Bonds: A Crowded Trade
In the financial markets, we have been waiting for a crash of U.S. stock prices. And waiting. And waiting. It still hasn’t come.
Last week the spectacular bull market in U.S. stocks that began in March 2009 continued with even more gains. On Friday, the S&P 500 hit another all-time high.
But the real action was in the bond market. Over the last three weeks, about half a trillion dollars has been wiped off the value of global bonds … despite lower than normal trading volumes.
According to Citigroup strategist Mark Schofield, the sell-off is a “stark reminder of just how congested a lot of market positioning has become.” This makes it “increasingly difficult for investors to exit those positions when the time comes to do so.”
As Bloomberg reports:
“That means that it will be increasingly difficult for central banks to start backing away from their unprecedented stimulus efforts as growth takes hold – no matter how much they may want to – without causing a massive traffic jam of investors all trying to sell at once.”
Uh … yes.
A Modern-Day John Law
Nobody knows whether the recent correction in bond prices (and the accompanying rise in yields) will continue or not.
It is almost too classic to believe. Serious economists – and anyone with any common sense – have realized for centuries that you can’t increase the quantity of debt without also decreasing its quality. The more you owe, the less likely you are to pay.
But central banks have been encouraging businesses, households, and governments all over the planet to take on more debt. They claim this will “stimulate” the economy… and that the resulting “growth” will make it easy to repay the debt.
Mario Draghi, the John Law of modern central banking, told us that the European Central Bank would persist in its delusions. (Law was a Scottish economist and gambler. In 1716, he set up the world’s first central bank in France and was responsible for the Mississippi Company bubble – a precursor to other paper-money-induced bubbles.)
John Law, gambler, monetary charlatan and comptroller-general of finances of France, in full regalia
Engraving by Leonard Schenk, 1720
Draghi has made it clear he’s determined to implement the ECB’s €1.1 trillion ($1.2 trillion) QE plan “in full.” As he put it in a recent speech in Washington, his policy moves “have proven so far to be potent, more so than many observers anticipated.”
And although Draghi admitted that low interest rates would “inevitably result in some local misallocation of resources,” he rejected claims that they threaten “overall financial stability.”
Mario Draghi, a scholar of the John Law School of Economics, wearing the uniform of the modern-day “technocrat”. He offers the same hoary inflationism as an economic cure. The uniforms may look different, the quackery is exactly the same.
Photo credit: AP
A Vulnerable Market
Why would bonds fall at the very moment when the biggest buyer in the world is promising to load up with more? Ah… that is what is so classic. While the ECB pledges to throw good money after bad, banks, hedge funds, and pension funds are beginning to see high-priced, low-yielding debt as a leaky boat.
They’ve made a lot of money buying in anticipation of QE; they don’t want to lose their gains when the bond market sinks… as it inevitably will. The claims made on behalf of QE have never had any sensible basis in theory… and have once again proved ineffective in practice.
The Fed has increased the U.S. monetary base by more money than ever before in history. But this “recovery” is the weakest one since the end of World War II. It is so weak that it is a stretch to call it a recovery at all. The most notable recovery has been in the prices of financial assets. And that is more a function of central bank manipulation than renewed economic growth.
What’s more, financial asset prices can correct at a moment’s notice. And will! Asset prices pushed up by central bank stimulus are fundamentally phony. Because there is no real wealth creation behind them. The higher they go, the more they become detached from reality… and the more vulnerable they become. That is true for stocks and bonds.
In the case of bonds, it is… as we said… classic. You can’t improve your creditworthiness by borrowing more. It is inherently absurd for sovereign debt to go up in price as the borrowers sink further underwater … dragging investors with them.
Sooner or later they’ll all have to come up for air.
Charts by: BigCharts, Bloomberg Brief
The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
3 Responses to “Why Bonds Are No Longer a “Safe Haven””
Most read in the last 20 days:
- India: The World’s Fastest Growing Large Economy?
Popular Narrative India has been the world’s favorite country for the last three years. It is believed to have superseded China as the world’s fastest growing large economy. India is expected to grow at 7.5%. Compare that to the mere 6.3% growth that China has “fallen” to. India's quarterly annualized GDP growth rate since 2008, according to MOSPI (statistics ministry) - click to enlarge. The IMF, the World Bank, and the international media have celebrated...
- Don’t Blame Trump When the World Ends
Alien Economics There was, indeed, a time when clear thinking and lucid communication via the written word were held in high regard. As far as we can tell, this wonderful epoch concluded in 1936. Everything since has been tortured with varying degrees of gobbledygook. One should probably not be overly surprised that the abominable statist rag Time Magazine is fulsomely praising Keynes' nigh unreadable tome. We too suspect that this book has actually lowered the planet-wide IQ –...
- What is the Best Time to Buy Stocks?
Chasing Entry Points Something similar to the following has probably happened to you at some point: you want to buy a stock on a certain day and in order to time your entry, you start watching how it trades. Alas, the price rises and rises, and your patience begins to wear thin. Shouldn't a correction set in soon and provide you with a more favorable buying opportunity? Apple-Spotting – a five minute intraday chart showing the action in AAPL on February 1, 2017 - an...
- Incrementum Advisory Board Meeting, Q1 2017 and Some Additional Reflections
Looming Currency and Liquidity Problems The quarterly meeting of the Incrementum Advisory Board was held on January 11, approximately one month ago. A download link to a PDF document containing the full transcript including charts an be found at the end of this post. As always, a broad range of topics was discussed; although some time has passed since the meeting, all these issues remain relevant. Our comments below are taking developments that have taken place since then into...
- Gold and Silver Divergence – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Gold and Silver Divergence – Precious Metals Supply and Demand Last week, the prices of the metals went up, with the gold price rising every day and the silver price stalling out after rising 42 cents on Tuesday. The gold-silver ratio went up a bit this week, an unusual occurrence when prices are rising. Everyone knows that the price of silver is supposed to outperform — the way Pavlov’s Dogs know that food comes after the bell. Speculators usually make it...
- Trump and the Draining of the Swamp
Swamp Critters BALTIMORE – The Dow is back above the 20,000-point mark. Federal debt, as officially tallied, is up to nearly $20 trillion. The two go together, egging each other on. The Dow is up 20 times since 1980. So is the U.S. national debt. Debt feeds the stock market and the swamp. What’s not up so much is real output, as measured by GDP. It’s up only 6.4 times over the same period. Debt and asset prices have been rising three times as fast as GDP for 36 years! Best...
- Making America Great Again – How to Judge Policy
A Simple Formula MIAMI – How do we know if new programs will make the economy better... or worse? Here’s a simple formula: W = rv (w-w – w-l) That is, wealth is equal to the real value of win-win exchanges minus the loss from win-lose exchanges. Yes, dear reader, it’s as simple as that. Like a whittler working on a piece of wood, we’ve shaved so much off, there is nothing left of it... except the essential heartwood. When devising a win-win,...
- When Trumponomics Meets Abenomics
Thirty Year Retread What will President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talk about when they meet later today? Will they gab about what fishing holes the big belly bass are biting at? Will they share insider secrets on what watering holes are serving up the stiffest drinks? [ed. note: when we edited this article for Acting Man, the meeting was already underway] Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian and militarist, meets America's...
- Gold Sector Update – What Stance is Appropriate?
The Technical Picture - a Comparison of Antecedents We wanted to post an update to our late December post on the gold sector for some time now (see “Gold – Ready to Spring Another Surprise?” for the details). Perhaps it was a good thing that some time has passed, as the current juncture seems particularly interesting. We received quite a few mails from friends and readers recently, expressing concern about the inability of gold stocks to lead, or even confirm strength in gold of...
- The Great Wailing
Regret and Suffering BALTIMORE – Victoribus spolia... So far, the most satisfying thing about the Trump win has been the howls and whines coming from the establishment. Each appointment – some good, some bad from our perspective – has brought forth such heavy lamentations. Oh no! Alaric the Visigoth is here! Hide the women and children! And don't forget the vestal virgins, if you can find any... You’d think Washington had been invaded by Goths, now...
- Receive a One Percent Gift When Buying or Selling a Home
How to Save Money When Buying or Make More When Selling a Home In your professional capacity and perhaps also in your private life, you may be closely involved with financial and commodity markets. Trading in stocks, bonds or futures is part of your daily routine. Occasionally you probably have to deal with real estate as well though – if you e.g. want to purchase an apartment or a house, or if own a home you wish to sell. The people who took this photograph probably want to...
- Silver Futures Market Assistance – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Silver Is Pushed Up Again This week, the prices of the metals moved up on Monday. Then the gold price went sideways for the rest of the week, but the silver price jumped on Friday. Taking off for real or not? Photo credit: NASA Is this the rocket ship to $50? Will Trump’s stimulus plan push up the price of silver? Or just push silver speculators to push up the price, at their own expense, again? This will again be a brief Report this week, as we are busy...