As we’ve discussed over the past few months, markets can be wrong—sometimes very wrong.
On that note, consider that the yield on the U.S. ten–year Treasury was trading closer to 2.30% after the Fed’s first rate hike last December—the first hike in nearly ten years and the symbolic move away from the emergency zero interest rate policy. The ten–year yield has, incredulously, traded as low as 1.53% since. One end of that spectrum is wrong, very wrong.
Remember, as we headed into the last Fed meeting, the ten–year yield was trading just shy of 2% (after a wild ride down from the December hike date). And the communication to that point from the Fed was to expect FOUR rate hikes in 2016.
Of course, in the face of another global economic crisis threat, which was driven by the oil price bust, the Fed did their part and backed off of that forecast—taking two of those hikes off of the table. Still, yields under 2% with even two hikes projected seemed mispriced.
So following a dramatic 85% bounce in oil prices and the threat of cheap oil now behind us (seemingly), as of yesterday afternoon yields still stood around just 1.79%. That’s more than a 1/2 percentage point lower than the levels immediately following the December hike. And that’s AFTER two voting Fed members just said on Tuesday that they should go two or threetimes this year. So with global risks abating, the Fed is beginning to walk back up expectations for Fed hikes.
Confirming that, as of yesterday afternoon, the minutes from the most recent Fed meeting have been disclosed, which now indicate that a June hike is likely assuming things continue along the current path (i.e. no global shock risks emerge).
Still, the yield on the ten–year Treasury is just 1.84%, 5 basis points higher than it was yesterday morning, prior to the Fed minutes.
The bet is that the Fed is making a mistake raising rates (at all). But at these levels for the ten–year yield, it’s a very asymmetric bet. The downside for yields here is very limited (short of a global apocalypse), the upside is very big. That makes betting on lower yields a very dangerous one, if not a dumb one. When people are positioned the wrong way in asymmetric trades, the adverse moves tend to be violent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2.50% on the U.S. ten–year Treasury by the year end.
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Heading into today’s inflation data, the prospects of German 10-year government interest rates going negative had added to the heightened risk aversion in global markets. And we’ve been talking this week about how markets are set up for a positive surprise on the inflation front, which could further support the mending of global confidence.
On cue, the euro zone inflation data this morning (the most important data point on inflation in the world right now) came in better than expected. We know Europe, like Japan, is throwing the kitchen sink of extraordinary monetary policies at the economy in an effort to reverse economic stagnation and another steep fall into deflation. And we know that the path forward in Europe, at this stage, will directly affect that path forward in the U.S. and global economy. So, as we said in one of our notes last week, the world needs to see “green shoots” in Europe.
With the better euro zone inflation data today, we may be seeing the early signs of a bottom in this cycle of global pessimism and uncertainty. German yields are now trading double the levels of Monday. And with that, U.S. yields have broken the downtrend of the month, as you can see in the chart below.
Source: Billionaire’s Portfolio, Reuters
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We talked this week about the way markets are set up for a significant positive perception shift. It’s been led by oil, which had its third consecutive close above $40 today. Yields are another key brick in the foundation that may be laid tomorrow.
As oil prices have been a threat to the global economic and stability outlook over the past few months, yields have also been sending a negative signal to markets. The yield on the German 10-year got very close to the all-time lows this week, inching closer to the zero line (and negative territory). And U.S. 10-year yields, following the Fed’s last meeting, have fallen back from 2% down to as low as 1.68% — just 30 basis points above the all-time low of July 2012, when Europe was on the edge of a sovereign debt blow-up. And remember, this is AFTER the Fed has raised rates for the first time in nine years.
So yields have been signaling an uglier path forward, if not deflation forever in places like Japan and Europe. Of course, the move by Japan to negative interest rates in January was a strong contributor to the perception swoon about the global economy. But a key component in Japan’s move, and in the coordinated actions by central banks over the past two months, has been the threat from the oil price bust. And that is now on the mend. Oil is up 58% from its February low.
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Still, global yields are hanging around at the lows.
Tomorrow we get euro zone and U.S. inflation data. As we’ve said, when expectations and perception has been ratcheted down so dramatically, we can get an asymmetric outcome. Earnings expectations are in the gutter. Economic growth expectations are in the gutter. Same can be said for expectations on the outlook for inflation data. In a normal world, hotter than expected inflation is a bad signal for the risk-taking environment. In our current world, hotter than expected inflation would not be a good signal, it would be a very good signal. It would show the economy has a pulse.
Yields in the two key government bond markets are set up nicely for a bottom on some hotter inflation data.
Here’s a look at German yields…
Source: Billionaire’s Portfolio, Reuters
Tuesday, German yields touched 7.5 basis points. Remember, earlier in the month we talked about what happened the last time German yields were this low.
Bond kings Bill Gross and Jeffrey Gundlach said it was crazy. Bill Gross called the German bund the “short of a lifetime” (short bonds, which equates to a bet that yields go higher). He compared it to the opportunity when George Soros broke the Bank of England and made billions shorting the British pound. Gundlach said it was a trade with almost no upside and unlimited downside.
They were both right. In the chart below you can see the explosive move in German rates (in blue) away from the zero line. In the chart below, you can see the 10-year German bond yields moved from 5 basis points to 106 basis points in less than two months — a 20x move. U.S. 10 year yields (the purple line) moved from 1.72% to 2.49% almost in lock-step.
On the move down on Tuesday, the yield on the German bund reversed sharply and put in a bullish outside day (a key reversal signal). Could it have been the bottom into tomorrow’s inflation data?
Coincidentally, the U.S. 10-year looks like a bottom may be in as well.
Source: Billionaire’s Portfolio, Reuters
U.S. yields have a chance to break this downtrend tomorrow on a hotter inflation number.
As we said yesterday, in addition to oil, these are very important charts for financial markets and for the global economic outlook. A bottom in these yields, as well as the continued recovery in oil will be important for restoring confidence in the global economic outlook.
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Central bank posturing has put a bottom in oil and stocks in the past month. Rising stocks and oil, in this environment, have a way of restoring sentiment and the stability of global financial markets. Those efforts were underpinned by more aggressive stimulus from the European Central Bank last week.
And the Fed furthered that effort today.
Just three months ago, the Fed projected that they would hike rates an additional full percentage point this year. Today they backed off and cut that projection down to just 1/2 percent (50 basis points) by year end.
That’s a big shift. In the convoluted post-QE, post-ZIRP world, that’s almost like easing.
What’s happened in the interim? Janet Yellen was asked that today and said it was: Slowing growth in China … A negative fourth quarter GDP number in Japan … Europe has had weaker growth … and Emerging markets have been weighed down by declines in oil prices.
Aside from the negative GDP print in Japan, none of these were new developments (even Japan was no shocker). Meanwhile, during the period from the Fed’s December meeting to its meeting today, oil did a round trip from $37 to $26 and back to $37.
So what happened? It appears that the Fed completely underestimated the threat of weak oil prices to the global economy and financial system. We’ve talked extensively about the danger of persistently weak oil prices, which, at sub $30 was pushing the world very close to the edge of disaster. That threat became very clear in late January/early February, culminating when the one of the biggest oil and natural gas companies in the world, Chesapeake, was rumored to be pursuing the path of bankruptcy (which was of course denied by the company). It was that moment, it appears, that policymakers woke up to the risk that the oil bust could lead to another global financial crisis — with a cascade of defaults in the energy sector, leading to defaults in weak oil exporting countries, spilling over to banks and another financial crisis.
Today’s move by the Fed, while confusing at best, led to higher stocks and higher oil prices. The market has been pricing in a much more accommodative path for the Fed for the better part of the past three months, and today the Fed dialed down to those expectations (i.e. they have now followed the ECB’s bold easing with some easier policy/guidance of their own), which should provide more fuel for the stabilization of financial markets and recovery of key markets (i.e. the continued bottoming of key industrial commodities, more stable and rising stocks and aggressive recovery in oil).
Were they just that wrong, or are they doing their part in coordinating stimulus from last month’s G20 meeting?
Bryan Rich is a macro trader and co-founder of Billionaire’s Portfolio. If you’re looking for great ideas that have been vetted and bought by the world’s most influential and richest investors, join us at Billionaire’s Portfolio.