Reversal, for now
An unexpected rally late in the week reduced the benchmark ten-year note’s yield to its lowest closing level since November. Analysts were hard pressed for a reason, especially in the face of hawkish Fed comments, stronger inflation data, and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s comments re: issuance of 50 and 100-year debentures.
The Week in Review
In reverse order, any initiative to issue debt with such maturities will take some time to implement, just like proposed infrastructure spending. For example, the Treasury’s path to issue floating rate notes took three years, and though this administration is focused on change it will require much market study to examine its possible effects.
The recent strong CPI and PPI releases may be reinforced by Wednesday’s Personal Income & Outlays report that includes the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge – Personal Consumption Expenditures, also expected to be strong. A consensus forecast of +0.4% might put this indicator at the Fed’s 2.0% target.
Wednesday’s release of minutes from the January FOMC meeting offered no clear signal of an imminent interest rate increase, but many participants believed a rate increase could come “fairly soon.” On Thursday, four Primary Dealers in the Treasury market had joined in calling for a May rate hike, though most others are on record for an increase in June.
The Week Ahead – data, the President, and more Fed speak, highlighted by Janet Yellen’s speech Friday night. Treasury supply consists of short-term T- Bills with announcements of 3,10, and 30-year auctions for the week of the March debenture sales.
Monday – Durable Goods – occasionally volatile but improving, expected to be +1.8%
Tuesday – GDP – second revision to 1.9% 4Q growth; consensus is 2.1%; and President Trump speaks to Congress, a speech that is expected to include some insight on fiscal policy
Wednesday – PI&O – income is expected to be +0.3%, with the PCE at +0.4%
Friday - two Fed Presidents (Evans and Lacker) speak on inflation; and Chairwoman Yellen speaks to the Executive Club of Chicago
Strong Headline News – is what drove the markets last week, but left Treasury rates mostly unchanged by Friday.
A combination of better than consensus economic releases, aided by more hawkish comments from Chairwoman Yellen, moved rates higher midweek, only to reverse trend by Friday.
Recent French polls put Marine Le Pen in a lead over opponents, causing concern about her nationalistic views to leave the European Union and pressuring French bond rates, which still remain low. French rates have recently risen but this table shows how cheap US Treasuries remain to other sovereign debt.
The Week Ahead – is fairly light on economic data.
Stock Indexes at New Records – and most of the week’s gains occurred after President Trump announced a “phenomenal” corporate tax announcement to be made in the next couple of weeks. The president seems to be borrowing a page from ECB president Mario Draghi, whose undated profession to do “whatever it takes,” without actually doing anything immediately, helped the European markets in the lead up to its QE program.
The expected tax cuts and fiscal spending are driving stock and US$, values while putting a cap on any Treasury gains. Fulfilling these initiatives falls to Congress, not Presidential decree, and there is a question as to how long this will take.
In the meantime, the Greek debt crisis has returned to form, a hard Brexit is yet to be defined, a possible Frexit is of concern if Marine Le Pen is victorious, and though there was good indirect bidding for last week’s $62 billion of Treasury debt, foreign investors are holding a smaller total amount of U.S. Treasuries. As evidenced by the Bloomberg chart below, this is not a new trend but did accelerate during the presidential election year and has continued into 2017.
Also, it was mentioned last week that the Fed has policy options other than just raising rates, e.g. reduce the reinvestment of maturing bonds and P&I payments from its mortgage backed securities, something that James Bullard, President of the St. Louis Fed, mentioned in a Thursday speech. Taken together, these items identify global caution about buying U.S. government debt due to political uncertainty. At $5.64 trillion that amount is formidable but its 43% of outstanding supply is down from a 56% share in 2008.
The Week in Review – saw rates improve, though not as much as stocks. 2017-20B was priced at 2.82%, vs. a 12-month average of 2.35%.
The Week Ahead – we’ll see some economic data like Producer Price Index and Retail Sales, but scheduled appearances by Janet Yellen before Congress will be of most interest. On Tuesday, she speaks before the Senate Banking Committee and then Wednesday’s appearance is before the House Financial Services Committee.
With Treasuries becalmed, specifically the ten-year Note closing around 2.48% for the third consecutive week, let’s turn our attention to stocks, where the DJIA had its best one-day performance in two months thanks to the most recent Executive Order to review the Dodd-Frank legislation.
The index’s 187-point gain on Friday was driven by potential regulatory rollbacks and the headline value of Friday’s report of 227,000 job gains in January. The banking sector was a driving force as the index that represents big banks is +24% since the election.
The Week in Review
Sensing a higher rate environment, corporate treasurers are marching to market in force: $17 billion for Microsoft; $10 billion for AT&T; and $8 billion for Apple. Amidst this wave of issuance, corporate bond trading hit a record high of $38 billion on Tuesday alone. Two of the above names have large cash positions with little need to fund operations, as Microsoft recently reported $5 billion in quarterly profit. Looking back to 2008, the firm had zero debt, but taking advantage of historically low interest rates that total is now $76 billion. Wednesday’s announcement from the FOMC was as expected; no change in policy with a unanimous vote.
And then Friday’s NFP report came in stronger than expected but disappointed with a weak wage growth number (2.5%) with last month’s gain revised down. So, we had a stronger than expected number of jobs created, with the Unemployment Rate increasing to 4.8%, and wage growth declining 0.02%. A 46,000 gain in retail jobs was the best number of all categories, leaving the regulatory rollback as the real catalyst for Friday’s strength in stocks.
Though the Fed has projected three rate hikes this year most analysts expect just two, probably occurring in June and December. Rate hikes alone aren’t the only tools to influence policy, as the Fed could temper its current reinvestment policy to shrink its $4 billion balance sheet. It is expected to see $195 billion of Treasury debt mature in 2017 and is currently reinvesting that and proceeds from about $30 billion in monthly P&I payments on its mortgage backed bonds. Yes, Quantitative Easing still lives to some degree. In a footnote to a recent Janet Yellen speech, she admitted that the portfolio’s duration has shrunk to 6 years, down from a 7.5-year duration four-years ago.
The Week Ahead
Marking Time, Again
After an initial drop in rate, the Treasury market eased back to close the week 1 bps higher as the market absorbed $88 billion in 2, 5, and 7-year Treasury debt. All issues were strongly oversubscribed, including foreign demand which topped out at 74% for the $28 billion 7-year maturity.
Tepid – was the word the WSJ used to describe 4Q16 GDP growth. At 1.9% it dropped dramatically from the 3Q rate of 3.5% and is closer to the 2.1% annual growth rate since 2009.
CBO projects this unspectacular trend to continue, citing structural trends like baby boomer retirements and the increasing trade deficit. Slow growth in the labor force and sluggish worker productivity were cited by Janet Yellen as “some of the variety of forces affecting supply and demand.”
Intense – was the reaction to many of President Trump’s executive orders during his first week in office. Many of them are controversial, and it remains to be seen if he attempts to seek common ground with Republican lawmakers – individual and corporate tax reform, deregulation, and stimulative economic policies, or continues to adhere to campaign pledges.
Last Week in Review
The Week Ahead –
The post-election equity rally has stalled, and the bond market selloff regained momentum, as global markets are at a crossroads awaiting details on President Trump’s proposals.
Closing the week below the December high of 2.60%, the CT-10 rate increase was part of a curve steepening trade after more Fed speak. One particular speech by Chairwoman Yellen on Wednesday simply stated that interest rates could be raised “a few times a year” through 2019. The FOMC has already outlined that path but hearing it again from the Fed chair clearly upset the bond market.
Helping that sentiment was the Consumer Price Index release that showed a 2.1% gain Y/Y, and a very strong auction for $13 billion of 10-year TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities). Indirect (foreign) bidding for the issue totaled 77.1%.
The Week Ahead – has no scheduled Fed speeches, but several economic releases:
Marking Time – The market took a run at lower rates, but met resistance, and ended the week near where it had started; as did Equities, whose post-election rally tapered off.
We are four days away from the new President’s inauguration, and even further away from the proposed tax, and spending initiatives that have been forecast. Marking time is expected to continue until there is some definition to these proposals.
The Week in Review
The Week Ahead
This is how rates change when an economic report contains stronger data that expected. The item in this case was part of Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll Report, and it was Average Hourly Earnings (wage growth) that was +0.4%, bringing it to a post-crisis high of +2.9% Y/Y. Wage growth bodes well for consumer spending, which reflects demand for goods, resulting in inflation, which is bad for fixed rate securities. By itself, it does not mean we are at the Fed’s inflation target of 2.0%, but reflects how sensitive the market is during the transition to a new administration that promises tax cuts and increased spending.
In its entirety, the NFP report was:
The Week in Review – other than the already mentioned NFP Report:
The Week Ahead – has A LOT of “Fed speak;” most importantly, Janet Yellen on Thursday night.
The final week of trading for 2016 saw prices improve, and yields decline, as the Treasury saw strong demand for its auctions of intermediate-term debt. Indirect (foreign) purchases of the $34 billion 5-year maturity were the strongest, with 71% of the issue accounted for that way. This action took place as the DJIA failed in its attempt to reach 20,000; closing the week down 146 points at 19,763.
Considering the volatility, it is interesting to note that the ten-year Treasury yield increased just 17 bps Y/Y, resulting in the second consecutive year that yields increased. Most of the move was driven by the election results, as market analysts expect inflation to rise as a result of increased spending to spur infrastructure growth.
At 4.6%, the Unemployment Rate has surpassed the FOMC’s target; Personal Consumption Expenditures are at 1.41%, below target but showing signs of strength; and while the third target of global growth is spotty, focus is more closely centered on expected policies of our new administration.
The FOMC has identified three potential rate hikes in 2017, moves that would increase the overnight cost of funds to 1.375% from the current level of 0.625%. With that in mind, this Financial Times chart projects rates out to 2020, and a target of 2.0%.
The Week Ahead
The Year Ahead – will be driven by these topics:
Let the trend be your friend – reinforced bearishness as Treasury rates rose for the sixth consecutive week, with the two-year Note reaching its highest yield since the financial market collapse (1.26%). Equities and US$ rallied, bonds and commodities sold off, though with reduced volume as holiday staffing has already been introduced to the markets. At some point, substantive detail for regulatory and legislative change, as well as higher inflation readings, are needed to support this move. For now, we are light on data into year-end and yield seekers have been in short supply.
A couple of points on rates:
Fixed vs. Floating - As rates rise, with the international benchmark lending rate of 3-month Libor trading at 0.997%, a flood of money has found its way into loan funds, as investors seek out the higher income paid by floating rate loans, unlike fixed rate debt. Bank loan funds have counted more than $3bn of inflows over the past two weeks, the greatest haul for a two-week period in more than three years.
The Dot Plot - during her recent press conference, Chairwoman Yellen identified expectations for three rate increases in 2017, vs. the previous projection of just two moves. It is that additional hike that pushed yields to their recent high, but this Financial Times chart shows its survey of 31 economists that identified June as the next likely increase, with only one more to follow. Such a pattern would be reminiscent of the Fed’s projection of four rate hikes in 2016, with last week’s move being the only one.
The Week Ahead – will certainly include Fed speak and has housing data, plus:
A quiet week in the rates market until Thursday, when Mario Draghi announced an extension of the European Central Bank’s Quantitative Easing program at the same time he announced a reduction in the principal amount of monthly bond purchases. The latter point won out as the market sold off towards its 2.50% support level, in anticipation of the FOMC’s policy announcement this Wednesday at 2:00.
The week in review – was very light on economic data but did show increases in Consumer Spending and Consumer Sentiment.
2016-20L was priced at 2.81%, +41 bps to Treasuries vs. the 12-month average of 2.33% at +56 bps.
The Treasury curve continues its bear market steepening, having widened 14 bps in the last two-weeks, to +133 bps.
The week ahead – delivers the long-awaited interest rate hike from the Fed. It would be a shock if there was no change and it seems the increase is already baked into the markets, at least in the front end of the curve.
Hesitant seems the best word to describe last week’s market activity:
Recent volatility is not new as this WSJ chart below identifies the frequency of 1% rate increases, dating back to the financial market collapse.
The Trump effect is still being felt as fear of inflation, not inflation itself, has asserted itself. And now, Treasury designate Mnuchin has proposed issuing debt longer than thirty-years to fund infrastructure needs.
The week in review
The week ahead is relatively light on reports and issuance.
Does this matter?
At 2.36% yield, CT-10 is at the largest premium to the S&P 500 index in over a year, yielding 2.36% vs. 2.11%. Price action this month points the issue to its steepest monthly decline since January 2009, and it remains oversold.
The answer should be yes, as investors (insurance companies and pension funds, in particular) have been starved for yield and this month’s selloff has preceded December’s almost certain rate hike. That FOMC meeting’s announcement is scheduled for the day our December sale closes, December 14th.
Last week’s supply of intermediate term Treasury debt was met with strong foreign demand and $US denominated debt maintains its wide spread to other global bonds. The longest dated of the three Treasury auctions, a 7-year maturity, saw the greatest foreign demand – 71%, and the $28 billion auction was 2.7X subscribed.
The week in review - was highlighted by the Treasury auctions, release of the November FOMC minutes, and a strong Durable Goods report occurring in a holiday shortened week.
This week – has more Fed speak, plus these reports:
Gradual might have been the Fed’s intent, but 98 bps in four months is how much we have moved since July, with no change in Fed policy; and that is certain to change on December 13th at the conclusion of the FOMC’s next meeting. The upward trend in rate that accelerated after the November 8 election was enhanced late last week by Fed speak: comments from Janet Yellen to Congress that a rate increase could “become appropriate relatively soon,” and the NY Fed President, William Dudley, who stated, “some further evidence” of inflation indicates the Committee’s inflation target is in reach.
The above chart reflects the weekly close for our benchmark ten-year Treasury, closing Friday well above its 50-week, and comfortably above its 200-week average. What the bottom chart shows is the “moving average convergence divergence” indicator that traders reference for when markets might be overbought or oversold. A definition of it is “moving average convergence divergence (MACD) is a trend-following momentum indicator that shows the relationship between two moving averages of prices, functioning as a trigger for buy and sell signals.” By no means does it guarantee a correction since the current trend could continue, but it does indicate this market is oversold and rates are likely to decline somewhat. The qualifier somewhat was added because starting today the Fed will conduct auctions totaling $173 billion of Treasury debt, closely split between short-term T-Bills and longer term notes.
An indication of how sudden this move has been are the last three 20-year sales, plus an indication of what a sale could have been, if priced last Friday:
|20-year series||September||October||November||If 11/18/2016|
The week in review - adding substance to the Fed comments were mostly strong economic reports:
The week ahead – contains some reports on housing, and a durable goods report, but even though the market requires no more assurance of a December rate hike, we do get a Wednesday release of minutes from the meeting that concluded on November 2nd.
On the day after the election we saw market divergence as stocks rallied and bond yields surged, moving the benchmark ten-year Treasury yield dramatically higher, and increasing our 2016-20K to a rate 36 bps higher than in October. Wednesday’s jump in yield was the biggest one-day increase in three-years, partly affected by an auction for $23 billion of the benchmark ten-year Treasury note, and strongly influenced by the president elect’s intended infrastructure spending and tax cuts. The move to higher yield was then enhanced by Thursday’s auction of $15 billion thirty-year bonds and has continued into today’s opening, with CT-10 at 2.23% and the 30-year bond reaching 3.0% for the first time since January.
Where to begin, and how soon?
It is obligatory for newly elected presidents to have a 100-day plan and Mr. Trump’s challenge will be how to prioritize his objectives:
It is the last item that framed the recent move higher in rate and is also linked to Mr. Trump’s criticism of Fed policy. Chairwoman Yellen has repeatedly advocated a gradual increase in rates but legislative changes could challenge that approach. A key determinant will be how infrastructure spending is realized: an anticipated increase in Treasury funding contributed to last week’s move but Trump advisors have proposed private equity can fund projects in exchange for significant tax breaks. That approach believes the loss of tax revenue would be recouped by increased taxes realized from construction workers, plus increased tax revenue from contractors. And then there is the “deemed repatriation” of foreign profits, as much as $2.5 trillion. Relaxing the current tax rate on that could account for at least some of the required spending. It is important to note that infrastructure projects take considerable time to plan and initiate and most are done at the state and local level, making federal involvement even more complex and time consuming.
Although the Fed’s PCE model of inflation remains below its 2% target, fiscal stimulus in a tight labor market can result in inflation which, in turn, is harmful to bond investors. The type of inflation that could result is called “demand-pull” because it occurs when there is too much spending in an economy that can produce only so many goods and services.
Yields have moved sharply higher twice in the last three years, only to reverse course when conditions did not sustain economic improvement. It is improbable that we revisit dramatically lower rates and structural change is still many months away, but market sentiment has definitely shifted due to Mr. Trump’s mix of economic stimulus and protectionism that is expected to foster faster growth and inflation. With ten-year yields 50 bps higher than one-month ago the market has already priced in more than next month’s anticipated rate hike and steepened the curve, so we should see some stability but that will be influenced by the new administration’s announcements.
The Week Ahead – lots of Fed speak, including Janet Yellen’s Thursday testimony before the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee, plus speculation on President elect Trump’s agenda.
Randomness of Consequence
As we approach Tuesday’s Presidential election markets are at odds with each other: stocks ended last week with eight consecutive down days while Treasuries held firm, and even rallied. There is much speculation about the impact of either party’s victory as analyst’s debate the potential policy changes which, of course, will depend not only on the presidential vote but also the composition of Congress.
The Week in Review
The Week Ahead
Bonds on the Run
With one trading day left on All Hollows Eve, the ten-year Treasury yield has risen 25 bps since the end of September, marking the worst monthly performance for bonds in three years. Contributing factors have been: The Bank of Japan establishing a floor for its longer-term yields; the European Central Bank offering tepid encouragement for extending its bond purchase program; UK inflation unexpectedly rising; a stronger than expected report on 3Q16 GDP; and increased bond issuance in Europe.
Economic reports last week supported domestic growth and that helped to soften the market.
This isn’t the first time we have seen an improved quarterly report, as evidenced by the uneven performance dating back to 2009, but it seems the market senses more contributing factors to support a change in Fed policy. Whether it is a one-off move like in December 2015 is what will keep the market guessing.
A very quiet week with a lot of Fed speak and economic reports that were mostly flat.
A combination of Federal Reserve Bank Presidents, Governors and a Vice Chairman contributed more support for gradual rate hikes “if the economy is in good shape.” Adding to this theme of caution was Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, who hinted at extending the bank’s bond purchase program.
Last Week’s Events
Industrial Production and CPI came in as expected while Housing Starts showed a 9% decline, primarily because the volatile multi-family sector was down a dramatic 38%.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia found strong demand for its $17.5 billion offering of 5, 10, and 30-year debentures. The sale was almost 4X oversubscribed at spreads very attractive for a AA credit. One example is their 10-year series was priced at 3.40%, + 164 bps to CT-10. This is the first of many offerings that are expected to total $125 billion as the Kingdom looks to diversify an economy that is less dependent on oil exports.
The Week Ahead
Last week saw a continued erosion of investor confidence due to the release of FOMC minutes from the July meeting, new Treasury debt, a continued sloppy market for stocks, and sustained weakness in the British pound as the UK prepares to negotiate its EU exit.
The benchmark ten-year Treasury rose 8 bps, closing above its 200-day Moving Average of 1.75% and at its highest close yield since late May.
Fed minutes confirmed the decision to hold rates steady was a close call (7-3), but the vote was more divided than originally thought. The members voiced concern about labor market slack being affected by continued low interest rates, stating “a reasonable argument could be made to hike rates.” Such a policy change is unlikely before the November 8 election, but December is looking more certain.
Prices for US, German, and UK 30-year debt are on track this month for the steepest decline in a year. Yield increases of about 23 bps reflect investor concern with diminished central bank stimulus.
Exit, Stage Left – as the British pound weakens ahead of the UK exit negotiations.
Where is the money going? One beneficiary of this trend is government money market funds, which invest only in government assets. Their total assets now stand at $2.1 trillion, up from $1.1 trillion in January.
The week ahead– is pretty light on economic reports.
The market for CT-10 was unable to break through its 50-day Moving Average and now sits just below its 200-day Average.
There is rarely one reason for any event and we can look at several items that contributed to this recent move:
But, these events occurred later in the week, after bonds had already weakened in the face of new supply. If Japan is going to set a floor for long-term rates, and the UK might increase issuance, and the ECB has cautioned that it may not increase its monetary easing, then the market will become more cautious for reasons like the ones outlined by Martin Feldstein in in Op-ed piece in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. Mr. Feldstein was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan and is currently a professor at Harvard. Key points in his piece “Why the Fed should raise rates now” are:
Professor Feldstein added: “Abnormally low interest rates are also inducing banks and other lenders to reach for yield by lending to lower-quality borrowers and granting loans with fewer restrictions. If an asset-price correction causes an economic decline, these high-risk loans will suffer and the banks and other lenders will be in trouble. The current low bond rates have also removed the usual pressure on the government to deal with budget deficits. The debt-to-GDP ratio has more than doubled over the past decade, rising from 35% to 75%.”
The week in review:
The week ahead
The market made some attempt to rally but global concerns for Deutsche Bank, and skepticism over an OPEC agreement to cut production, combined to remove the momentum. Month-end buying on Friday helped stocks recover to where they started the month, while Treasuries gave ground to close the week better by just 2 bps.
The closing level for CT-10 is 4 bps above where we priced in September, and rests just above its 50-day Moving Average.
The week in review – modest continues to be an apt description for economic reports.
The week ahead –
No Change – in Fed policy resulted in modest gains for both bonds and stocks, while probably increasing the risk appetite of investors.
The benchmark ten-year Treasury improved by 8 bps on the week to close at 1.62%, 7 bps above where 2016-20I was priced, and should see some resistance at the 50-day Moving Average of 1.59%. The week’s performance was the best for this benchmark since late July.
Demand for Treasury debt will be tested this week with $88 billion of two, five, and seven-year notes being auctioned.
As for a future rate hike, the FOMC has two more meeting this year, with the pre-election November meeting unlikely to produce a change. But Wednesday’s no change announcement was not unanimous, and that is a reason why there is a 54% probability for a change after the December 14th meeting. Dissenters point to strong employment data with more people seeking work, and believe the Committee should not keep interest rates this low any longer. Their shared concern is that a rate increase now will commence a gradual path to higher rates and prevent the potential need for a rapid series of future increases.
The other central bank announcement last week came from the Bank of Japan which affirmed its zero interest rate target for its ten-year bonds.
The Week Ahead
Apple Inc. shares posted their best gain in five-years, up 11% on the week, as stocks in general, and also bonds, marked time. Marking time in advance of multiple central bank meetings this week; the Fed’s Open Market Committee in particular. They meet Tuesday and Wednesday with an update of their latest economic forecasts and the Bank of Japan has a similar schedule.
Central Bank Scorecard
Federal Open Market Committee
European Central Bank
Bank of Japan
The capital markets would appreciate a rate hike; banks and insurance companies in particular, as they have been forced to seek riskier investments due to the low rate environment of the last four-years.
The Week Ahead
A rather quiet week changed quickly after ECB President Mario Draghi announced no fresh stimulus and his comments were interpreted as indicating there could a cutback in current support. Market response was delayed (fortunately for our debenture sale) and kicked in on Friday with rates continuing to rise and equities suffering their first 1% selloff in two-months.
By Friday’s close, our benchmark U.S. Treasury rate had increased 11 bps from when we priced on Thursday, moving it sharply above its 50-day Moving Average of 1.54%. Friday’s price action continues this morning with global equity and bond markets in decline.
Fed Speak got Louder
While it was Mr. Draghi’s comments that put the market on notice, it was a Friday comment from the usually dovish Boston Fed President, Eric Rosengren, that accelerated the rate rise and a nearly 400-point decline in the DJIA.
Additional Fed sentiment may be provided by Fed Governor Lael Brainard in a Monday afternoon speech, just before the pre-meeting blackout period for commentary begins on Tuesday. The FOMC meeting is September 20-21, and while recent Fed speak has put the market on edge, it seems odd that Federal-funds futures show just a 24% chance of a U.S. interest-rate rise in September, rising to 55% by December. The takeaway from that is the market is probably overbought.
More than $13 trillion of global debt remains at negative yields but some longer-term maturities are easing back; like German bunds (10-year maturity) that regained positive territory, and JGB’s (Japanese 10-year notes), which are only -0.02% after trading as rich as -0.27%. An interesting development about Japan’s market is that in time the BoJ could run out of securities to buy. The bank already owns one-third of the country’s outstanding debt and though there is sufficient supply to accommodate near-term purchases, banks need to hold these high credit assets and may be reluctant to accommodate the central bank’s continued demand.
Last Week - was highlighted by the above mentioned official comments, but also included the program’s September debenture sales.
Demand remains strong for the product and fortunately, both issues were priced before the selloff.
The Week Ahead - contains just one-day of Fed speak but the Bank of England will have a Thursday announcement regarding its monetary policy, which is expected to be unchanged.
Retails Sales - is Thursday and growth is expected to continue June and July’s slow pace.
Industrial Production - follows solid gains in June and July but is expected to be in the 0-+0.4% range
CPI - is Friday and while its year-over-year rate (ex food & energy) is +2.2%, August is expected to be flat to +0.2%.
reads the headline of a NY Times article, and it captures the status quo element of Friday’s jobs report. With a gain of 151,000 and an unchanged Unemployment rate of 4.9%, the report came in below forecast and dampened confidence of a rate hike at the FOMC’s September 20-21 meeting. Details of the report are:
The report does not rule out a policy change as the year-to-date monthly average is 182,000, below that of previous years but strong enough to keep hiring near the FOMC’s goal. Market reaction was muted with both stocks and bonds relatively unchanged on the week.
Productivity has also shown the biggest one-year decline since 2013, down to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.6%. Performance like this, as well as low inflation, contribute to the Fed’s hesitance to raise rates.
As a result of this low output, the cost of producing goods and services has risen for many companies and cut into profits despite rising sales. Unit-labor costs jumped a revised 4.3% in the second quarter vs. an initial 2% reading.
Global demand for assets – remains strong as Blue Chip Corporate issuance has surpassed $1 trillion year-to-date and the sector has rewarded investors with a 9.5% gain, vs. a loss of 0.9% last year. Asian demand for an initial $15 billion offering by Saudi Arabia is so strong the kingdom will schedule additional sales to follow. Formal announcement will not be until later this month for sale in October.
The reaction was muted, and not immediate, but rates did rise Friday after Chairwoman Yellen made a stronger case for an interest rate rise in her speech at Jackson Hole.
As usual, her comments were hedged, making any decision dependent on continued improvement in jobs reports (like this Friday’s) and no setbacks in inflation and economic growth. The Committee appears committed to a rate hike but is sensitive to timing as it will meet three more times this year and the Financial Times has increased its probability of a 2016 rate hike to 80%, from 70% before Friday’s speech.
Last week – again saw mixed reports.
The week ahead – includes more Fed speak, plus:
On Your Mark?
In keeping with the Olympic spirit, this Market Watch photo illustration has Chairwoman Yellen poised to signal a restart to the Bank’s rate increases, and identifies this Friday’s speech at Jackson Hole as a possible venue for that intent. Hiring, inflation and growth are the metrics for any rate hike, and though inflation and growth remain below target, more analysts are expecting a rate hike this year. Probably in December, but possibly in September if job growth remains robust. It is highly unlikely the Fed would move in November ahead of the election.
There was some pressure on rates last week, mostly from Fed speak, with two Bank Presidents indicating the Committee is “getting closer to the time it would be appropriate to raise interest rates.” Adding to this hawkish talk was a Sunday report in the Financial Times quoting Stanley Fischer, Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Board of Governors, saying “We are close to our targets. Not only that, the behavior of employment has been remarkably resilient.”
The minutes from the July FOMC meeting showed mixed support for a rate hike, and followed the Consumer Price Index release. CPI headline number was zero, but that was dragged down by a 1.6% decline in energy prices. Ex food & energy the index was +0.1% and the Y/Y rate was +2.2%.
The week ahead - has Treasury selling $175 billion in short-term Bills and intermediate-term Notes.
July’s NFP report of +288,000 caused a spike in rates, but even with that rise 2016-20H priced at the same debenture rate as July’s 2.04%, below the program’s 12-month average of 2.59%.
Rates are being held down by:
And then on Friday, Retail Sales were reported to be flat in July, and just +2.3% Y/Y. Department store sales declined 0.5%, while e commerce sales rose 1.3%. An indication of this disparity is Macy’s, the nation’s largest retailer, announcing the closure of 100 of its 728 stores. Following this release, Producer Prices came in at -0.4%, -0.2% from a year ago. This report will influence Tuesday’s Consumer Price Index report that is now expected to be flat.
The week ahead – will focus on Wednesday’s release of the minutes from the July 27 FOMC meeting.
Is a rate hike back in play?
Perhaps in December if employment gains continue, and global economies improve, yet the probability of a September change has increased to 40%.
The WSJ chart below identifies the projected domestic inflation rate as implied by the yield on ten-year TIPS – Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. These securities have semi-annual inflation adjustments that are determined by the CPI, and paid out at maturity. With this projection it is obvious the Fed is unlikely to see inflation hit its target anytime soon.
You would have to dig deep to find anything negative about Friday’s NFP report that sent domestic stock indexes to record highs, but wage growth is probably the weak link. At 2.6% annually it is showing strength but remains well below its 2009 level. Additionally, job expansion is running about 1.7% annually, similar to projected GDP growth and that indicates productivity is not growing. The previous week’s report of +1.2% 2Q16 GDP identified the third consecutive quarter of declining capital investment and is a contributing factor to reduced productivity.
One question a skeptic might ask is – how is the financial services category adding jobs when banks and insurance companies (like Met Life taking a $2 billion charge to its variable annuity business) are cutting jobs to reduce costs due to this low rate environment?
The week ahead
Last week’s spike in rates was headlined by the jobs report but there had been earlier pressure when weak demand for Japan’s ten-year note auction moved its rate from -0.27% to -.07%, starting a global selloff in sovereign debt. That is a reminder that even with central bank buying of these bonds investors are not fully committed to negative yields. Rate locking on new corporate issuance also helped to move rates higher.
Friday’s closing rate of 1.59% on CT-10 is 17 bps higher than when 2016-20J was priced.
GDP Disappoints – and rates decline
Expected to be more than double 1Q16’s report, not only did the 2Q report show just a 1.2% gain but 1Q was revised down to 0.8% from 1.1%. For the week, ten-year rates declined 12 bps to 1.45%, equities softened (though S&P 500 index gained 3.4% on the month), and $US also sold off, especially after the GDP release.
This WSJ chart shows the declining trend in our country’s output since 2Q15. A gain of 2.5% was the optimistic forecast, so the 1.2% gain leaves the first six months with an average gain of 1.0% compared to that period’s average gain of 2.0% since the recovery began in 2009.
The weakness was led by capital investment, down for the third consecutive quarter with a decline of 9.7%, as seen in the Financial Times chart below. Companies continue to cut back on structural spending like oil wells, equipment, and inventory. With regard to oil wells, oil prices have declined 20% since their June 8 peak, contributing to some of the world’s largest oil companies to report a quarterly profit at its lowest level since 1999 (Exxon Mobil), or its biggest quarterly loss since 2001 (Chevron).
Friday’s GDP report followed Wednesday’s release of minutes from the FOMC’s recent meeting, where the Committee again emphasized a gradual path for rate hikes but added “near-term risks for the economic outlook have diminished.” Modest wage gains and an increase in reports like the Employment Cost Index (+2.3% Y/Y) offer some encouragement to policy makers that a higher rate policy can buck the global trend, but the market remains skeptical. Though the probability of a December rate hike stood at 50% on Tuesday, it ended the week at 37%.
Brexit & Exit
European equity funds continue to see money leave, heightened by the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote. YTD these funds have seen $76 billion withdrawn with the emerging Italian banking crisis contributing to the trend, as well as British consumer sentiment dropping the sharpest since 1990. The market that is benefitting from this is Emerging Markets, whose funds have attracted $14 billion in just the last four-weeks, and have rewarded investors with an 11% return for the year.
The week ahead
Monday – Institute of Supply Management report is expected to reflect moderate growth
Tuesday – the Fed’s preferred inflation indicator, Personal Consumption Expenditures, is forecast to show a gain of just 0.1%, while Personal Income is expected to be stronger
Friday – we play “guess your best “again with Non- Farm Payroll expected to show a gain of 185,000 after June’s +287,000 and May’s disappointing +38,000. The Unemployment Rate is expected to be unchanged at 4.9%
A quiet week in stocks and bonds amid ongoing global turmoil.
Ten-year Treasury yields rose slightly as did prices on most stock indexes. The week saw some interesting releases:
The week ahead
Overall, the market continues to battle with conflicted issues of moderate domestic growth and global concerns; negative sovereign debt yields in particular. The Treasury will auction $172 billion of debt this week, consisting of $69 billion in T-Bills and $103 billion of term debt.
The ten-year Treasury yield increased 19 bps last week for the largest one-week rise in thirteen months. Market uncertainty that had been prevalent was displaced by factors like:
Even in weakness, demand for the U.S. Treasury product remains strong, especially from foreign investors. Wednesday’s $12 billion auction of thirty-year debt at 2.17% was its lowest auction rate ever, attracting an oversubscription of 2.5X, with 68.5% of the total going to foreign buyers. With a majority of stocks offering a higher yield than Treasuries, it is clear how overpriced the market is, and how dependent the product is on demand from global investors whose debt is even more expensive.
Aided by the Brexit vote and the ongoing QE purchases by the BoJ and ECB, $13 billion of global debt now trades at negative yields, making US debt even more attractive when its yields increase.
The week ahead – is fairly light on economic data but we do get Housing Starts and Home Sales, plus a consumer sentiment reading in the EU.
By the numbers -
Last week ended with stocks rising towards a new record high and government bond yields closing at new, low yields. Though these two markets usually move in opposite directions ongoing central bank policies are supporting fixed income product while data points to more strength in the economy.
Last Week -
This Week -
Most stock markets rallied sharply late last week, with US markets up more than 3% for the biggest weekly gain of the year.
Ordinarily, that would mean bond prices would weaken but Central banks affirmed their intent to support easy money policies and while the “safe haven” trade lost some its momentum U.S. Treasuries remained well bid, ending the week at 1.44% after trading at an historic low of 1.38%. In early morning trading today we are revisiting 1.38% (a 37 bps improvement since the 6/23 Brexit vote) and stocks are wobbling.
British regret – Brits representing the Remain bloc marched on Saturday to show their support for remaining in the European Union but potential candidates to succeed David Cameron have stated there will be no second referendum and that they see no urgency to file Article 50, the trigger mechanism for leaving the EU. That assures markets of continued uncertainty, leaving the pound sterling under pressure and strengthening $US. The Bank of England has indicated it may cut rates this summer and the amount of global, sovereign debt trading at negative yields now totals $11.7 trillion. Part of that mix shows Japan selling new, ten-year debt at -0.25% and Switzerland’s 50-year bond is now at a negative yield. With the central banks in England and Japan committed to Quantitative Easing this amount will increase, leaving $US denominated debt as an attractive alternative for global investors.
Last week – saw Puerto Rico default on almost $1 billion of constitutionally guaranteed debt, Standard & Poors downgrade the UK’s credit rating to AA, and Italy is preparing to offer aid to a failing bank, Economic reports continue to be mostly positive:
The week ahead – includes pricing for the program’s 2016 10-D and 20-G debentures on Thursday, for funding on Wednesday July 13. Important government releases are:
Against all odds – going into Thursday’s Brexit vote, Ladbrokes, the English bookmaker, placed a 90% probability on Britain remaining in the European Union. Though less costly than their 5000/1 odds against Leicester City winning the Premier League, this result will have significant influence on financial markets and global economies.
After rising earlier in the week global stock markets buckled on Friday as traders reacted to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
The vote was 52%-48% with 72% of eligible voters participating. A clear demographic was generational: 57% of voters ≥55 voted to Leave, while 57% of voters aged 18-34 supported Remain. Analysts identify this split as younger Britons having grown up in a period of European integration and liking it, while the older group seeks to reclaim their nationalist identity.
Issues to be settled
Trade – England would prefer to retain access to the EU’s single market but probably will have to negotiate bilateral trade deals, which could be costly and time consuming to negotiate
Immigration – perhaps the most compelling argument to Leave and one that might parallel sentiment in the U.S. presidential campaign. Existing EU nationals in the UK could remain but new entrants would no longer have the automatic right to work and live there.
Economy – the consensus opinion is that Brexit will hurt UK growth, at least short-term
UK composition - two years ago Scotland voted to remain but there is speculation they, and perhaps Northern Ireland, will seek membership in the EU themselves. Such a decision could further weaken Britain’s economy.
Lower, for a lot longer
The Treasury market had weakened leading up to Thursday and then had the sharpest one-day rate drop in five and one-half years. The chart below shows how the ten-year rate had traded as low as 1.57% in the week of June 20, then eased back going into last Friday. Treasuries will continue to be a “safe haven” investment while the impact of this vote and timing of the withdrawal continues to be evaluated. Likewise, the British pound will continue to weaken until there is more clarity or it simply becomes oversold.
Maybe, maybe not – the referendum took place because David Cameron promised it during his reelection campaign to appease the Brexit contingent of his party. While not legally binding, it will be interesting to see how long it will take for the necessary paperwork to be submitted. An Article 50 needs to be initiated by the UK and sent to Brussels in order to formally begin the process. While Mr. Cameron had previously said he would submit it the day after the vote, he decided not to submit it, offered his resignation, and will leave that task to his successor, who will probably not take office until October. It is that person who will be handed, in the words of one British writer, the “poisoned chalice.” Cameron has deftly identified the reluctance of any politician to be the architect of Britain’s departure from the Union. If that assessment is correct and Britain delays the paperwork (which triggers a two-year deadline once it is submitted) markets will face more uncertainty and remain unsettled. Such a delay could be offset by the insistence of some EU leaders who want Britain to act quickly, something even the Brexit leaders do not advocate as they prefer informal talks in order to negotiate the best terms.
The week ahead – should help to sort out some issues, like:
Lower for Longer
Last Wednesday’s FOMC announcement was a unanimous vote to not change policy, reflecting acknowledgment of slow economic growth. The Committee’s expectations for GDP growth were revised downward for the second time, to 2%, with little change expected in 2017 yet it still expects to raise rates twice this year while acknowledging stronger, sustained gains are needed.
The above chart is from a WSJ article that asks if the US is headed for a Japan like environment that has existed for decades because its working age population growth peaked in 1995, and its productivity growth slowed. Since then growth has averaged less than 1% and low, now negative, interest rates have done little to spur investment. Reasons for this extended malaise are:
“A slower-growing work force needs less equipment and slow growth in productivity also leads to slower growth in wages and profits, which discourage households from borrowing (since they will have less future income with which to pay the money back) and firms from investing. In this way, sluggish growth can become self-reinforcing.”
Japan’s policies, like raising taxes then deferring them, and raising, then lowering, interest rates have added to the problem and that is one reason why the Fed is cautious about a higher interest rate policy – they do not want to raise rates only to reverse field when growth does not follow.
This is another reminder that central bank monetary policy can influence economic growth but fiscal stimulus is needed to encourage capital investment. With a presidential campaign imminent, Congressional cooperation a memory, and regulatory bank oversight increasing, prospects for a cohesive policy are slight.
The week ahead
Janet Yellen has two scheduled speeches and the UK vote on Brexit is scheduled for Thursday. This vote will have an impact, both on the unity of the EU which will be compromised, and the UK economy which could face trade barriers with its former members.
Bonds rallied, stocks softened, and 2016-20F was priced at the lowest rate since May 2013.
In addition to its recent cycle low debenture rate, the June sale represented the largest issue since September 2014 - $349,640,000.
The market trends mentioned above were more pronounced globally as Japanese, German and UK bonds hit record low yields; with 10-year German bunds ending the week at 0.01%, compared to U.S. Treasuries at 1.64%. This yield differential is the reason why as much as 73% of last week’s ten and thirty-year Treasury auctions went to foreign investors as they seek value and liquidity.
With the ECB and BoJ continuing their Quantitative Easing policies (sending sovereign debt to even greater negative yields), and the Fed checkmated by May’s extremely weak jobs report, we can expect these trends to continue.
Regarding those negative yields, Bill Gross of Janus Capital tweeted this warning: “Gross: Global yields lowest in 500 years of recorded history. $10 trillion of neg. rate bonds. This is a supernova that will explode one day.” Hopefully, a gradual, global approach to policy change, like the one advocated by Janet Yellen, can control any fireworks.
The week ahead – focus will be on the FOMC meeting that concludes Wednesday, though drama has been reduced and attention will be on other reports of significance.
Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll report disappointed even the most cautious analysts; reflecting a gain of just 38,000 jobs with a downward revision of 59,000 for March and April.
Key points of the report were:
The slight chance of a June rate hike is now off the table and a July increase becomes less likely. The June NFP report will reflect a gain of 31,500 striking Verizon workers who returned to work last Wednesday, but the recent trend will remain below last year’s gains.
The report sent ten-year Treasury yields down to 1.70%, lower by 14 bps on the week and 9 bps below where we priced 2016-20E. As historically low as that rate is, it represents a very attractive level compared to Germany’s bunds whose yield declined to 0.07%. With $10.1 trillion of global, sovereign debt now trading at negative yields, Treasuries and other $US denominated bonds will continue to be in demand.
The week ahead - is relatively light on economic releases.
Monday – Janet Yellen speaks in Philadelphia on the economy. Probably the last official Fed comment before the FOMC meeting June 14-15
Tuesday – Department of Labor report on productivity & labor costs
Wednesday - JOLTS report on job openings and labor turnover
***Thursday – pricing of DCPC 2016-20F, for settlement on June 15th
Friday – University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey
Following up on the release of the minutes from the Fed’s April meeting, Janet Yellen last Friday affirmed the Committee may be ready for a rate increase this summer. While still historically low, ten-year rates have pushed above their 50-day Moving Average as the market prepares for a June, or possibly July move. Probability of a June increase has risen to 34% while a July move is estimated to be at 62%.
All comments regarding a rate increase are hedged by emphasizing continued strong, domestic economic data and improving global conditions. The domestic releases start this week with Tuesday’s Personal Consumption Expenditure report that is expected to show a strong increase, though a smaller one of about 0.2% in the Fed’s preferred core calculation. That is followed by Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll report that is expected to repeat April’s disappointing number of 160,00 but may reflect a reduced rate of unemployment, to 4.9%.
Analysis of these reports might be provided by Chairwoman Yellen in a June 6 speech in Philadelphia and that will affect Treasury prices and our June debenture sale, scheduled for June 9. The next FOMC meeting is June 14-15, with a policy statement released at its conclusion.
Is a June rate hike now in play?
The rates market was softening before Wednesday’s release of the minutes from the April FOMC meeting that indicated a June rate increase was possible “if incoming data showed an improving economy.” A pretty modest quote but the minutes also indicated less concern for the global economy and more Governors than expected are in support of a rate increase.
Ten-year notes had the biggest weekly rise in rate in six-months, improving slightly on Friday to close the week at 1.84%, + 14 bps on the week, but only 5 bps higher than when we priced 2016-20E.
In addition to the overall softer tone the market showed a flattening of the yield curve, indicating pressure on short-term rates that are most affected by Fed policy. The closing spread Tuesday, pre Fed minutes, was + .936%, the tightest spread since December 2007; predating the financial crisis and the Fed’s zero interest rate policy. By Friday this spread widened somewhat to +95 bps.
The two smaller charts above reflect investors’ extension into longer-maturity Treasury notes and the continued net buying of Treasuries by foreign investors. While foreign central banks might be selling Treasuries to raise cash to support their currencies, foreign private investors are buying them to replace sovereign debt being sold to the ECB and BoJ.
The FOMC next meets June 14-15 with a policy statement at the conclusion of the meeting. Last week’s minutes from the April meeting served as a caution to the market and, in normal times, might have resulted in a stronger setback. With $9 trillion of global sovereign debt trading at negative yields there is nothing normal about this market and the attractive yield difference for $US debt will deflect any recurrence of the “taper tantrum” on its three-year anniversary.
The trend for weaker bond prices started last Monday but accelerated Tuesday with two stronger than expected releases:
The weeks ahead – contain some of the key indicators that the Committee uses to gauge economic activity and will influence their decision:
In addition to pricing the twenty-fourth consecutive 20-year debenture ≤ 3.0%, 2016-20E was priced 42 bps below the series’ 12-month average rate as the market continues to defy prospects of a tighter monetary policy. Most importantly, the issue’s ongoing effective rate to small business borrowers was 4.32%.
After marking time around the 1.76% rate on ten-year Treasuries, positive economic releases on Friday were expected to move rates higher, but they didn’t. Instead, that rate dropped 6 bps to close at its lowest level in a month, close to its February low. The reports were a Retail Sales release that grew at its fastest pace in a year and a positive reading on consumer sentiment. So, rates continue to defy positive news and the market puts the likelihood of a June rate hike by the Fed at just 6%.
An interesting analysis of last Tuesday’s Small Business Optimism Report by Bloomberg News:
“The most important paragraph of the latest NFIB Small Business Optimism report is about labor markets and the first two sentences say: "53 percent reported hiring or trying to hire (up five points), but 46 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. Hiring activity increased substantially, but apparently the 'failure rate' also rose as more owners found it hard to identify qualified applicants." In other words, nearly half of businesses can't get good applicants for their open jobs, hiring activity is increasing substantially, and more and more positions are simply going unfilled. Ultimately, a tightening labor market is the mother's milk of higher wages, and though the headline average hourly earnings number from the monthly Non-Farm Payrolls report hasn't yet broken out, evidence continues to build that the economy is shifting more in favor of labor. Today's NFIB report is the latest evidence (the report also says 24 percent of owners are raising worker compensation, which is up 2 points from the previous month). Meanwhile, at 10:00 AM E.T. today, we'll get the latest JOLTS report, which will have figures on total job openings and quits, among other things. We'll see if this confirms the story of ongoing labor market tightness.”
***JOLTS (Job Openings & Labor Turnover Survey) confirmed the trend analysis as openings increased 0.1% and hiring declined 0.1%. The quit rate was unchanged (indicating workers are less inclined to shift jobs) and the layoff rate declined 0.1%, confirming the labor market is the strongest part of the economy; yet, this job growth remains centered in retail and health care positions, with manufacturing jobs in decline due to the dollar’s strength and sluggish global demand for goods.
The Week Ahead – contains several housing reports, plus:
The trends continue – benchmark interest rates remain low, supported by weak economic data; and the 504 program continues to fund 20-year debentures at sub 3.0% levels. Last week’s sale was the twelfth consecutive pricing below 3.0% and the second lowest coupon since May 2013. The summer of 2013 was the “taper tantrum” when rates soared in anticipation of a possible rate hike. That increase did not occur for two and one half years, yet we are at lower rates now due to global concerns and subdued domestic inflation.
Job growth disappointed Friday with a report of just 160,000 in gains for April. It was another good news, bad news report as it was the weakest gain since September but average hourly earnings showed a 3% gain. Other categories in the report were:
The pace of hiring and the pace of economic growth have been out of step. At the end of 1Q16, 2.8 million more jobs existed than a year earlier but GDP growth was just 1.9%. Their historical relationship would have associated growth of 3.4% with that pace of job creation, a rate that would have prompted more than one rate increase from the Fed.
Less pressure on rates – could come from increased corporate issuance in Europe to take advantage of pending ECB purchases of Corporate bonds, perhaps as much as €5 billion per month. The bonds must be issued by a Euro zone entity though the parent company can be located elsewhere, and last year such firms issued 22% of that market’s debt. Increased EZ sales would result in less domestic US issuance thereby reducing domestic supply and rate pressure. As things now stand, there is little expectation the Fed will increase short-term rates at its June 14-15 meeting.
This week's reports
Tuesday – a report on small business sentiment which hit a 2-year low in March
Friday – reports on Retail Sales, that have been down or flat all year; and PPI which had declined in March.
Treasury rates ended the week higher but improved from their weakest levels prior to the 1Q16 GDP report, and a reminder from the FOMC that it will pursue a gradual approach to higher rates. The post meeting announcement offered no hint of a June increase and that helped rates decline and, coupled with weak corporate earnings, sent equities lower.
Wednesday’s GDP report renewed signs of caution from businesses and consumers. It is the weakest quarterly report since 1Q14 and a sharp reduction from 4Q15’s report of -1.4%.
A NY Times article addressed productivity. More than 151 million Americans count themselves employed, a number that has risen sharply in the last few years. The question is this: What are they doing all day?
Three explanations were offered: 1. While improved technology and outsourcing have already been discounted, the impact of a slowdown in capital spending is not helping efficiency; 2. Perhaps economists are not counting things properly, a measurement error; and 3. The increase in payrolls is viewed as an investment for the future, and once these workers are fully trained, productivity will improve.
Last week – saw Unilever take advantage of the ECB’s corporate bond purchase program by issuing debt as long as 12 years with a 0% coupon. The notes were offered at a slight discount so their yield was 0.06%.
Durable Goods orders increased a lower than expected 0.8%, with February revised downward by 0.3% to -3.1%.
Personal Consumption Expenditures – showed a gain of just 0.1%, leaving it at 0.8% y/y, and the core rate at 1.6%, both below the Fed target of 2.0%.
The week ahead - we prepare for the May debenture sales with the program’s Treasury benchmark rate of 1.83%, 12 bps higher than when we priced in April, but FOMC sentiment has stabilized rates. Pricing is Thursday with settlement on Wednesday, May 11th.
Non-Farm Payroll is reported on Friday and expected to be +200,000, with the Unemployment Rate declining to 4.9% because of the increased Labor Force Participation Rate.
U.S. Treasury bonds had the biggest weekly selloff of the year, 14 bps, as investors migrated to riskier assets.
Contributing factors to that move were:
An interesting WSJ article illustrated the impact of low global rates. An investor would have to wait 30-years to earn $100 in interest on $1,000 invested in Japan’s 40-year bond, now trading at 0.26% yield. This lack of investment income is one of the criticisms German finance ministers cite when criticizing ECB policy.
The week ahead
Economic releases of interest are: Durable Goods, which is expected to rebound with a report of +1.6%, and Friday’s Personal Income and Outlays report which tracks the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditures. It is expected to show an increase of 0.1% which would put the y/y rate at 1.5%, short of the Committee’s 2.0% goal. On Wednesday, the Fed will conclude its two-day meeting with an interest rate announcement at 2:00. While no change in policy is expected, the announcement can impact bond prices as investors search for clues concerning improved sentiment about economic conditions.
Treasury rates were on the rise last week until oil prices declined after reports from a meeting in Qatar indicated significant production cuts from oil producing countries were unlikely, and Treasury rate declines have recently matched declining oil prices. That trend is linked because weaker demand for oil reflects weaker economic activity which supports easy monetary policies and lower bond yields.
The week in review – was marked by weak economic data:
The week ahead has Treasury auctioning short-term debt and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. Economic reports mostly concern housing data and the weekly report on jobless claims.
Global economic concerns are now a part of FOMC consideration for rate increases, along with 5% Unemployment and 2% inflation. At last week’s G-20 meeting, the world’s top financial chiefs acknowledged improvement from the recent commodity influenced equity weakness but cautioned “growth remains modest and uneven, and downside risks and uncertainties to the global outlook persist.” The ministers acknowledge monetary policy alone cannot provide a return to balanced growth and encourage reforms to boost employment and productivity, low interest rates, and less austerity in countries that can afford it. Also, the IMF cut its global growth forecast to 3.2%.
More than easy monetary policy and massive debt purchases are needed for sustained growth and global weakness is why no more than two, if that many, rate increases are expected by the Fed this year.
Politics and bonds – Congress is considering a bill that would hold Saudi Arabia to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11/2001 attacks. The Saudi response is they may be forced to sell up to $750 billion U.S. Treasury bonds held by the Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority. Reality dictates it would be difficult to sell that amount of bonds without disrupting both the global bond market, for which the Saudis would be blamed, and the Saudi economy since such action could destabilize the American dollar, to which the Saudi riyal is pegged. President Obama visits the kingdom this week and this could be a topic of conversation as the Administration does not support the legislation, arguing it would put Americans at legal risk overseas.
The rates market continues to improve, with CT-10 ending the week at 1.72%, 5 bps lower on the week in which the 504 program priced its twenty-year debenture at 2.26%, its lowest monthly rate since May 2013 (2.07%).
There is always confusion about the actual inflation rate, since many reports exclude food and energy costs due to their volatility. Unfortunately, we all pay for food and energy, so taking that into account it is clear why the FOMC links inflation to its policy decisions. The WSJ chart below identifies the impact of negative sovereign debt yields resulting from the aggressive bond purchase programs in Europe and Japan. Using Friday’s close of 1.72%, and matching it with the most recent core consumer price index rate of 2.3%, the real U.S. ten-year yield is -0.58%.
Helping the rates market was last Wednesday’s release of the minutes from the March FOMC meeting. Only two of the seventeen participants advocated for a rate hike due to job growth and firming inflation data. A gradual approach to rate increases was the consensus and probably will be so again at the April 27 meeting. What this means is that market direction will be dictated by other central bank initiatives and investors’ appetite for risk.
The week ahead - contains three economic releases of interest.
Eventually, Treasury rates will rise again; perhaps after some more encouraging news like Friday’s jobs report; they just won’t increase right away. The gain of 215,000 displayed some wage growth, barely budged interest rates, and helped stocks recover from an uneven week.
So, jobs are increasing at a steady clip, wages are showing an annual growth rate of 2.3%, and while the Fed is not expected to raise rates at the end of its April 27th meeting, prospects seem to be gaining for a June increase if jobs and wages continue to increase.
Ten-year Treasury rates are now 50 bps lower than when the year started, and approaching levels that existed before the “taper tantrum” in May 2013.Yes, we’ve been this low for that long, not far away from the historic low yield of 1.39% in July, 2012.
Contributing factors for this remain: aggressive global easy money policies; negative interest rates on $6 trillion + of sovereign debt (making $US denominated debt look cheap); negative inflation readings in the Euro zone; an Unemployment Rate of 10.3% in the same zone; and an enhanced Quantitative Easing policy from the ECB that will now purchase European, non-financial, Corporate debt in addition to the already negative yielding sovereign bonds.
The week ahead
In addition to pricing 2016-20D on Thursday, the market will see:
In a holiday shortened trading week the rates market moved sideways and equities reentered negative territory for the year. The most positive news was the most recent revision for 4Q15 GDP which was increased to 1.4%, up from last month’s estimate of 1.0% and the original report of 0.7%.
Focus will now turn to this Friday’s jobs data which has shown a three-month average gain of 228,000 and a current unemployment rate of 4.9%. Below is a WSJ chart that displays two other employment categories that display a more grudging, but steady, improvement.
Earlier in the week will be a Personal Income and Outlays report that is expected to show a 0.2% gain in the Fed’s favorite inflation indicator – Personal Consumption Expenditures. Such a gain would push the Y/Y rate to 1.7%, moving it closer to the Committee’s 2.0% target. Even with that increase it is unlikely the Fed will raise rates at its April 26-27 meeting, especially after projecting just two increases for 2016.
The WSJ chart below shows how the Treasury rates market reversed course after Wednesday’s FOMC announcement that reduced its expectation for the number of rate hikes this year. Though the market has been skeptical of the previously announced four hikes, confirmation from Janet Yellen that global concerns have encouraged the Committee to plan on just two rate hikes enabled stocks and bonds to rally. The ten-year benchmark rate declined for the first time in five-weeks and the highly sensitive two-year note declined the most since October.
And while Treasuries rallied for the first time in five-weeks, stocks notched their fifth consecutive week of gains, putting them in positive territory year-to-date.
Of interest during this rates rally is the increased positioning of Treasury debt by the market’s 22 Primary Dealers, as they reported holding as much as $121 billion in position last month, the most since October 2013. This increased inventory is probably the result of central bank selling to raise cash in support of their currencies.
Additional policy support for the Fed is coming from other central banks:
This Financial Times chart displays the Committee’s expectation for interest rates, progressing from the current 0.25-0.50% range to a mid-point range of 3% in 2018.
Then and now - comparing the Committee’s December 2015 forecast to last week’s estimates.
|Projected mid-point||December 2015 Forecast||March 2016 forecast|
Such an announcement highlights the perceived “lower for longer” market sentiment. Even as many domestic indicators reflect growth, the Fed has affirmed its concern for the global economy and will maintain a cautious approach.
The week ahead
Housing data for existing and new home sales with more significant releases at week end: Durable Goods orders and the third estimate for 4Q15 GDP, previously reported as 1.0% with a Y/Y rate of 2.0%.
ECB stimulus revives “risk-on” trades - was the big story last week.
Below is a NY Times chart showing the extent of the European Central Banks’ rate cuts, with its deposit rate now at -.40%, while the Federal Reserve Bank’s rate is +0.50%.
In addition to charging member banks more for their deposits, the bank will also effectively pay banks to borrow money from central bank funds to make loans to consumers and businesses. This unique measure will cover loans made, at no cost to the borrowing bank, for up to four years, and the central bank will compensate the bank as much as 0.40% if it lends more than what it has borrowed from it. An increase in monthly bond purchases to €80 billion from €60 billion will also include Corporate debt for the first time, since the existing pool of eligible securities presently trades at negative yields. These newly eligible securities will represent non-financial institutions only.
The ECB’s announcement helped stocks close higher for the fourth consecutive week and that is what encouraged investors to increase their risk appetite which ended (temporarily?) the “safe haven” trade for Treasuries.
The benchmark Treasury used for pricing March’s twenty-year debentures rose 30 bps from the February sale date, and then another 7 bps into the week end. That move widened the yield difference between U.S. Treasuries and European sovereign debt which had rallied after Wednesday’s ECB announcement.
The week ahead – has a lot of economic data but attention will be focused on the FOMC meeting that begins Tuesday and ends with Wednesday afternoon’s policy announcement. Even with recent job growth it is not expected that a rate increase will be announced.
Consumer Price Index, Producer Price Index, Retail Sales, Housing starts and Industrial Production are all on the calendar.
The headline release last week was Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll report, showing a February gain of 242,000 and upward revisions of another 30,000 to previous reports. The Unemployment rate remains at 4.9% and the only disappointment was wage growth of just 0.1%, and a reduction in hours worked. The below chart from the WSJ shows the dramatic improvement in all measurements since 2009.
The answer is – not very. The report’s impact reflects a reduction of fear in the financial markets as the benchmark ten-year Treasury yield rose to 1.88% (27 bps above where the February debenture was priced) and equites rallied for the third consecutive month. The DJIA closed above 17,000 for the first time since January 5th.
Items of note in the flow of funds –
Even with the selloff in Treasuries, the benchmark ten-year yield at 1.88% is 39 bps below where it began the year, as well as since the Fed raised rates in December. The reasons for this contrary move continue to be:
The week ahead
Reports on Consumer Credit and Household Net Worth can offer support for economic bulls but the rates market will be most affected by $56 billion of Treasury debt to be auctioned. In particular, $20 billion of the benchmark ten-year will be sold the day before we price March’s debentures. Expectations of a rate hike at the March 15-16 FOMC meeting are slight.
Modest, but Positive Growth
In a week that saw negligible change in rates, the market saw some signs of life with economic releases that exceeded forecasts:
The benchmark ten-year Treasury remains anchored near the 1.75% level, virtually unchanged on the week. Spread product has improved and the market awaits the next FOMC meeting in two-weeks (March15-16).
“Fed speak” – Fed Governor Lael Brainard cited the strength of $US and the weak start for stocks as a form of financial tightening that has already taken place and “is a factor to lower expectations that the U.S. would be able to diverge, or grow strongly, compared with the rest of the world.”
This week – is relatively light on economic releases but Non-Farm Payroll is reported on Friday. Expectations are for a +190,000 report with the Unemployment rate holding at 4.9%.
Last week’s Treasury performance ended three weeks of gains as trading was driven by erratic gains in oil and stocks, plus the release of the minutes from the Fed’s January meeting.
The Fed has frequently stated its goals of 5% unemployment and a 2% reading for Personal Consumption Expenditures as two items, now plus global growth concerns, that would influence their decisions on rate increases. One hike took place in December and the proposed four additional increases in 2016 have been discounted by the market, with March unlikely and June possibly being in play.
At 4.9% the unemployment rate has already reached its desired level but inflation has been held in check by declining commodity prices, particularly oil. Last Friday’s release of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed a monthly gain of 0.3%, which beat forecasts and raised the year-on-year rate to 2.2%. When including energy however, and food, total prices were unchanged in January but the yearly rate did rise to 1.4%. New vehicle sales and airfares showed strong gains but energy costs declined 2.8%, weighing down the overall rate.
Personal Consumption Expenditure
More important to the Committee though is this measure of inflation which uses a chain index, that takes consumers' changing consumption due to prices into account (the CPI uses a fixed basket of goods with weightings that do not change over time). Trailing the conventional CPI reading for sure, but gaining ground, the PCE now registers a 1.4% rate. Continued growth will be needed, as will stabilized commodity and global equity performance, before the Fed can add to its December policy change.
This week ahead -
has several releases on home sales and Friday’s second estimate for 4Q15 GDP growth, expected to be +0.4%. With Treasury rates at levels dramatically below their pre-rate- hike levels, the market will absorb $88 billion of new Treasury debt this week, so additional price gains might depend on headline news.
Could it be One and Done?
The recent push for “safe-haven” assets has strengthened the speculation about additional rate hikes by the Fed. In fact, in a report last Thursday BNP Paribas stated they “do not expect any rate increases for the Fed in 2016, and possibly not in 2017.” Such speculation will support demand for Treasury debt even as employment and wage growth remain decent. Global concerns, like Japan reporting a negative 1.4% growth rate in 4Q15, isolate the Fed as the only central bank having adopted a tighter monetary policy. Japan will be expected to expand its stimulus as domestic demand has declined and a stronger yen has hurt its exports.
It was a volatile week for all markets as they reacted to headline news about European banks, Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony, and renewed fears of recessionary pressure. The most difficult time for stocks was Thursday (as seen below) as global indices were under pressure that created another flight to “safe haven” securities like U.S. Treasuries.
That move pushed ten-year yields as low as 1.61% when the SBA 504 program priced 2016-20B at 2.27%, the lowest twenty-year debenture rate since May 2013.
Stability in overseas markets held stock prices firm at Friday’s opening and then a strong Retail Sales report (+0.2%, with a correction of +0.2% for December) sent the DJIA up 2% on the day. Treasuries then lost their bid and weakened to close the week at 1.75%.
Credit Default Swaps make a return
Prior to Friday and yesterday’s recovery in stocks, it was concern for the health of European banks that negatively impacted global equities (and enhanced safe-haven demand) and Deutsche Bank was at the forefront. This Wall Street Journal chart shows how the cost of insuring against a default on $10 million worth of DB debt for five-years has risen to $268,000 per year; compared with a cost of $96,000 at the start of the year.
The cost for other banks, like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse has also risen, but Goldman Sach’s cost is $159,000, by comparison. Driving this fear is sluggish economic growth, with particular attention paid to bank’s energy loans that are impacted by weak oil and other commodity prices.
The week ahead
As we wonder when a tighter Fed policy will register with the rates market, there has been a noticeable change in bank lending standards. Below are details, and a graph, that were included in a Credit Suisse piece that analyzed the Fed’s “Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices.”
The survey was made available to Fed officials for their January 26-27 FOMC meeting; it was reported that banks, on balance, tightened their standards on commercial and industrial (C&I) and commercial real estate (CRE) loans in the fourth quarter of 2015. The 73 domestic, and 24 U.S. branches of foreign banks, also indicated they expected standards on C&I and CRE loans to tighten over 2016.
The timing of the 504 program’s initial Debt Refinance program in 2010 ironically coincided with an easier lending policy by banks, and still resulted in $2+ billions of loans being funded by the program. Perhaps the program’s reintroduction this year is arriving at a more fortuitous time for small business borrowers.
An offset to that recent Fed survey is in a February 4 article in the American Banker, where reference is made to: “Federal banking regulators issued a joint statement in December that warned of a "substantial" rise in exposure to loans backed by commercial real estate that often included loosened underwriting standards. Total CRE loans, meanwhile, increased 6% in the third quarter from a year earlier, to $1.2 trillion, according to the most recent data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.”
Below is a chart from that article showing that increase in lending, and also showing the improved delinquency rate from its peak in 2010. For the 504 program, the annualized default rate is 0.87%, as of February 1st.
Back to the markets
Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll report came in at 151,000, with a downward revision to January’s report. Disappointing for stocks that trended lower, but positive for Treasury rates. Key elements of the report are:
When the Fed announced its 25 bps rate hike in December, the accompanying announcement suggested as many as four more rate hikes in 2016, with March being the likely first one. Market sentiment appears to be taking that off the table, a view that is reinforced by an observation from Fed Governor Leal Brainard: “market volatility and weak emerging market growth reinforce the case for watchful waiting.”
Adding to the attractiveness of Treasuries is a February 3rd announcement that Treasury will reduce the issuance amount of maturities with five-years or longer terms by $18 billion over the next quarter. This reflects smaller deficits but will also enhance the scarcity value for existing Treasuries, which are very cheap when compared to European and Asian sovereign debt.
The value of U.S. Treasuries supports the value for $US denominated credit product, though investors continue to seek additional spread premium because of elevated price levels on the benchmark Treasuries.
That was interesting! – even with an almost 400-point gain Friday, the DJIA ended the month down 5.5%. Items of interest during the week were:
The effect of these releases, Friday’s in particular, was to see stocks, commodities, and Treasury prices rally; leaving our benchmark ten-year note at 1.94%, 35 bps lower than on the day the FOMC raised its lending rate by 25 bps – an unintended consequence.
Why? – the initial answers for the ten-year notes performance were weakness in Chinese stocks and its currency; declining commodity prices (especially oil), and their combined impact on emerging market economies that depend on Chinese demand for their resources. The U.S. does not export much to China so its slowdown does not have a direct impact, but it will be a cautionary item for the Fed to consider.
The issue’s performance since mid-December now is attributed to the market’s perception that additional rate hikes this year will be much fewer than the four increases advertised in the December announcement. Added to that view are the ongoing Quantitative Easing policies of the Bank of Japan and European Central Bank that are draining hundreds of billions of sovereign debt from their respective markets, making $US denominated debt attractive by comparison.
The week ahead
We get some “Fed speak” from Stanley Fischer on Monday, along with a manufacturing report (ISM) that is expected to show continued underperformance. On Friday, the employment report for January will be released and is expected to be decent, around 200,000, but far below December’s 292,000 release.
Concerning other Central Banks, the Bank of England announces its policy statement on Thursday and is expected its leave its benchmark rate unchanged at 0.50%.
Last week oil found some traction, and so did stocks as they had their first positive week of the year. That reduced the demand for “safe-haven” assets so Treasuries marked time until it was revealed that capital outflows in China last year may have reached $1 trillion, more than seven times the amount for 2014.
The result this morning was a 7% decline in the Shanghai index, U.S. Treasuries flirting with the 2.0% rate on the ten-year note, but U.S. stocks are holding firm, possibly uncoupling from the trend in China.
We are so far below the 50 and 200-day Moving Averages for the ten-year note that they are simply reference points, almost meaningless with regard to how overpriced it is.
This week contains ample central bank activity with –
After briefly trading below 2% on Friday the ten-year Treasury closed the week at 2.04%, 8 bps lower on the week in response to continued weakness in China and disappointing US economic releases, such as producer prices at -.02%, retail sales at -.01%, and the Empire State Manufacturing Survey dropping to its lowest level since April 2009.
Could this be true?
The below chart is from a Financial Times story that identifies why the Fed may pause its planned rate increases for 2016:
Those withdrawals, and new cash deposits, found their way into Money Market funds (+$24 billion) and Government debt (+$19 billion). These investments are offsetting the recent Treasury sales by China.
This chart reflects Fed Funds futures contracts that indicate probably just one rate hike this year in September, and a 25% chance the Fed does not raise rates at all in 2016. It is important to note that these contracts reflect current sentiment and that is always subject to change, especially if China and oil prices stabilize soon.
One thing is almost certain though - the Fed will not be raising rates at its January meeting and a change at the March meeting, even if job growth maintains its 4th quarter pace, is unlikely. Downward pressure on inflation, weak equity markets, and global concerns will offset continued job gains, which are not being accompanied by significant wage growth.
The week ahead – will give us much data on housing and Wednesday’s report on Consumer Prices, expected to be mild as weak oil prices continue to have an impact; keeping CPI ex-food & energy at 0.5%.
This was the week that was-
The driving force in last week’s market activity focused on China, with stock trading halted two separate days by triggers that were activated by intraday declines of 7%. By the end of the week regulators abandoned the triggers but you can see the impact its equity weakness had on global equity exchanges and commodities. Gold resumed its identity as a “safe-haven” investment (until Friday), oil prices declined to 2003 lows, and Treasuries saw increased demand as investors continued to seek safety.
Domestically, the DJIA is off to its worst ever 5-day start to its trading year. The above chart is from Thursday’s close so when you add Friday’s decline of 1% the index was down 6.2% for the week.
Factors that are driving this trend domestically are: underwhelming fourth-quarter earnings reports, a commodities bust, Mideast turmoil, and overall concern about Chinese and U.S. economies.
What rate hike?
On December 16th after the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate 25 bps the ten-year Treasury yield closed the day at 2.29% and expectations were for it to inch higher as the market was preparing for as many as four more increases in 2016. Friday’s close at 2.12% reinforces the global demand for “safe-haven” assets and continues to assist the 504 program in delivering effective rates to borrowers, like the 4.83% rate on last Thursday’s 20-year debenture.
As good as this movement is for small business borrowers, the underlying conditions are troubling as global concerns will contribute to a modification of domestic GDP growth and heighten the Fed’s awareness of slowing global growth.
Minutes of the Fed’s December meeting were released last Wednesday and revealed Committee members’ concerns about lingering low inflation, a strong dollar, and their effect on trade. That said, some officials continued to talk about four possible rate hikes this year, something the markets are less inclined to believe.
Non-Farm Payroll increases 292,000 in December
Not even this greater-than-expected report helped equities, nor hampered Treasuries, after its Friday release. Key elements of it were:
This week will see the Treasury auction $58 billion in intermediate and long-term securities and that should pause immediate price gains for the market. On a positive note, Chinese stocks were down another 5% in Monday trading yet global equities opened with gains and Treasuries are marking time.
How far have we traveled?
In terms of the ten-year Treasury yield, not very far. We ended 2014 with CT-10 at 2.17%. Last Thursday’s close was 2.27%, and that is after a 25 bps rate hike by the Federal Reserve. This chart identifies a 2015 range of 85 bps for the issue but also shows how we have maintained its current rate level the last two months. What has changed the most is short-term yields, like the two-year note that went from 0.64% a year ago to close Thursday at 1.06%.
The December 16 policy change was the only one by the Fed, though they had been expected to raise rates three times in 2015. Now, attention turns to its plans for 2016, and just as the Fed’s tighter monetary policy has diverged from other central banks, so too is its “dot-plan” at odds with market indicators.
The Fed Funds futures market projects a much lower rate than the Fed. The above chart also displays how the central bank’s 2015 forecast has changed from December 2014. If the futures market is correct, the pace of rate increases will be slower than expected.
What affects possible Fed policy decisions: China, inflation, strength of the $US, success of the European Central Bank’s bond purchase program, and stabilization of commodity prices. All of these items will be central to future Fed moves and illustrate why there is skepticism about the pace of future tightening.
It’s hard to imagine a country with 6.5% GDP having a negative impact on global economies but that is the state of affairs in China. Its weakening demand for commodities is putting/keeping emerging market countries in recession and a 7% decline today in its CSI 300 Index has pushed the DJIA down 2.6%.
The week ahead-
2016-10A and 20A will be priced this Thursday, a day after the minutes from the Fed’s December meeting are released and also after much “Fed speak”. Wednesday will also provide data on the U.S. trade gap, and Friday will have a release of the December jobs report. Monthly averages for 2015 were a solid 210,000 but paled vs. 2014’s average gain of 260,000.
On the day of our December funding, the Fed’s Open Market Committee fulfilled its ambition and raised its range for Federal Funds to 0.25-0.50%. Initial market reaction was for stocks to improve and interest rates to rise, but both moves reversed themselves by weekend with stocks down 1% on the week and ten-year Treasuries 1 bps lower from when we priced 2015-20L on December 10th.
Now that the rate hike is out of the way, it appears the market is less optimistic about things than the Fed. In its announcement, the central bank provided its “dot-plot” to chart interest rate hikes in 2016 and its number is four, or as much as another 100 bps while the market is expecting just two, bringing the Fed Funds rate to 0.875%, not 1.375%. Forward contracts for two-year Treasuries, the notes most sensitive to policy changes project a December 2016 yield of 1.65% vs. Friday’s close of 0.95%, also reflecting just two rate hikes. Last year at this time, Fed officials were projecting they would have made three rate increases by December 2015, not just this one; so perhaps the Committee is again overenthusiastic about the economy.
An indication of how effectively the Fed has managed its planned rate hikes is that the pricing day average rate for ten-year Treasuries in 2015 was 2.145%. Such stability is in marked contrast to the taper tantrum in 2013 when we priced the September debenture off a 2.96% rate in Treasuries with the same Fed policy in effect as for this month’s debenture sale. At that time, there was less concern about China’s softening economy, its impact on demand for commodities, and how that has affected so many of its suppliers in emerging markets.
Another factor contributing to low rates is the European Central Banks’s continuing purchases of sovereign debt that has pushed the yield differential between European and Treasury yields to levels that make domestic debt very attractive. A comparison with German debt is below.
So long as the ECB continues its bond purchases, domestic debt will attract global buyers and soften the potential of a tighter monetary policy. Of additional benefit is the Committee’s decision to continue reinvesting proceeds from its own Quantitative Easing purchases.
"The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities, and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction, and it anticipates doing so until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.”
It had been expected the Fed would discontinue these reinvestments once it raised rates, so this continuing reinvestment can be taken as a measure of how sensitive the bank is to withdrawing support from the markets too abruptly.
As we await Wednesday afternoon’s announcement from the Fed, markets refuse to cooperate with the central bank. The S&P 500 declined 3.8% last week (with energy shares down 6.5%); oil slumped 11%, to below $36 per barrel (hitting a 7-year low); a $789 million junk-bond fund barred investors from withdrawing funds while its managers liquidate the fund; and Fed officials conceded they are ill-equipped to quell dangerous asset bubbles.
So, what happens when turmoil like this presents itself? Treasuries become a safe-haven and that helped our benchmark Treasury close the week 15 bps lower, and 10 bps lower than when we priced 2015-20L on Thursday.
Such price movement is an indication of volatility and there is an index that measures it; and as you would expect, it rose last week. This gauge, also known as the” fear index,” is at highest level in months as Treasuries experienced their largest one-day drop in yield since July.
What to expect?
The Week in Review
Good News -
Bad News -
The Week - in addition to 2015-20L being priced Thursday there are two releases of interest that contribute to the Fed’s interpretation of economic health. PPI on Friday is expected to be within 1 bps of zero, and Retail Sales is forecast to be in a range of -0.2% - +0.5%. Showing the uneven performance of this statistic is the chart below.
Trends - remain in place.
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its employment numbers for November, its final report before the Federal Open Market Committee meets on December 15-16. October’s report of +271,000, with a reduced unemployment rate of 5.0%, has influenced the market to expect its first rate hike in seven years at the conclusion of this meeting. As certain as that increase appears to be there is more speculation about market reaction and the subsequent path of rate increases. Markets, both stocks and bonds, have seemed stress free in response to events like the Paris terrorist attacks and the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet, and most analysts expect a muted reaction on December 16 since short-term rates have mostly built in the higher cost of funds.
It’s not just the relatively uneven U.S. recovery that concerns our central bankers but such a changed money policy will be divergent from most global economies still battling low commodity prices that have weakened their currencies and consumer demand. Consideration for these conditions is why the Committee has repeatedly said they expect rate increases to be gradual and that sentiment has been accepted by the markets.
On Your Mark, ...
This chart of the two-year Treasury note does not directly factor into any of our debenture pricings but does immediately anticipate/reflect change in Federal Reserve Bank monetary policy; and on Friday, this note reached its highest yield level in five years. Additionally, with ten-year yields lower on the week at 2.26%, this spread relationship (2/10’s) is at its tightest in seven months. Such a tightening (+134 bps, its tightest spread since April) is called a flattening of the yield curve, and since Federal Reserve Bank monetary policy most affects short-term debt, this move tells us the market is prepared for its first rate hike in seven years.
December 16, the date of our December funding, is also the second day of the next FOMC meeting and it will include an announcement on any decision made by the Committee. Market opinion is near unanimous that there will be a rate hike and this price action reflects the market’s preparation for it. Enhancing that sentiment was a Federal Reserve Bank comment last Wednesday that “it could well be time to raise rates at the December meeting.”
Rates are going higher, right?
Eventually, yes. With a near unanimous opinion of forecasters that the Fed will raise rates at its December meeting the ten-year benchmark Treasury note declined 6 bps on the week, as oil had its worst performance in months and stocks followed. It is important to note that only Treasury rates are declining, credit spreads are widening as their relationship to benchmarks is being turned upside down.
Additionally, China’s markets have stabilized, reducing their need to sell Treasuries and on Friday, the U.S. government said that wholesale inflation saw a record decline over the past year, while sales at U.S. retailers barely rose in October.
Details for those reports are:
At Odds with the World - As the Fed prepares to raise interest rates it is at odds with its global counterparts who maintain their own Quantitative Easing policies, buying their domestic debt which holds down their bond yields. Hold down actually is quite an understatement - $26 trillion global government bonds are trading under 1% with $6 trillion trading at negative yields. To date, central banks have purchased $12 trillion of sovereign debt and economies in Europe and Asia continue to struggle.
Relative Value – as shown in the chart above, Treasury debt at 2.27% yields 182 bps more than German bunds and that differential will support foreign buying of Treasuries so long as the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan continue their QE policies. Affirmation of that was evident in last week’s Treasury auction of $24 billion ten-year notes where 60.5% went to foreign buyers.
Not if, but What Pace?
Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll report marked a turning point in the debate over the Federal Reserve Bank’s plans to start raising interest rates. The following are some of the positive notes from the report:
If there is one negative to the report it is the static Labor Force Participation Rate, languishing at 62.4%, the lowest level since 1977, and reflects discouraged workers who have discontinued their job search.
Market reaction was as expected, though muted. The ten-year Treasury benchmark rose 9 bps from our Thursday pricing level to close the week at 2.33% while the two-year maturity, an area most impacted by rate change, rose to its highest level since 2010, 0.89%. That the first rate increase since 2006 will happen next month has been virtually assured by recent comments from Chairwoman Yellen, so the focus will now turn to the pace of rate increases and that is why the market’s performance was muted. There are two things to keep in mind:
Slight Reversal - After hovering near 2.0% early in the week our ten-year Treasury benchmark gave ground on Thursday and ended the week at 2.15%, for its poorest performing week since June. Weak economic releases kept the issue around 2.04% until a Federal Reserve announcement on Wednesday indicating December is still in play to raise rates; in fact that omission is almost a concession to a rate hike and will leave the markets more cautious than usual.
All it took was the removal of an explicit mention of global concerns from its post-meeting announcement Wednesday afternoon. At its previous meeting the Fed added global concerns to its focus on unemployment and inflation, the two criteria that have been targeted for normalization of monetary policy to resume. The Unemployment Rate is acceptable at 5.1% but Personal Consumption Expenditures (the Fed’s preferred view of inflation) was released on Friday and shows just a 0.2% rise Y/Y, far below its 2.0% target.
The ease with which the ten-year yield rose is a result of a thin, illiquid market that has been poised for a rate hike since its “taper tantrum” in May 2013. Since it is acknowledged our recovery has been erratic and the global concerns expressed earlier are still in play even this initial rate increase could be a singular event for the near-term.
Comparative Rates - At 2.15%, Treasuries yield 162 bps more than German bunds and even 69 bps more than Italian bonds, a country that was almost barred from the market six-years ago. To show how things have changed, on Friday Italy sold €1.75 billion two-year notes at -0.023%. That’s right, investors are paying Italy to hold their money for two-years.
As a result, even if the Fed hikes rates there will be strong global demand for $US assets in any selloff.
Last Week - All economic releases were negative:
This Week - We price our November debenture sales on Thursday, one day ahead of a Non-Farm Payroll report that should show some recovery from the recent weak reports. Estimates are for a gain of 180,000 but it is weakness like in previous reports, combined with low inflation and high global unemployment that have given, and will continue to give the Fed, a reason to be patient and gradual when they change policy.
There was little change in rates but equities surged at the prospect of continued low interest rates. The DJIA is + 12.6% since its low point in the summer.
The housing market is one sector that has experienced price gains and last week’s report on existing home sales was + 4.7% in September, the second largest gain in eight-years.
The Treasury Department decided to postpone a planned auction of two-year notes as it approaches a debt ceiling deadline on November 3. This was preemptive as other auctions will be held this week. And, this is only an appetizer as the budget crisis deadline of December 11 awaits.
This week we get some economic indicators and a FOMC meeting:
This chart shows the daily closing yield of the ten-year Treasury note, which is the benchmark for our monthly twenty-year debenture pricing. Its high yield in the last six-months was in June (2.50%) as the market expected a Fed rate hike to occur. Disappointing global reports and low inflation (disinflation in some countries) have led the Federal Reserve Bank to be more cautious, resulting in a changed market sentiment that has reduced the note’s yield to 2.04% on Friday.
The two lines in the chart simply reflect moving averages for the note; 50-day and 200-day periods, and they clearly reflect the trend that has taken place – a risk-off trade for investors seeking full faith & credit Treasury debt that offers great liquidity.
The need for liquidity is for the exit trade, as many investors do not hold to maturity, but instead will look to sell once the trend reverses and rates rise. That time may be farther off than once thought and barring a sudden spike in inflation, we may remain in this low rate environment through year-end.
Last week’s events – most economic reports were weak
This week – is fairly light on economic releases; mostly Housing Starts and Home Sales with some manufacturing data late in the week.
As much as rate hikes continue to be deferred, and inflation remains low amid global economic concerns, the ten-year Treasury seeks out this 2.12%-2.16% range of rates and for now, we should find 2.12% to be support in the near-term.
Last week saw a 12 bps spike in rate as equity and commodity markets gained strength. An earlier move higher in rate was in September, in anticipation of a normalization of policy and the benchmark then moved down to 2.0% when the markets realized a change in policy was not imminent. Minutes of the September meeting that were released last Thursday confirmed the dovish tone of September’s meeting and have influenced market participants to disregard Fed speak about potential rate hikes; though that talk will continue.
Throughout the three phases of Quantitative Easing it was stated that an Unemployment Rate of 5.1%, and Personal Consumption Expenditure Rate of 2.0% would be triggers for the FOMC to raise rates. Last month global economic concerns were introduced for consideration and China’s slowing economy has had a truly global impact, especially for emerging markets. Those markets would be particularly hurt by a Fed hike because dollars would be diverted to the US and its higher rates, possibly resulting in inflationary pressures in those countries. Yet, at the just concluded International Monetary Fund meeting in Peru central bankers urged the Fed to get on with it and end the uncertainty. Ironically, the redirection of dollars may turn out to be insignificant because it’s been emphasized that rate increases will be gradual so there may be little change in rate, just policy.
Y/Y rate of inflation is hanging around 1.2% and Friday’s report for Import and Export prices will do little to move the needle. Import prices were -0.1% and export prices paid were -0.7%, a reflection of the impact of a strong $US and its effect on agriculture.
For policy, the trend will be to mark time waiting for stronger economic reports and that should translate into a continued low rate environment with a delicate balance between trading liquidity and pressure on new-issue spreads.
Yes, the market continues to defy predictions; most recently Friday’s expected gains for Non-Farm Payroll. Unfortunately, the consensus proved incorrect and the report of just 142,000 job gains was disappointing and compounded by a downward revision of 59,000 to the July and August reports. Both the equity and bond markets reversed course after the opening – DJIA went from -240 to close at +200, and ten-year Treasuries traded as low as 1.95% only to ease back to 1.99% at the close. That puts it 11 bps lower on the week and 22 bps lower than when 2015-20I was priced on September 10th.
Factories and energy companies were dominant in the weak employment number as they have been most affected by a strong US$, depressed commodity prices, and weakness in China.
Fed speak will continue to mention the probability of a rate hike this year but the October meeting is pretty much out of the question, so the Committee would have to see strong gains in inflation, renewed employment strength, and global economic strength to fulfill that objective at their December meeting. In fact, sentiment is growing, evidenced by trading in Federal Funds futures contracts, that the first rate hike may not occur until March 2016. So, ‘lower for longer” may be with us for a while and the capital markets are feeling its impact. The High-Grade bond market has seen a 15% increase in issuance this year, but just last Monday, several issuers cancelled or reduced their issue size due to market turbulence. Issues that came to market were forced to price at wider credit spreads to accommodate investor caution and that condition will prevail going forward.
No sooner did we survive the threatened government shutdown last Thursday than two other deadlines were presented:
This week is fairly light on economic releases, though Thursday will see the release of minutes from the last FOMC meeting on September 17th. Since that meeting resulted in a vote of 9-1 to not raise rates, the actual minutes may not offer much.
On Tuesday, we will announce terms for the October debenture sale, which will consist of just the twenty-year debenture. The twelve-month averages for this series are:
|# of loans||Issue size||Debenture rate||Spread to Treasuries|
The actual numbers for October may vary dramatically from these averages and 2015-20J will be priced Thursday, October 8 and fund on Wednesday, October 14.
The gap between the 50-day and 200-day Moving Average continues to shrink as the on-again, off-again shift in Fed policy keeps the market offsides. At the conclusion of the FOMC’s meeting on September 17, the near unanimous vote of 9-1 to not change policy spurred a risk-off move for Treasury yields to decline, only to reverse course late last week after Chairwoman Yellen spoke in Amherst and stated that she fully expects a rate hike this year. Reference was made to a recovering US economy, whose 2Q GDP was revised up to 3.9%, improved from a 1Q reading of 0.6%. Capturing our uneven recovery was a WSJ article headlined: Slow down, Surge forth, Grow steadily, Repeat.
Weakening global growth was included in the recent FOMC announcement with China prominently mentioned. Emphasis for that concern was last week’s China Purchasing Manager’s Index reading that was its lowest since the financial crisis.
It remains to be seen what impact Volkswagen’s emission control violation will have on the company, but heavy fines and customer pushback certainly will follow. A car maker with 600,000 employees, and countless thousands more for its suppliers, will not fare as badly as America’s car makers did in 2008 but VW will experience a slowdown. Just this morning, Switzerland announced it is contemplating a ban on VW diesel cars.
State Administration for Foreign Exchange (SAFE) is China’s investment manager and they have withdrawn tens of billions of dollars from global funds in support of their weakening economy, and now Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority (SAMA) has also been identified as having withdrawn up to $70 billion in reserves since the onset of declining oil prices. Its purpose, too, is to support a weakening economy. These withdrawals can partly explain why rates have not sustained a stronger push lower, but these sales are being met with demand from other buyers which is what is keeping us in this range.
Yes, keeping your assets in cash, earning nothing, has outperformed most other global choices so far this year, and if you trade FX in your personal account, you were the big winner.
All eyes on Congress to see if government business goes on after Wednesday at midnight. As for economic data, the big event, as usual, is Friday’s Non-Farm Payroll report that is expected to match the twelve-month average of 212,000, with the Unemployment Rate unchanged at 5.1%.
The defensive trades in front of last week’s FOMC meeting proved unnecessary as global concerns outdid the modestly improved domestic indicators, leaving interest rate policy unchanged. The CT-10 weekly chart shows its rate moving higher into Thursday’s announcement only to rally at week’s end, closing 7.5 bps lower than when we last priced on September 10th.
The wording of the announcement identified global concerns, read China and its impact on emerging markets, as a consideration for not changing policy. The Fed has focused on full employment as the engine to drive higher interest rates but has now introduced an international perspective for its consideration and that further clouds the transparency for Fed policy. Chairwoman Yellen was candid about emerging market weakness and cautioned about the risk of an abrupt slowdown in China. Abrupt slowdown or just gradual weakening of Chinese GDP the impact is widely felt since they are the biggest trading partner for emerging market economies. Its reduced demand for raw materials impacts commodity prices and foreign exchange rates resulting in weaker global growth.
Speaking of lower community prices, they are impacting domestic Gas and Oil businesses which are filing for bankruptcy at a rate of 4.8%, the sector’s highest level since 1999 and double the rate of businesses in general. The volume of defaulted bonds YTD stands at $10.4 billion and yields in this sector of the junk bond market are as high as 11%.
CT-10’s closing rate of 2.135% is its 200-day Moving Average and represents a rate the market has frequently settled at in weakness and strength going back four-months. Indications are that we will remain with this low rate sentiment as the Fed exercises increased patience before normalizing monetary policy.
Even their modest projections seem inflated as officials still maintain a 2015 rate hike is probable. Here is the schedule of projected federal funds rates:
The .375% projection for 2015 assumes a 25 bps increase in the next three months and then little else if the Fed is to maintain the gradual path they have advertised.
If we are going to see this 2.135% Treasury rate serve as a magnet until the Fed is confident of the global market’s tolerance for higher rates we might see our debenture rate hold near its two most rent levels of 2.82%, compared to our twelve-month average rate of 2.73%. The challenge will be to maintain historical pricing spreads because that is where investors will demand more for their participation. - at +60 to Swaps 2015-20I was 15 bps wide to its twelve-month average.
The market gyrated slightly last week as it anticipates a possible rate hike this Thursday afternoon.
CT-10 ended the week off 7 bps but slightly improved from when we priced 20-I on Thursday and equities regained strength as Chinese markets stabilized.
Last week saw a robust funding calendar as not only did Treasury conduct its quarterly funding of 3, 10, and 30 year maturities ($64 billion) but on Wednesday alone the market digested $28 billion of Treasury and High Grade new issuance. Helping to distribute the credit debt was wider pricing spreads as High Grade investors seek more yield in a market that has generated negative (-0.63%) returns YTD.
Reports were pretty light but encouraging. Though Producer Prices came in flat that number was dragged down by lower gas prices. 2QGDP was revised upward for a second time to +3.7%, a reading that shows a nice recovery from a sluggish first quarter.
Thursday afternoon at 2:00 the FOMC will provide a Summary of Economic Projections to be followed by a press conference with Janet Yellen. There is potential for market movement leading up to this event but shy of dramatic change in China the rates market can be expected to mark time.
It’s questionable what impact a rate hike will have since the Committee’s approach to the first increase since 2006 is expected to be a singular event for 2016, and the subsequent path of increases has been advertised to be gradual. The front end of the curve has already adjusted and Treasury debt remains cheap to other sovereign issuers as displayed in this chart:
So, even with China having been a seller of Treasury debt to raise $US with which to support its currency in FX trading, bond funds continue to see demand and other central banks also continue to invest in US debt. And yes, investors continue to pay the Swiss to hold their money for ten-years.