Credit Markets

     

 

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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The Biggest Crashes in History Happened in September and October

In the last installment of Seasonal Insights we wrote about the media sector – an industry that typically tends to perform very poorly in the month of August. Upon receiving positive feedback, we decided to build on this topic. This week we are are discussing several international markets that tend to be weak during September and will look at what drives this recurring pattern.

 

Mark Twain, a renowned specialist in how not to get rich, opines on dangerous months to invest in the stock market. We should mention that he didn’t have access to the Seasonax app. [PT]

 

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Financial Potemkin Village

A rising stock market has the illusory effect of masking the economy’s warts and blemishes.  Who cares if incomes are stagnant when everyone’s getting rich off stocks?  Certainly, winning wealth via the stock market beats working for it.

 

Learning from history, 2018 style [PT]

 

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Data Interpretation Problems

Oddly enough, these days it has become more difficult to interpret positioning data. We get more granular data than before, such as e.g. the disaggregated commitments of traders reports (CoT – even if they are still released with a three day delay), but at the same time the goal posts in futures markets have shifted greatly. Former extremes in positioning have been left in the dust with the advent of QE (and the associated desperate “hunt for yield”) and the adoption of large scale systematic trading. Here is a glaring example illustrating the point:

 

Speculator net positions in crude oil futures: after decades in which net long positions rarely exceeded 100,000 contracts, a new post GFC era record has been set in the speculative position at 740,000 contracts net long in early February 2018.

 

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Junk Bond Spread Breakout

The famous dead parrot is coming back to life… in an unexpected place. With its QE operations, which included inter alia corporate bonds, the ECB has managed to suppress credit spreads in Europe to truly ludicrous levels. From there, the effect propagated through arbitrage to other developed markets. And yes, this does “support the economy” – mainly by triggering an avalanche of capital malinvestment and creating the associated boom conditions, while “investors” (we use the term loosely) pile into ridiculously overvalued bonds that will eventually saddle them with eye-watering losses.

 

The famous dead parrot

 

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