Credit Markets

     

 

 

Incrementum Advisory Board Discussion of April 8, 2020 with Special Guest Rick Rule

The Incrementum Fund’s Advisory Board held its quarterly meeting on April 8. This time renowned resource stock investor Rick Rule, the President and CEO of Sprott US Holdings Inc., joined the discussion as a special guest. As always, there is a download link to a transcript of the conference call in PDF format at the end of this post.

 

Rick Rule, CEO of Sprott US Holdings Inc., and renowned investor in the commodities sector.

 

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Everything and the Kitchen Sink

After the first inter-meeting rate cut in early March, we opined that further rate cuts were a near certainty and that “not-QE” would swiftly morph into “QE, next iteration” (see Rate Cutters Unanimous for the details). As it turned out, the monetary mandarins did not even wait for the official FOMC meeting before deciding to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the markets. Not only were rates insta-ZIRPed, but “not-QE” became “QE on steroids, plus”.

 

The federal debt monetization machinery goes into orbit. Moon landing next?

 

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Credit Market Bifurcation

By all accounts, credit markets remain on fire. 2019 is already a record year for corporate bond issuance, beating the previous record set in 2017 by a sizable margin. Demand for the debt of governments and government-related issuers remains extremely strong as well, despite non-existent and often even negative issuance yields. Even now, with economic activity clearly slowing and numerous  threats to the post-GFC recovery looming on the horizon, the occasional rise in credit spreads is routinely reversed. And yet, under the placid surface problems are beginning to percolate. Consider exhibit A:

 

The chart shows option-adjusted credit spreads on three rating categories – while spreads on ‘BB’ rated (best junk bond grade) and ‘BBB’ rated (weakest investment grade) bonds remain close to their lows, spreads on ‘CCC’ rated bonds continue to break higher – considerably so. An increase by 473 basis points from their late 2018 low indicates there is quite a bit of concern.

 

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Chaos in Overnight Funding Markets

Most of our readers are probably aware that there were recently quite large spikes in repo rates. The events were inter alia chronicled at Zerohedge here and here. The issue is fairly complex, as there are many different drivers at play, but we will try to provide a brief explanation.

 

There have been two spikes in the overnight general collateral rate – one at the end of 2018, which was a first warning shot, and the one of last week, which was the biggest such spike on record, exceeding even that seen in the 2008 crisis.

 

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Things To Keep An Eye On

Below is an overview of important US interest rates and yield curve spreads. In view of the sharp increase in stock market volatility, yields on government debt have continued to decline in a hurry. However, the flat to inverted yield curve has not yet begun to steep – which usually happens shortly before recessions and the associated bear markets begin.

 

2-year note yield, 3-month t-bill yield, 10-year note yield, 10-year/2-year yield spread, 10-year/3-month yield spread. As indicated in the chart annotation, the signal that normally indicates that a boom has definitely ended is a reversal in these spreads from inversion to rapid steepening. This has yet to happen.

 

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Anti-Vigilantes

We dimly remember when Japanese government debt traded at a negative yield to maturity for the very first time. This happened at some point in the late 1990s or early 2000ds in secondary market trading (it was probably a shorter maturity than the 10-year JGB) and was considered quite a curiosity. If memory serves, it happened on just one brief occasion and it was widely held at the time that the absurd situation of a bond buyer accepting a certain loss if the bonds were held to maturity was an outlier, never to be seen again. And this is what the world of bonds looks like today:

 

Sovereign debt with negative yields to maturity rises to a new record high of $15 trillion

 

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The “Risk Asset” Dip Not Worth Buying is on its Way

The prices of the metals rose, gold by +$11 and silver by +$0.25. The question on everyone’s mind (including ours) is: what will cause a change in the gold price trend, or what will make gold go up in a large and durable way? And that leads to another way of looking at this question.

 

Here is a very good technical reason to adopt a constructive attitude toward gold despite the fact that its nominal price in USD terms is seemingly not going anywhere of late. By remaining fairly stable in recent weeks, gold is rising relative to the S&P 500 index (SPX). In other words, the purchasing power of gold is increasing – and not only relative to the stock market. Similar trend changes can be observed elsewhere (e.g. in gold vs. industrial commodities). We will soon discuss this in greater detail. [PT]

 

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A Well-Established Tradition

Seemingly out of the blue, equities suffered a few bad hair days recently. As regular readers know, we have long argued that one should expect corrections in the form of mini-crashes to strike with very little advance warning, due to issues related to market structure and the unique post “QE” environment. Credit spreads are traditionally a fairly reliable early warning indicator for stocks and the economy (and incidentally for gold as well). Here is a chart of US high yield spreads – currently they indicate that nothing is amiss:

 

As this chart shows, credit spreads do as a rule warn of impending problems for the stock market, the economy or both. Not every surge in spreads is followed by a bear market or a recession, but some sort of market upheaval is usually in the cards. Since the stock market normally peaks before the economy weakens sufficiently for a recession to be declared, the warnings prior to market tops are often subtle – usually all one gets is a confirmed breakout over initial resistance levels, at which time yields will still be quite low. At the moment credit spreads suggest that nothing untoward is expected to occur for as far as the eye can see (a.k.a. the near future). Will something intrude on that enviable and stress-free combination of Nirvana, Goldilocks and the Land of Cockaigne, where everything seems possible, especially good things? Will Santa Claus remain a permanent fixture of the junk bond and stock markets, handing out gifts to all those prepared to spice up their portfolios with bonds bereft of covenants and light in yield, triple-digit P/E stocks, or even CUBE stocks (=completely unburdened by ‘E’)? Perhaps Fisher’s permanent plateau has materialized 90 years later than originally envisaged, but we don’t think so.

 

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Running From “Risk-Free” to Not So Risk-Free Debt 

The price of gold blipped $13 last week, while the price of silver was unchanged. Speaking of interest rates and central planning by central banks, we note that in mid-2016, a correction (counter-trend move to the main trend) began in 10-year bond yields.

 

10-year treasury note yield vs. 10-year German Bund yield over the past decade [PT]

 

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A Month with a Bad Reputation

A certain degree of nervousness tends to suffuse global financial markets when the month of October approaches. The memories of sharp slumps that happened in this month in the past – often wiping out the profits of an entire year in a single day – are apt to induce fear. However, if one disregards outliers such as 1987 or 2008, October generally delivers an acceptable performance.

 

The road to October… not much happens at first – until it does. [PT]

 

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A Surprise Rout in the Bond Market

At the time of writing, the stock market is recovering from a fairly steep (by recent standards) intraday sell-off. We have no idea where it will close, but we would argue that even a recovery into the close won’t alter the status of today’s action – it is a typical warning shot. Here is what makes the sell-off unique:

 

30 year bond and 10-year note yields have broken out from a lengthy consolidation pattern. This has actually surprised us, as we felt that the large speculative net short position in bonds and notes was prone to trigger a short covering rally. Alas, the opposite has happened.

 

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Shifts in Credit-Land: Repatriation Hurts Small Corporate Borrowers

A recent Bloomberg article informs us that US companies with large cash hoards (such as AAPL and ORCL) were sizable players in corporate debt markets, supplying plenty of funds to borrowers in need of US dollars. Ever since US tax cuts have prompted repatriation flows, a “$300 billion-per-year hole” has been left in the market, as Bloomberg puts it. The chart below depicts the situation as of the end of August (not much has changed since then).

 

Short term (1-3 year) yields have risen strongly as a handful of cash-rich tech companies have begun to repatriate funds to the US.

 

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