Was that the bond market tantrum of 2019?

Sometimes economics and financial markets provoke a wry smile. This morning has already provided an example of that as Germany’s statistics office tells us Germany exported 4.6% more in September than a year ago, so booming. Yes the same statistics office that told us yesterday that production was down by 4.3% in September so busting if there is such a word. The last couple of months have given us another example of this do let me start by looking at one side of what has taken place.

QE expansion

We have seen two of the world’s major central banks take steps to expand their QE bond buying one explicitly and the other more implicitly. We looked at the European Central Bank or ECB only on Wednesday.

The Governing Council decided to restart net purchases under each constituent programme of the asset purchase programme (APP)……….. at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November 2019.

More implicitly have been the actions of the US Federal Reserve as it continues to struggle with the Repo crisis.

Based on these considerations, last Friday the FOMC announced that the Fed will be purchasing U.S. Treasury bills at least into the second quarter of next year.7 Specifically, the Desk announced an initial monthly pace of purchases of $60 billion.

That was John Williams of the New York Fed who added this interesting bit.

These permanent purchases

Also there is this.

In concert with these purchases, the FOMC announced that the Desk will continue temporary overnight and term open market operations at least through January of next year.

Maybe a hint that they think dome of this is year end US Dollar demand. But we find that the daily operations continue and at US $80.14 billion as of yesterday they continue on a grand scale. So the Treasury Bill purchases and fortnightly Repo’s have achieved what exactly?

If we move from the official denials that this is QE to looking at the balance sheet we see that it is back above 4 trillions dollars and rising. In fact it was US $4.02 trillion at the end of last month or around US $250 billion higher in this phase.

Bond Markets

You might think and indeed economics 101 would predict that bond markets would be surging and yields falling right now. But we have learnt that things are much more complex than that. Let me illustrate with the US ten-year Treasury Note. You might expect some sort of boost from the expansion of the balance sheet and the purchases of Treasury Bills. But no, the futures contact which nearly made 132 early last month is at 128 and a half now. At one point yesterday the yield looked like it might make 2% as there was quite a rout but some calm returned and it is 1.91% as I type this.

As an aside this is another reminder of the relative impotence of interest-rate cuts these days as if anything a trigger for yields rising was the US interest-rate cut last week. The Ivory Towers will be lost in the clouds yest again.

The situation is even more pronounced in the Euro area where actual purchases have been ongoing for a week now. However in line with our buy the rumour and sell the fact theme we see that the German bond market has fallen a fair bit. In mid-August the benchmark ten-year yield went below -0.7% whereas now it is -0.26%. So Germany is still being paid to borrow at that maturity but considerably less. Indeed at the thirty-year maturity they do have to pay something albeit not very much ( 0.24%).

The UK

There have been a couple of consequences in the UK. The first I spotted in yesterday’s output from the Bank of England.

Mortgage rates and personal loan rates remain near
historical lows, with the rates on some fixed-rate mortgages continuing to fall over the past few months (Table 2.B).
Interest rates on credit cards have increased, although the effective rate paid by the average borrower has remained
stable, in part because of the past lengthening of interest-free periods.

Whilst this is true, if you are going to parade the knowledge of the absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent about foreign exchange options then you should be aware that as Todd Terry put it.

Something’s goin’ on

The five-year Gilt yield has risen from a nadir of 0.22% to 0.52% so the ultra-low period of mortgage rates is on its way out should we stay here.

If we move to the fiscal policy space in the UK then we see that the message that we can borrow cheaply has arrived in the general election campaign.

Although debt stocks are high in many developed countries, debt service ratios are very low. The UK gross debt stock has doubled from 42 per cent of GDP in 1985 to 84 per cent of GDP today, yet debt interest service has halved, from 4 per cent of GDP to below 2 per cent over the same period. It has rarely been lower. A rule using the debt stock would argue for fiscal consolidation, whereas a debt service metric suggests there is ample room for fiscal expansion. Especially as market interest rates are extraordinarily low. (  FT Alphaville)

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2019/11/06/1573068343000/Is-it-time-for-a-shift-in-fiscal-rules–/

I have avoided the political promises which peak I think with the Greens suggestion of an extra £100 billion a year. But the Toby Nangle and Neville Hill proposal above has strengths and has similarities to what I have suggested here for some time. But I think it needs to come with some way of locking the debt costs in, so if you borrow more because it is cheap you borrow for fifty years and not five. It reinforces my suggestion of the 27th of June that the UK should issue some 100 year Gilts.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here and let me start with the borrow whilst it is still cheap theme. There are issues as highlighted by this from Francine Lacqua of Bloomberg.

London’s Elizabeth line has been delayed by a year, and will require extra funding, according to TfL

For those unaware this was called Crossrail ( renaming is often a warning sign) which will be a welcome addition to the London transport infrastructure combing elements of The Tube with the railways. But it gets ever later and more expensive.

There was also some irony as regards the Bank of England as in response to the sole decent question at its presser yesterday (from Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC) Governor Carney effectively suggested the next rate move would be down not up. Yet Gilt yields rose.

Next comes the issue of whether this is a sea-change or just part of the normal ebb and flow of financial markets? We will find out more this afternoon as we wait to see if there were more than just singed fingers in the German bond market for example or whether some were stopped out? After all reporting you had taken negative yield and a capital loss poses more than a few questions about your competence. Even the most credulous will now know it is not a one-way bet but on the other hand if you are expecting QE4 to come down the New York slipway then you can place your bets at much better levels than before.

The bond market surge is the financial news story of 2019

This has been quite an extraordinary year in financial markets and we find that even the summer lull is being very active.Or rather it tried to go quiet and then kicked off again. The good news is that amongst a sea of indifference and sadly ignorance we have been on the case. What I am referring to is the surge in bond markets that has taken them to quite extraordinary heights and changes a large proportion of the financial landscape. So let’s get straight to it and where else to start but with President Trump.

Trade talks are continuing, and…..during the talks the U.S. will start, on September 1st, putting a small additional Tariff of 10% on the remaining 300 Billion Dollars of goods and products coming from China into our Country. This does not include the 250 Billion Dollars already Tariffed at 25%…

So he now plans to expand his tariff trade war to pretty much everything Chine exports to the US. This has had the usual impact of lowering equity markets, strengthening the Yen ( into the 106s versus the US Dollar) and more importantly for our purposes today sending bond markets surging again.

This is our first lesson of the day which is that the financial markets version of economics 101 does still apply in some areas. What I mean by this is that sharp falls in equity markets still make bond markets rally. The logic such as it is comes from the fact that bonds pay a regular coupon as opposed to lower equity returns which makes the bonds more attractive. I am sure that many of you have spotted what Shakespeare would call the “rub” in this so for the moment let our analysis remain in the United States where there still are positive bond yields.

The situation now is that the ten-year Treasury Note now yields a mere 1.84% whereas yesterday I was reviewing a post US Federal Reserve 2,04%. The exact levels will change as this is a febrile volatile environment but the general picture has been singing along with Alicia Keys.

Oh baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

I keep on
Fallin’

This has caught out US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as he was doing his best to pour cold water on the view that interest-rates are about to be chopped. In a sense this shows that whilst central banks have a lot of power they were accurately described by Hall and Oates.

You’re out of touch

Anticipation of the extra US $40 billion of bond purchases on their way via the (even earlier) ending of QT or Quantitative Tightening will have pushed the market higher on their own. But they found that The Donald was there with some petrol and a match. Oh and according to Market watch he may have just found another petrol can.

President Donald Trump on Friday will make an announcement on European Union trade at 1:45 p.m. Eastern, according to the White House’s daily guidance. Trump has threatened tariffs on European Union cars as well as food and alcohol, and plane makers Airbus AIR, -4.54% and Boeing BA, -2.02% have also been the source of trade tensions between the two sides.

So let me conclude the section on the world’s largest bond market with two points. Chair Powell thinks he is in charge but in reality a combination of President Trump and the markets are running rings around him, Next is that the real world economic effects of this will be cheaper fixed-rate mortgages and business borrowing as well as lower borrowing costs for the US government. Leaving us with a view that the Trump era is a curious combination of blazing away incoherently in the moment but also showing signs of an underlying plan as he gets lower bond yields for his fiscal expansionism.

Negativity

He was right by the way it is more today. Also as a nuance the amount of corporate debt that has a negative yield has passed the US $1 trillion mark. A nice little earner for some and of course as we look at the overall picture I find myself musing about future trends.

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole

The UK

The situation here is remarkable in its own way. Even Bank of England Governor Mark Carney could not entirely blame Brexit for the situation.

Since May, global trade tensions have intensified, global activity has remained soft, and the perceived likelihood of a no-deal Brexit has increased significantly. These developments have led to substantial declines in market interest rates and a marked depreciation of sterling.

Let me give credit to Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC who asked a question about Forward Guidance. After all Governor Carney has been giving Forward Guidance about interest-rate rises through the period that bond yields have plunged. Sadly he deployed the tactic of answering a question he would have preferred to have been asked, gambling that no-one in the press corps would have the chutzpah to point that out.

This matters because we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation with the five-year yield at a mere 0.33% this morning. Firstly let me point out the ongoing excellence of the comments section of this blog as Kevin suggested we would reach 0.4% a while back when such views were deeply unfashionable elsewhere. Next this should be impacting on fixed-rate mortgages as banks can fund very cheaply in this area now although so far there seems to have been little sign of this, so perhaps the banks are keeping the change here for themselves. Finally the UK can borrow ever more cheaply an issue which the media and the “think-tanks” keep ignoring as they pontificate over whether the government can spend more? Of course it can at these yields! Whether that is a good idea or whether it will spend it wisely are different matters.

There is a curious situation in the UK yield curve where the five year yield at 0.33% is below the two-year at 0.42% and the ten-year at 0.55% so let me explain it. We have a 0.75% Bank Rate which in explicit terms only applies overnight but let us more loosely say until the next Bank of England meeting. That has more of an influence on the two-year which is why it is higher. But even so it is some 0.33% below the Bank Rate.

Before I move on let me point out how extraordinary this is by reminding everyone that the last time we were here the Bank of England was involved in making some £60 billion of purchases at almost any price. In fact as it wanted lower Gilt yields back then it wanted to pay more. How insane in the membrane is that?

Comment

It is rather kind of financial markets to help me out here as just as I start typing this section they reach a threshold.

German bonds at -0.5% yield Klaxon.

The benchmark ten-year yield is already telling us what it expects the new ECB deposit rate to be. Or perhaps I should say the maximum as the two-year is at -0.78%.

Let me resume my insane in the membrane theme with this.

Putting it another way here is Bloomberg.

Borrowing costs for house purchases and companies in Italy are at an all-time low

Politicians must wish they had thought of the idea of creating “independent” central banks even earlier than they did……

What could go wrong? Well let me start you off, with a quarterly and annual economic growth rate of 0% it does not seem to be doing Italy much good.