structure of economic relationships.
  2. Fed funds returns to zero and keeps it there long enough for unemployment to return to baseline.
  3. Fed funds returns to zero and the FOMC augments it with additional $2-4 Trillion of QE and forward guidance.

This is exactly the prescription that Jerome Powell laid out on Tuesday, suggesting the Fed is already factoring in a scenario in which a shock to the economy leads to additional QE of either $2 trillion, or in a worst-case scenario, $4 trillion, effectively doubling the current size of the Fed’s balance sheet.

This is also why 10-year Treasury rates are going to ZERO.

Why Rates Are Going To Zero

I have been discussing over the last couple of years why the death of the bond bull market has been greatly exaggerated. To wit:

“There is an assumption that because interest rates are low, that the bond bull market has come to its inevitable conclusion. The problem with this assumption is three-fold:

  1. All interest rates are relative. With more than $10-Trillion in debt globally sporting negative interest rates, the assumption that rates in the U.S. are about to spike higher is likely wrong. Higher yields in U.S. debt attracts flows of capital from countries with negative yields which push rates lower in the U.S. Given the current push by Central Banks globally to suppress interest rates to keep nascent economic growth going, an eventual zero-yield on U.S. debt is not unrealistic.
  2. The coming budget deficit balloon. Given the lack of fiscal policy controls in Washington, and promises of continued largesse in the future, the budget deficit is set to swell back to $1 Trillion or more in the coming years. This will require more government bond issuance to fund future expenditures which will be magnified during the next recessionary spat as tax revenue falls.
  3. Central Banks will continue to be a buyer of bonds to maintain the current status quo, but will become more aggressive buyers during the next recession. The next QE program by the Fed to offset the next economic recession will likely be $2-4 Trillion which will push the 10-year yield towards zero.”

It’s item #3 that is most important.

In “Debt & Deficits: A Slow Motion Train Wreck”, I laid out the data constructs behind the points above.

However, it was in April 2016, when I stated that with more government spending, a budget deficit heading towards $1 Trillion, and real economic growth running well below expectations, the demand for bonds would continue to grow. Even from a purely technical perspective, the trend of interest rates suggested at that time a rate below one percent was likely during the next economic recession.

https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2019/6/7/saupload_10-yr-interest-rates-bollingerbands-060419.png

Outside of other events such as the S&L Crisis, Asian Contagion, Long-Term Capital Management, etc. which all drove money out of stocks and into bonds pushing rates lower, recessionary environments are especially prone at suppressing rates further. But, given the inflation of multiple asset bubbles, a credit-driven event that impacts the corporate bond market will drive rates to zero.

Furthermore, given rates are already negative in many parts of the world, which will likely be even more negative during a global recessionary environment, zero yields will still remain more attractive to foreign investors. This will be from both a potential capital appreciation perspective (expectations of negative rates in the U.S.) and the perceived safety and liquidity of the U.S. Treasury market.

Rates are ultimately directly impacted by the strength of economic growth and the demand for credit. While short-term dynamics may move rates, ultimately, the fundamentals, combined with the demand for safety and liquidity, will be the ultimate arbiter.

With the majority of yield curves that we track now inverted, many economic indicators flashing red, and financial markets dependent on “Fed action” rather than strong fundamentals, it is likely the bond market already knows a problem in brewing.

https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2019/6/7/saupload_Inverted-Yield-Curve-060419.png

However, while I am fairly certain the “facts” will play out as they have historically, rest assured that if the “facts” do indeed change, I will gladly change my view.

Currently, there is NO evidence that a change of facts has occurred.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones expecting rates to go to zero. As Bloomberg noted:

“Billionaire Stan Druckenmiller said he could see the Fed funds rate going to zero in the next 18 months if the economy softens and that he recently piled into Treasuries as the U.S. trade war with China escalated.

‘When the Trump tweet went out, I went from 93% invested to net flat, and bought a bunch of Treasuries,’ Druckenmiller said Monday evening, referring to the May 5 tweet from President Donald Trump threatening an increase in tariffs on China. ‘Not because I’m trying to make money, I just don’t want to play in this environment.'”

It has taken a massive amount of interventions by Central Banks to keep economies afloat globally over the last decade, and there is rising evidence that growth is beginning to decelerate.

While another $2-4 Trillion in QE might indeed be successful in further inflating the third bubble in asset prices since the turn of the century, there is a finite ability to continue to pull forward future consumption to stimulate economic activity. In other words, there are only so many autos, houses, etc., which can be purchased within a given cycle.

There is evidence the cycle peak has been reached.

If I am correct, and the effectiveness of rate reductions and QE are diminished due to the reasons detailed herein, the subsequent destruction to the “wealth effect” will be far larger than currently imagined. There is a limit to just how many bonds the Federal Reserve can buy and a deep recession will likely find the Fed powerless to offset much of the negative effects.

If more “QE” works, great.

But, as investors, with our retirement savings at risk, what if it doesn’t?

Source: by Lance Roberts | Seeking Alpha

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Good Thing? US Treasury Curve Flattens To Zero As Unemployment Falls To Lowest Level Since 1969

Good thing! US unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since the 1960s.

The US Treasury 10-year – 3-month yield curve has flattened to zero as unemployment hits its 50 year low.

https://confoundedinterestnet.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/yc10u3.png

Is this signaling the end of a business cycle? Or is it signaling the excesses of central banking?

We are seeing turbulence in the US yield curve given the many economic uncertainties around the globe, like Brexit, China trade, etc.

https://confoundedinterestnet.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/usyc.png

At least devaluation of the US dollar Purchasing Power has slowed.

https://confoundedinterestnet.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/fed1913.png

Source: Confounded Interest

Hedge Fund CIO: “America’s Yield Curve Inversion Can Mean One Of Three Things”

Three Worlds

America’s yield curve inversion can mean one of three things,” said (Eric Peters, CIO of One River Asset Management). “We’re either living in a world of secular stagnation and investors worry that central banks no longer have sufficient policy tools to spur growth and inflation,” he continued. “Or the economy is simply sliding toward recession and the inversion will persist until the Fed panics and spurs a recovery,” he said. “Or we’re living in a world, where the market is moving in ways that defy historical norms because of global QE. And if that’s the case, the curve is sending a false signal.”

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/TSY%20yield%20curve%203.31.jpg?itok=B16pb_qT

“If we’re sliding toward recession, then it seems odd that credit markets are holding up so well,” continued the same CIO. “So keep an eye on those,” he said. “And if the curve is sending a false signal due to German and Japanese government bonds yielding less than zero out to 10yrs, then the recent Fed pivot and these low bond rates in America may very well spur a blow-off rally in stocks like in 1999.” A dovish Fed in 1998 (post-LTCM) and 1999 (pre-Y2K) provided the liquidity without which that parabolic rally could have never happened.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/aligator%20jaws%20march%202019_1.jpg?itok=KGvQ1sIB

“But if investors believe America is succumbing to the secular stagnation that has gripped Japan and Europe, and if they’re growing scared that global central banks are no longer capable of rescuing markets, then we have a real problem,” said the CIO. “Because a recession is bad for markets, but not catastrophic provided that central banks can step in to spur recovery. But with global rates already so low, if investors lose faith in the ability of central banks to do what they have always done, then we’re vulnerable to a stock market crash.”

Sovereignty:

Turkish overnight interest rates squeezed to 300% on Monday. Then 600% on Tuesday. By Wednesday, they hit 1,200%. Downward pressure on the Turkish lira, and the government’s efforts to punish speculators fueled the historic rise. Erdogan allegedly wants to limit lira loses ahead of today’s elections. The pressures that drove the currency lower were mainly of Turkish origin. Of course, the Turks have every right to their own economic policies, but they must bear the consequences. That’s what comes with being a sovereign state.

The Greeks and Turks are neighbors. The Turks began negotiations to join the EU in 2005, with plans to adopt the Euro after their acceptance. Those negotiations stalled in 2016. As they look across the border at their Greek neighbors now, and see their interest rates stuck at -0.40%, are they envious? Perhaps. But having witnessed the 2011 Greek humiliation, would the Turks be willing to forfeit sovereignty for the Euro’s stability and stagnation? And how do the Greeks (and Italians) feel about having forfeited their sovereignty?

Anecdote:

“Only optimists start companies,” I answered. The Australian superannuation CEO had asked if I’m an optimist or pessimist. “I see the potential for technological advances to produce abundance in ways difficult to fathom. But I also see the chance of something profoundly dark,” I continued. He observed that people seemed consumed by the latter but spend so little time on the former. “That’s good. Humans are wonderful at solving problems of our own creation. The more we worry, the less goes wrong,” I said. So he asked what worries me most?

“Not the displacement of human labor by machines, we can solve the resulting social challenges. I worry that the only thing Americans seem to agree on now is that China is our adversary.” And pressing, he asked me to list the things I admire about China. “Okay. I admire China’s work ethic, drive, ambition, economic accomplishments. They’ve overtaken us in many advanced scientific fields. I admire that very much.” He smiled and asked me to carry on. “I’m grateful for their competition. It makes us better. And I admire that they’ve evolved communism to make it work while all others failed. The world is better with diversity of thought, philosophy – diversity increases resiliency, robustness. And democratic free-market capitalism will grow stronger with a formidable competitor.” He smiled.

“But China’s system values the collective over the individual. We value the opposite. And I’m concerned the two systems cannot peacefully coexist now that we’re the world’s two largest economies. I don’t want to live under their system, I don’t want their vision of the future for my children. They probably feel the same way. Both views are valid but incompatible, and increasingly in conflict,” I explained. He nodded and said, “I don’t want that for our children either.”

Source: ZeroHedge

“Recap & Release” – Trump Unveils Plan To End Govt Control Of Fannie, Freddie

After months (or years) of on-again, off-again headlines, President Trump is expected to sign a memo on an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this afternoon, kick-starting a lengthy process that could lead to the mortgage giants being freed from federal control.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/plante.jpg?itok=ivrIc_7m

The White House has been promising to release a plan for weeks, and its proposal would be the culmination of months of meetings between administration officials on what to do about Fannie and Freddie.

Bloomberg reports that while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said it’s a priority to return the companies to the private market, such a dramatic shift probably won’t happen anytime soon.

In its memo, the White House sets out a broad set of recommendations for Treasury and HUD, such as increasing competition for Fannie and Freddie and protecting taxpayers from losses.

The memo itself has a worryingly familiar title (anyone else thinking 2007 housing bubble?):

President Donald J. Trump Is Reforming the Housing Finance System to Help Americans Who Want to Buy a Home

“We’re lifting up forgotten communities, creating exciting new opportunities, and helping every American find their path to the American Dream – the dream of a great job, a safe home, and a better life for their children.”

President Donald J. Trump

REFORMING THE HOUSING FINANCE SYSTEM: The United States housing finance system is in need of reform to help Americans who want to buy a home.

  • Today, the President Donald J. Trump is signing a Presidential memorandum initiating overdue reform of the housing finance system.
  • During the financial crisis, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suffered significant losses and were bailed out by the Federal Government with billions of taxpayer dollars.
    • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in conservatorship since September 2008.
  • In the decade since the financial crisis, there has been no comprehensive reform of the housing finance system despite the need for it, leaving taxpayers exposed to future bailouts.
    • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have grown in size and scope and face no competition from the private sector.
    • The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) housing programs are exposed to high levels of risk and rely on outdated business processes and systems.

PROMOTING COMPETITION AND PROTECTING TAXPAYERS: The Trump Administration will work to promote competition in the housing finance market and protect taxpayer dollars.

  • The President is directing relevant agencies to develop a reform plan for the housing finance system. These reforms will aim to:
    • End the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and improve regulatory oversight over them.
    • Promote competition in the housing finance market and create a system that encourages sustainable homeownership and protects taxpayers against bailouts.
  • The President is directing the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to craft administrative and legislative options for housing finance reform.
    • Treasury will prepare a reform plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
    • HUD will prepare a reform plan for the housing finance agencies it oversees.
  • The Presidential memorandum calls for reform plans to be submitted to the President for approval as soon as practicable.
  • Critically, the Administration wants to work with Congress to achieve comprehensive reform that improves our housing finance system.

HELPING PEOPLE ACHIEVE THE AMERICAN DREAM: These reforms will help more Americans fulfill their goal of buying a home.

  • President Trump is working to improve Americans’ access to sustainable home mortgages.
  • The Presidential memorandum aims to preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.
  • The Administration is committed to enabling Americans to access Federal housing programs that help finance the purchase of their first home.
  • Sustainable homeownership is the benchmark of success for comprehensive reforms to Government housing programs.

*  *  *

Because what Americans need is more debt and more leverage at a time when home prices are at record highs and rolling over.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm7374_0.jpg?itok=3W8iDDOR

Hedge funds that own Fannie and Freddie shares have long called on policy makers to let the companies build up their capital buffers and then be released from government control.

It’s unclear whether the White House would be willing to take such a significant step without first letting lawmakers take another stab at overhauling the companies.

But not everyone is excited about the recapitalizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Edward DeMarco, president of the Housing Policy Council, warned that releasing them from conservatorship would do nothing to fix the mortgage giants’ charters or alter their implied government guarantee:

“I’m not sure what is good about recap and release,” DeMarco, a former acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said in a phone interview.

DeMarco also noted that the government stepped in to save the companies in 2008, and they continue to operate with virtually no capital. On Tuesday, DeMarco told the Senate, during the first of two hearings on the housing finance system that “recap and release should not even be on the table.”

But shareholders in the firms were excitedly buying… once again.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/2019-03-27_11-24-00.jpg?itok=xZk_Y8LJ

Deciding the fate of Fannie and Freddie, which stand behind about $5 trillion of home loans, remains the biggest outstanding issue from the 2008 financial crisis.

Source: ZeroHedge

It’s Not Too Soon For A Fed Rate Cut, According To This Chart

  • The time between the Fed’s final interest rate hike and its first rate cut in the past five cycles has averaged just 6.6 months, according to Natixis economist Joseph LaVorgna. 
  • The bond market  has quickly pivoted, and fed funds futures are pricing in a quarter point of easing for this year, just days after the Fed forecast no more hikes for this year. 
  • LaVorgna said there are three conditions required for a Fed reversal, and that of a soft economy could soon be met.

(by Patti Domm) The bond market has quickly priced in a Federal Reserve interest rate cut this year, just days after the Fed said it would stop raising rates.

That has been a surprise to many investors, but it shouldn’t be — if history is a guide.

Joseph LaVorgna, Natixis’ economist for the Americas, studied the last five tightening cycles and found there was an average of just 6.6 months from the Federal Reserve’s last interest rate hike in a hiking cycle to its first rate cut.

The economist points out, however, that the amount of time between hike and cut has been lengthening.

“For example, there was only one month from the last tightening in August 1984 to the first easing in September 1984. This was followed by a four-month window succeeding the July 1989 increase in rates, a five-month gap after the February 1995 hike, an eight-month interlude from May 2000 to January 2001, and then a record 15- month span between June 2006 and September 2007,” he wrote.

The Fed last hiked interest rates by a quarter point in December. Last week, it confirmed a new dovish policy stance by eliminating two rate hikes from its forecast for this year. That would leave interest rates unchanged for the balance of the year, with the Fed expecting one more increase next year.

But the fed funds futures market has quickly moved to price in a full fledged 25 basis point easing, or cut, for this year.

“The market’s saying it’s going to happen in December,” said LaVorgna.

There are three conditions that need to be met for the Fed to reverse course and cut interest rates, LaVorgna said. First, the economy’s bounce back after the first quarter slump would have to be weaker than expected, with growth just around potential. Secondly, there would have to be signs that inflation is either undershooting the Fed’s 2 percent target or even decelerating. Finally, the Fed would have to see a tightening of financial conditions, with stock prices under pressure and credit spreads widening.

LaVorgna said the condition of a sluggish economy could be met.

“I don’t think the economy did very well in the first quarter just based on the fact the momentum downshifted hard from Q4, sentiment was awful, production was soft,” he said. ’I’m worried growth is close to zero in the first quarter.”

LaVorgna said he does not see much of a snap back in the second quarter.

In the current cycle, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates in December 2015 after taking the fed funds target rate to zero during the financial crisis.

Source: by Patti Domm | CNBC

***

Americans Are Only Now Starting To Seek Higher Deposit Rates… Just As The Fed Prepares To Cut

 

Yield Curve Inverts For The First Time Since 2007: Recession Countdown Begins

The most prescient recession indicator in the market just inverted for the first time since 2007.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm960.jpg?itok=c0gP8hQC

https://i0.wp.com/northmantrader.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/yield.png?ssl=1

Don’t believe us? Here is Larry Kudlow last summer explaining that everyone freaking out about the 2s10s spread is silly, they focus on the 3-month to 10-year spread that has preceded every recession in the last 50 years (with few if any false positives)… (fwd to 4:20)

As we noted below, on six occasions over the past 50 years when the three-month yield exceeded that of the 10-year, economic recession invariably followed, commencing an average of 311 days after the initial signal. 

And here is Bloomberg showing how the yield curve inverted in 1989, in 2000 and in 2006, with recessions prompting starting in 1990, 2001 and 2008. This time won’t be different.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/prior%20inversions.jpg?itok=BgnEMjCQ

On the heels of a dismal German PMI print, world bond yields have tumbled, extending US Treasuries’ rate collapse since The Fed flip-flopped full dovetard.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm14B0.jpg?itok=Ez0lIVd_

The yield curve is now inverted through 7Y…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm1EA4.jpg?itok=xPH6zVO8

With the 7Y-Fed-Funds spread negative…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm2864.jpg?itok=HqnSx1RR

Bonds and stocks bid after Powell threw in the towell last week…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfmA98E.jpg?itok=D4zUXHf3

But the message from the collapse in bond yields is too loud to ignore. 10Y yields have crashed below 2.50% for the first time since Jan 2018…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm5670.jpg?itok=rocy5sKV

Crushing the spread between 3-month and 10-year Treasury rates to just 2.4bps – a smidge away from flashing a big red recession warning…

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm36A8.jpg?itok=3cfUyMJ1

Critically, as Jim Grant noted recently, the spread between the 10-year and three-month yields is an important indicator, James Bianco, president and eponym of Bianco Research LLC notes today. On six occasions over the past 50 years when the three-month yield exceeded that of the 10-year, economic recession invariably followed, commencing an average of 311 days after the initial signal. 

Bianco concludes that the market, like Trump, believes that the current Funds rate isn’t low enough:

While Powell stressed over and over that the Fed is at “neutral,” . . . the market is saying the rate hike cycle ended last December and the economy will weaken enough for the Fed to see a reason to cut in less than a year.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/bfm1B73_0.jpg?itok=iZGfa7C7

Equity markets remain ignorant of this risk, seemingly banking it all on The Powell Put. We give the last word to DoubleLine’s Jeff Gundlach as a word of caution on the massive decoupling between bonds and stocks…

“Just because things seem invincible doesn’t mean they are invincible. There is kryptonite everywhere. Yesterday’s move created more uncertainty.”

Source: ZeroHedge