Is this the end of yield?

A feature of my career has been both lower interest-rates and bond yields. There have been many occasions when it did not feel like that! For example I remember asking Legal and General why they were buying the UK Long bond ( Gilt) at a yield of 15%. Apologies if I have shocked millennial and Generation Z readers there. There was also the day in 1992 when the UK fell out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism and interest-rates were not only raised to 12% but another rise to 15% was also announced. The latter by the way was scrapped as that example of Forward Guidance did not even survive into the next day.

These days the numbers for interest-rates and yields have become much lower, For example it seemed something of a threshold when the benchmark UK bond or Gilt yield crossed 2%. That was mostly driven by the concept of it being at least in theory ( we have an inflation target of 2% per annum) the threshold between having a real yield and not having one. The threshold however was soon bypassed as the Gilt market continued to surge in price terms. So much in fact that we moved a decimal point as 2.0% became 0.2%. In fact it is very close to the latter ( 0.22%) as I type this.

What happened to the Bond Vigilantes?

We get something of an insight into this by looking at the case of Italy. In the Euro area crisis we saw its benchmark bond yield rise above 7% and if we compare then to now everything is worse.

In the second quarter of 2020 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was revised downwards by 13% to the previous
quarter (from 12.8%)………In Q2, Gross disposable income of consumer households decreased in nominal terms by 5.8% with respect to the previous quarter, while final consumption expenditure decreased by 11.5% in nominal terms. Thus, the saving rate increased to 18.6%, 5.3 percentage points higher than in the previous quarter.

That is from the Italian Statistics Office last week. It has been followed this week by this from the IMF.

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday raised its Italy GDP forecast for 2020 to -10.6%, from June’s -12.8%.
That is an improvement of 2.2 percentage points.
But the IMF cut its Italian growth forecast for next year.
GDP is now expected to rise 5.2% in 2021, 1.1 percentage points lower than the 6.3% forecast in June. ( ANSA)

So the IMF have made this year look better but taken half of that away next year. Actually it makes a mockery of the forecasting process because if you do better then surely that should continue? But, for our purposes today, the issue is of a large fall in economic output in double-digits. This especially matters for Italy because we know from our long-running “Girlfriend in a Coma” theme that it struggles to grow in the better times. So if it loses ground we have to question not only when it will regain it but also if it will?

Switching to debt dynamics ANSA also reported this.

The IMF also said Italy’s public debt will rise to 161.8% of GDP this year, from 134.8% last year, and will then fall to 158.3% in 2021 and 152.6% in 2025.

Those numbers raise a wry smile as we were told back in the day by the Euro area that 120% on this measure was significant. That was quite an own goal at the time but now it has been left well behind. As to the projected declines I would ignore them as they are a given in official forecasts but the reality is that the numbers keep singing along with Jackie Wilson.

You know your love (your love keeps lifting me)
Keep on lifting (love keeps lifting me)
Higher (lifting me)
Higher and higher (higher)

Actually Italy has over time been relatively successful in terms of its annual deficit but not now.

The IMF sees a budget deficit of 13% this year and 6.2% next, falling to 2.5% by 2025.

In a Bond  Vigilante world we would see a soaring bond yields as we note all metrics being worse. Whereas last week I noted this.

Italian 10-Year Government #Bond #Yield Falls To Lowest In More Than A Year At 0.765% – RTRS

This represents quite a move in the opposite direction from when the infamous “‘We are not here to close spreads. This is not the function or the mission of the ECB.’” quote from ECB President Christine Lagarde saw the yield head for 3%. That was as recent as March.

Monday brought more of the same.

Italy‘s 10-year and 30-year sovereign bond yields have dropped to all time-lows of 0.72% and 1.59%, respectively. ( @fwred)

Actually the bond market rally has continued meaning that at 0.64% the Italian benchmark yield is below the US one at 0.72%. This has led some to conclude that Italy is more creditworthy than the US, but perhaps they just have a sense of humour. John Authers of Bloomberg puts it like this.

Forza Italia! The Italian spread over German bunds is the lowest in three years, while the yield on Italian bonds is the lowest since at least 1320: (h/t Jim Reid, @DeutscheBank

)

Take care with the last bit because if I recall my history correctly Italy began around 1870.

But the fundamental point that Italy illustrates is that the Bond Vigilante theme relating to economic problems is presently defunct. In fact we see the opposite of it in markets as you make the most money from markets which start with the worst prospects as there is more to gain.

What about exchange-rate problems Shaun?

This is a subtext which does still continue. Only on Monday we noted that Turkey had to pay 6.5% for a US Dollar bond. Some of the exchange-rate risk is removed by issuing in US Dollars but not all because at some point Turkish Lira need to be used to repay it. But 6.5% looks stellar right now. There is also Argentina where yields are between 40% and 50%.

These are special cases where the yields mostly reflect an expected fall in the currency.

Comment

I have looked at Italy in detail because it illustrates so many of the points at hand. It should be seeing bond yield rises if we apply past thinking styles but we are seeing its doppelganger. The situation is very similar in Greece where the benchmark bond yield is 0.78%. If we look wider around the world we see this.From Bloomberg.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. says the stockpile of developed sovereign debt with a negative yields adjusted for inflation has doubled over the past two years to $31 trillion.

As the Federal Reserve prepares to let prices run hotter to fix the pandemic-hit labor market, the Wall Street bank has a message for investors: Get used to it.“Despite how logic defying the phenomenon is, negative real yields will likely stay with us for a long period to come,” wrote strategists including Boyang Liu and Eddie Yoon.

Adding in inflation means that the situation gets worse for bond owners. There is a familiar theme here because those who own bonds have had quite a party. But the hangover is on its way for future owners who see a market where the profits have already been taken, so what is left for them?

I have left out until now the major cause of the moves in recent times which has been all the QE bond buying by central banks. An example of this will take place this afternoon in my home country when the Bank of England buys another £1.473 billion. The market price for bonds these days is what the central bank is willing to pay. If you can call it a market price. Next comes the issue that countries are relying on this and here is the Governor of the Bank of Italy in Corriere della Sera

Then there is the average cost of debt. Right now it’s 2.4%. It is a high value.

2.4% high? So we arrive at my point which is that the central bankers will drive yields ever lower and as to any turn it will require quite a change as they sing along with McFadden & Whitehead.

Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now!
We’re on the move!
Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now!
We’ve got the groove!