The bond market is the venue in which debt securities are traded prior to maturity. An investor in the bond market buys a debt instrument, which stems from what is essentially a loan to a corporation or government. In exchange for this money, the bond investor receives an interest rate. Debt instruments make interest payments at fixed intervals and for a fixed period of time; therefore, they are called fixed-income securities. The interest rate that the issuer pays is called a coupon. At maturity, the full amount of capital is returned to the investor. For investors in the bond market, two main criteria for buying a debt instrument is duration and credit quality. Duration for the bond market represents the length of the investment; credit quality refers to how strong the borrower is and how able they are to repay the full amount of debt.
The stock market in France has been on a tear! Below, I present a chart of the French CAC 40 Index, the main stock market index in France.
Looking at the chart, we see the French stock market is trading at a five-year high. With such a strong stock market, one would expect France, the second-largest economy in the eurozone, to be doing well. But it’s the exact opposite!
As its stock market rallies, France’s economic slowdown is gaining steam. In January, the unemployment rate in France was unchanged; it has remained close to 11% for a year now. (Source: Eurostat, February 28, 2014.) Consumer spending in the French economy declined 2.1% in January after declining 0.1% in December. (Source: National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, February 28, 2014.) Other key indicators of the French economy are also pointing to an economic slowdown for the country.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
And France isn’t the only place in the eurozone still experiencing a severe economic slowdown. In January, the unemployment rate in Italy, the third-biggest nation in the eurozone, hit a record-high of 12.9%, compared to 11.8% a year ago.
I have not mentioned Greece, Spain, and Portugal because they have been discussed in these pages many times before; as my readers are well aware, they are in a state of outright depression.
Just like how investors have bought into the U.S. stock market again in hopes of U.S. economic growth, the same thing has happened in the eurozone. Investors have put money into France’s stock market in hopes of that economy recovering—but it hasn’t. We are dealing with a … Read More
The bond market is in trouble.
As we all know, the Federal Reserve has been the biggest driver of bonds since the financial crisis. The central bank lowered its benchmark interest rate to near zero, then started quantitative easing, all of which resulted in the bond market soaring as yields collapsed to multi-decade lows.
The chart below will show you what’s happened to the U.S. bond market since the mid-1970s.
As you can see from the chart, the declining yields on bonds stopped in the spring of 2013 and have increased sharply since then.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
What’s next for bonds?
The Federal Reserve is slowly taking away the “steroids” that boosted the bond market. The central bank is now printing $65.0 billion of new money a month instead of the $85.0 billion it was printing just a few months back. And now we hear the Federal Reserve will be slowing its purchases by $10.0 billion a month throughout 2014.
Since May of last year alone, when speculation started that the Federal Reserve would cut back on its money printing program, bond yields skyrocketed and bond investors panicked.
According to the Investment Company Institute, investors sold $176 billion worth of long-term bond mutual funds between June and December of last year. (Source: Investment Company Institute web site, last accessed February 26, 2014.) I would not be surprised if withdrawals from bond mutual funds are even bigger this year.
And China is slowly exiting the U.S. bond market, too. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in December, China sold the biggest amount of U.S. bonds since 2011. In … Read More
The strong jobs market report last week started the chatter again that the Federal Reserve would start to reduce the pace of its quantitative easing program. Some have said the Fed will reduce the amount of its asset purchases as early as December, while others are saying the quantitative easing will start to diminish by March 2014.
I have a different opinion: I believe the Federal Reserve can’t stop quantitative easing, because the market has become so dependent on it. If the Fed does go ahead with a pullback on money printing, the consequences will not be pleasant.
I made a very similar prediction last time when we heard a significant amount of “noise” about the Federal Reserve pulling back on its asset purchases. My predictions were right, and nothing has changed since then. The Federal Reserve continues to buy $85.0 billion worth of U.S. bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) a month.
Please see the chart below to see why I believe the Federal Reserve just can’t walk away from quantitative easing without causing massive damage.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
In May, when the Federal Reserve hinted it might be reducing the pace of its asset purchases, we saw a spike in bond yields with the 30-year U.S. Treasury rising from about 2.8% to as high as 3.9% in a very short period of time. Then we heard the Fed would not be tapering as was expected and bond yields settled and started trading in a range. Now, with the jobs market report perceived as good (first time we created over 200,000 new jobs in months), bond yields started rising … Read More
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the global economy to increase by 2.9% this year and 3.6% in 2014—forecasts which I believe are too optimistic. Why?
First of all, we have the Japanese economy, the third-biggest in the global economy, suffering an economic slowdown. Tertiary industry activity (activity in the service businesses) slowed in September from a month ago. (Source: Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, November 12, 2013.)
Then there’s Germany, the fourth-biggest economy in the global economy. Once believed to be immune to the economic slowdown in the eurozone, seasonally adjusted manufacturing output in the country declined 0.8% in September from August. As of September, year-to-date manufacturing output in the German economy has increased only 1.2%—a much slower growth rate than in the same period of 2012. (Source: Destatis, November 8, 2013.)
Earlier this month, in a statement about its monetary policy decision, the central bank of Australia said, “In Australia, the economy has been growing a bit below trend over the past year and the unemployment rate has edged higher. This is likely to persist in the near term… Public spending is forecast to be quite weak.” (Source: “Statement by Glenn Stevens, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision,” Reserve Bank of Australia, November 5, 2013.)
To fight the economic slowdown in the country, the Reserve Bank of Australia is using easy monetary policy measures. The central bank has reduced its benchmark interest rate in the country by more than 40% since the beginning of 2012. The cash rate, the overnight money market interest rate, sits at 2.50% compared to 4.25% in early 2012. (Source: Reserve Bank of Australia … Read More
There’s a notion among central banks of the global economy that goes like this: if you lower interest rates, you will get economic growth. On the surface, it makes sense; easy monetary policies by central banks are supposed to bring confidence to an economy—they’re supposed to encourage consumers and businesses to borrow, which should translate to more jobs created and an improvement in the standard of living.
This phenomenon of lowering interest rates to spur the economy has spread through the global economy like wild fire.
Interest rates at the central bank of Australia have been trending lower since the financial crisis. In December of 2007, the cash rate (the benchmark interest rate) there was 6.75%. Fast-forwarding to today, this rate is 2.5%. (Source: Reserve Bank of Australia web site, last accessed September 16, 2013.)
Brazil’s central bank has lowered its benchmark interest rate since the end of 2008. The interest rate dictated by the country’s central bank stood at 13.75% near the end of 2008; now it stands at nine percent. (Source: Banco Central do Brasil web site, last accessed September 16, 2013.)
The benchmark interest rate in South Africa is down almost 50%. The South African Benchmark Overnight Rate (SABOR) was above 10% near the end of 2007. Now it stands at 4.82% and has been hovering around this level for some time. (Source: South African Reserve Bank web site, last accessed September 16, 2013.)
While we’ve been watching this happen, no one is really asking the question how are interest rates being kept low? The answer: to keep the interest rates low central banks print more paper … Read More
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