Displaying items by tag: inflation
US Treasuries continue to move lower as hopes for a pivot in Fed policy are eroding. From the start of the year, the yield on the 10-year has climbed from 3.9% to above 4.3% to reach their highest levels since November. In total, it has retraced nearly half of the rally that began in October of last year.
Over this period, the number of rate cuts expected in 2024 has declined from 6 to 3 as has the timing. Primarily, this is due to the economy remaining strong as evidenced by the labor market and inflation that has proven to be more entrenched than expected. All in all, the narrative has certainly changed as some now believe the Fed may actually hike rates further especially as there are indications that the steady decline in inflation has ended.
Minutes from the last FOMC meeting also showed that committee members are concerned about the risk of inflation re-igniting if it begins to cut too soon. Overall, it remains ‘data-dependent’. However, all the recent data has undermined the case for immediate or aggressive cuts. According to Rich Familetti, CIO of US fixed income at SLC Management, the current Fed stance "is going to make it very hard for rates to fall much further from here… The pain trade is at higher rates and we will likely experience that."
Finsum: Treasuries continued their losing streak as higher interest rates have weighed on the entire fixed income complex. The market is now expecting 3 cuts in 2024 down from 6 at the start of the year.
Recent economic data and tea leaves from Fed officials have resulted in more challenging conditions for fixed income. Essentially, there is much less certainty about the timing and direction of the Fed’s next move as economic data and inflation have been more robust than expected.
According to Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street, this presents an opportunity with high-yield bonds given that yields are at attractive levels while a strong economy indicates that defaults will remain low. So far this year, high-yield bonds have outperformed with a slight positive return, while the iShares Core US Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) and Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND) are down YTD.
This is a contrarian trade as high-yield bond ETFs have had $387 million of outflows YTD, while fixed income ETFs have had $2.8 billion of net inflows YTD. It’s also a way for fixed income investors to bet that the US economy continues to defy skeptics and avoid a recession despite the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes.
Currently, high-yield bonds have an average spread of 338 basis points vs Treasuries. Many of the most popular high-yield ETFs have effective durations between 3 and 4 years which means there is less rate risk. Spreads have remained relatively tight and could widen in the event of the economy slowing.
Finsum: High-yield ETFs are offering an interesting opportunity given attractive yields. This segment of the fixed income market also is benefiting from recently strong economic data which indicates that default rates will remain low.
The rally in bonds since Fed Chair Powell’s pivot at the December FOMC meeting has been fully wiped out following recent economic data and a more hawkish than expected FOMC at the February meeting.
Over the last month, forecasts for the timing and number of rate cuts in 2024 have been severely curtailed. Entering the year, many were looking for 6 rate cuts with the first one in spring. Now, the consensus forecast is for 3 cuts, starting in July. This is consistent with FOMC members’ dot plot at its last meeting.
The narrative is clearly changing with some chatter that the Fed may not cut at all. Prashant Newnaha, senior rates strategist at TD Securities Inc., noted that “January CPI is a game changer — the narrative that Fed disinflation provided scope for insurance cuts is clearly now on the chopping board. There is now a real risk that price pressures will begin to shift higher. The Fed can’t cut into this. This should provide momentum for further bond declines.”
Given these developments, Amy Xie Patrick, the head of income strategies at Pendal Group, favors corporate credit over Treasuries. She views the strong US economy as providing a tailwind to risky assets, while making Treasuries less attractive.
Finsum: Bonds have erased their rally following the December FOMC meeting when Chair Powell signaled that rate cuts win 2024. Here are some of the drivers and thoughts from strategists.
Bonds and stocks weakened following a stronger than expected January CPI report which led traders to reduce bets on the number of rate cuts in 2024. The 10Y Treasury yield climbed 15 basis points, while the 2Y yield was up 19 basis points.
On a monthly basis, prices were up 0.3% vs expectations of 0.2%. Annually, there was an uptick at 3.1% vs expectations of 2.9%. Food and shelter prices were major contributors with gains of 0.4% and 0.6%, respectively. Along with the recent jobs report, the data undermined the notion that the Fed would be turning dovish later this year. The anticipation of a Fed pivot has been a major catalyst, fueling strength in equities and fixed income over the last couple of months.
Instead, the status quo of ‘higher for longer’ remains. Some investors are now anticipating that the 10Y yield will rise further. According to Skyler Weinand, chief investment officer at Regan Capital, “Bond yields have not peaked, and we believe that a 10-year Treasury yield with a 5-handle is more likely than a 3-handle in 2024. Persistent inflation, full employment and strong growth may delay the Fed’s rate cuts.”
Finsum: Stocks and bonds declined as the January CPI came in hotter than expected. Fed futures showed traders reduced estimates for the number of rate cuts in 2024.
The US economy added 353,000 jobs in January which was well above analysts’ consensus estimate of a 185,000 increase. The positive news for the labor market continued as the November and December reports were also revised higher by a cumulative amount of 126,000. Average hourly earnings also surprised to the upside, coming in at 0.6% monthly and 4.6% annually vs expectations of 0.3% and 4.1%, respectively.
In response, stocks rallied, while bonds declined. The yield on the 10-year Treasury jumped 15 basis points with the curve slightly inverting as short-term Treasuries saw steeper losses. This isn’t too surprising as the strong labor market reduces concerns that the Fed is risking a recession by not cutting soon enough. Additionally, the central bank also pays close attention to wages as a major input into its inflation forecast.
Thus for fixed income, the report was negative in two ways. It implies that ‘higher for longer’ remains the status quo in terms of monetary policy especially as this was also the major takeaway from the recent FOMC meeting. The Fed’s stance would change if there was a sudden deterioration in economic conditions, or if inflation continues to move lower. The report makes it clear that neither scenario is close to fruition which means that this period of data-dependency and ‘higher for longer’ will continue.
Finsum: The January jobs report blew past expectations in terms of jobs added and wages. In response, bonds dropped as the results reduce the odds of the Fed cutting rates at upcoming meetings.