The bond market dwarfs the size of the stock market. I know what some of my readers are thinking right now, “If I don’t invest in U.S. Treasuries, it doesn’t matter to me if they go up or down.” This is wrong.
The price direction of U.S. Treasuries is based on interest rate expectations. If bonds are rising or decreasing in price, it means that future interest rates will either rise or fall. The entire economy is based on interest rates. Higher interest rates would be catastrophic for the stock market, real estate market, consumers, and businesses.
Right now, 10-year U.S. Treasuries are near their record low, yielding 2.28% this morning. Why so low? Because, on Tuesday, the Federal Reserve took the unusual step of saying it would keep short-term interest rates near zero into mid-2013.
The Fed cut short-term interest rates to between zero and 0.25% in December of 2008 and short-term rates have remained that low since. Now we are told that the Fed will hold rates at those levels for another two years.
But there is trouble in paradise…
Three of the 10 members of the Fed interest-rate-setting committee dissented from the decision to give specific dates on how long short-term rates would be held close to zero. The last time this many of the committee members dissented was almost 20 years ago.
There are two schools of thought on how this story will end.
One camp believes that the U.S. is entering the same type of phase Japan went through in the 1990s: a period of deflation, where interest rates remained low for more than a decade.
The second camp believes that the U.S. will need to raise interest rates, as its debt load increases and foreign countries balk at buying more U.S. Treasuries.
China—the biggest holder of U.S. Treasuries—and Russia have been blasting the U.S. for failing to rein in spending. We also have two other problems: the U.S. dollar has been falling like a stone against other world currencies and the Fed has been a major buyer of U.S. Treasuries. Some look at this as the government buying its own debt. How confusing is that?
I’m in the camp that believes a bubble is brewing in U.S. Treasuries. Just like a bubble happened in hi-tech in the late 1990s, just like the housing bubble that peaked in 2005, just like the stock market bubble that peaked in 2007.
Whenever the U.S. government auctions off U.S. Treasuries, the offering is oversubscribed. Investors are lining up to buy securities paying 2.28% that are issued by a country that is technically bankrupt. That story can’t have a good ending.
Michael’s Personal Notes:
There’s a tremendous amount of fear in the marketplace today. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it before. One would believe that it’s 2008 all over again. Hence my belief that the stock market will not just roll over and collapse at this point. The market rarely does what is expected of it.
A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll reported that 48% of Americans believe that another Great Depression is likely to start within the next 12 months. This is unheard of. If you asked people in 1930 if a depression was headed their way, they would not know what you were talking about. If history has taught us one thing, it’s that events happen when the great majority of people do not expect them to happen.
We even have France, the second largest economy in Europe, now under attack by the bond vigilantes. Rumors have it that France will lose its Triple-A credit rating, just like the U.S. recently did. Yes, things are very difficult in Europe. Unemployment is high; jobs are hard to come by. But I’m starting to get the feeling that the pessimists are painting the situation as worse than it really is.
Where the Market Stands: Where It’s Headed:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average opens this last trading day of the week down 3.8% for the year. Personally, I’m not letting the multi-100-point up and down days on the Dow Jones bother me. I recognize that a lot of it has to do with automated computer buying and selling.
I’m focusing on my long-term beliefs about the market. And those views have not changed. The first phase of the bear market brought stocks down to a 12-year low on March 9, 2009. From there, the second phase of the bear market took hold. And that’s where we have been for months.
The third phase of the bear market will have stocks fall below their March 9, 2009 low. It will present a once-in-a-generation buying opportunity for investors. However, I don’t believe the third phase of the bear market is ready to start quite yet. The bear hasn’t finished its job of luring more investors back in before it takes prices down again.
What He Said:
“A Stock Market’s Obituary: It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. After a strong and courageous battle, the Dow Jones fell victim to a credit crisis and finally succumbed on Friday, October 3, 2008, when it fell decisively below the mid-point between its 2002 low and its 2007 high.” Michael Lombardi, in PROFIT CONFIDENTIAL, October 6, 2008. From October 6, 2008, to November 27, 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced one of its biggest two-month losses in history.