There’s a lot of excitement now junk bond yields (at least on one index) have dropped below 5 per cent for the first time. What to call them, for one thing. “High yield” no longer seems appropriate, although frankly “junk” was always better, and remains just as good. The fact that they barely ever default any longer, suggesting on its face that they are no longer junk, is yet another problem – as John discusses with Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid in today’s Note video.
But hold on a minute. It is true yields have plunged. But the following charts show that junk bonds are much shorter dated now than they were, so the drop in yield is not as dramatic as it looks (if you lend someone money for less time, you should expect a lower yield as the loan is less risky). The average duration on the index is at a record-low three and a half years (modified duration is a tad longer, but still a record low).
On the other hand, investment-grade bonds (and top-grade junk too) have longer maturities – in the case of investment grade, the longest since 1980 at more than seven years. So the ultra-low yields (just over 2.5 per cent) of these better-quality bonds are even lower when adjusted for the risk of lending money for longer. Chart-fest after the jump. Read more
A suggestion by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem that the Cyprus deal could mean depositors at troubled banks elsewhere in the eurozone also suffering has pushed banks back into bear territory. James Mackintosh, investment editor, warns of the risk of a vicious downward spiral unless Europe and the European Central Bank can reflate peripheral economies. Read more
Cyprus has finally struck a €10bn deal to become the fifth country “rescued” by the rest of the eurozone, after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and a special loan for Spain. Almost a third of the 17 countries in the single currency have now had to be rescued.
Unlike all the other deals, Cyprus gets immediate deflation, through heavy losses for depositors above €100,000 at its two biggest banks, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki. Read more
Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers warned of the dangers in the eurozone in his latest op-ed for the FT, and it is hard to disagree. But part of what he said bothered me:
A worrisome indicator in much of Europe is the tendency of stock and bond prices to move together. In healthy countries, when sentiment improves stock prices rise and bond prices fall, as risk premiums decline and interest rates rise. In unhealthy economies, as in much of Europe today, bonds are seen as risk assets, so they move just like stocks in response to changes in sentiment. Read more
Ireland’s recent history is a story of hopes dashed. Hope is now being stoked again, not least by those with the most interest in being positive: the Irish government and European lenders.
For Europe, Ireland is the poster child for austerity and must, just must, be recovering. Some positive jobs figures, showing the first growth in employment since 2008 (on which more later) have prompted what passes for elation in the depression-hit island.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso led the cheering this week on a visit to Dublin, saying Ireland’s economy “is turning the corner”.
It shows that the programmes can work. It shows that there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
When there’s a determination we can achieve results. This is a message that’s valid for Ireland and other countries that are going through reforms.
Of course, he wants to believe this. Europe desperately needs a success story to set against the anti-austerity vote in Italy, yet more gloom in Greece and a worsening economic outlook for the eurozone.
But the bond markets agree, and have done for months. Irish 8-year yields (its benchmark) stand at 3.7 per cent, lower than Spain and Italy. The country has successfully returned to bond markets, and hopes to bring in a 10-year benchmark before the end of June. Even the inconclusive Italian elections prompted only a slight wobble.
So, have the markets become too optimistic? Below is a rather longer than usual read on Ireland and the wider eurozone issues. Read more
Has the Great Rotation already started? A couple of startling data points from the last month, covering treasury yields and flows into equity funds, certainly suggest so. But the picture is maddeningly unclear under closer examination.
First, there is the treasury bond market, as discussed in last week’s video with Mike Mackenzie, before 10-year yields had risen above 2 per cent (they’re back below today). Significant rises in yields would be an obvious sign of a rotation. You can see that video, and Mike’s emphatic argument that if the equity rally makes any sense at all then the rotation out of bonds must be coming, here:
Note that even with the brief move above 2 per cent, there is still a way to go before the inexorable downward trend in yields that has now lasted more than a quarter of a century is breached.
The other obvious data to look at concerns flows into equity mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Until very recently, the trend to pull money from equities and transfer it to stocks has continued unabated. Stephane Deo of UBS discussed this with Ralph Atkins in the Note video available here:
Again there are signs of change, but not enough to make the call that the “Great Rotation” has already begun. Most startlingly, TrimTabs, which can publish flow data quickly because it uses algorithms to derive estimated flows from funds’ performance, found that inflows to all equity mutual funds and ETFs this month have already topped $55bn. That beats the previous monthly record, set ominously in February 2000 on the eve of the dotcom crash. Read more
More than half European companies have dividend yields above corporate bond yields for the first time, while mutual fund sales saw their biggest weekly inflow into equities since the US stock market peaked in 2007. James Mackintosh, investment editor, analyses whether this is the long-awaited rotation from bonds back into stocks – and how to compare them.
The UK’s inflation-linked gilts markets have just seen their largest one-day rise in 25 years – thanks to the decision of statisticians to do nothing. James Mackintosh, investment editor, looks beyond gilts to analyse what the real yields on government bonds are telling us.
Contrarians are usually a grumpy lot, constantly being ridiculed for making mad investments, only to have those that work out dismissed as pure luck.
2012 gave plenty of examples, with pretty much any mainstream equities the clearest (almost no one wanted them in January, everyone does now). For the more adventurous contrarian, Greek bonds bought at the start of the year and held through the default have returned 100 per cent, including coupons, while Portuguese bonds are up 79 per cent on the same basis. Read more
Italian shares fell and bond yields rose as investors reacted badly to losing Mario Monti. Investment editor James Mackintosh says this looks like a classic market over-reaction. But there are reasons to worry that worse might be ahead for the country. Read more
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This blog is about asset allocation at the global level. It is an ongoing attempt to explain why investors and markets behave the way they do.
John Authers officially takes the "Long View", while James Mackintosh takes the "Short View" when it comes to investment decisions. In practice both of us end up taking both long- and short-term views, and occasionally disagreeing with each other; all comments and disagreements are very welcome.
James Mackintosh is the Financial Times' Investment Editor, writing and presenting the daily Short View column and video. In 16 years at the FT his posts have included comment editor, motor industry editor and hedge funds correspondent, as well as spells in the Parliamentary lobby and Paris. He was the first reporter hired for FT.com, joining two weeks before it launched.
James has a degree in philosophy and psychology from the University of Oxford, where he spent two further years in post-graduate study of philosophy. If he wasn't here, he'd be skiing.
John Authers is the Financial Times' Senior Investment Columnist, writing the Saturday Long View and a regular Monday column. In a 22-year career at the FT, his previous posts have included global head of the Lex column, investment editor, US markets editor, Mexico City bureau chief and US banking correspondent. His latest book is The Fearful Rise of Markets.
John has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford, and an MBA from Columbia University. Perhaps more interestingly, he captained the highest scoring team in the history of University Challenge while at Oxford, and also once sung in Pavarotti's backing choir.