It is therefore clear that the yield curve is not alone in this, and that the economic cycle that started soon after the global financial crisis, is coming to an end even if a systemic crisis such as the one of 2008 might be avoided, a major repricing needs to occur in order to put things back into perspective.
The most concerning factor at this point is the dismissive attitude of the Fed towards these signals. It is true that an inverted yield curve does not cause a recession, but in the past, it has been a good indicator preceding one.
Investors, therefore, are now at the mercy of Fed chief Jerome Powell. The December Federal Open Market Committee will be crucial in order to understand what Fed monetary policies are going forward. An interest rate hike is already priced in, but will a dovish tone provoke another buying spree on the long part of the curve? What if Powell remains confident and continues to sound hawkish? Will bond investors be ready to let go of longer US Treasuries while there is clearly something boiling in the equity market? I believe that this it is unlikely. Therefore, although investors are at the mercy of the Fed, whatever Powell says, an inversion of the yield curve will happen and what follows will be unavoidable.
Be prepared for more selloffs and spread widening in 2019
We expect an inversion in the longer part of the curve in the next few months, as soon as Q1 2019, but a full-blown recession will probably not start until late 2020. This gives investors plenty of time to decide where they want to place their assets.
Volatility is going to be high and repricing in selective credit spaces may provide exciting opportunities. However, investors should be aware that valuations of US dollar denominated bonds will broadly depend on the movement of the yield curve, and here we predict a bearish flattening in which the short-term part of the curve rises faster than the long-term. There might be some further tightening in the long part of the curve if the US-China trade war escalates and the equity intensifies, however, we believe that the upside risk for longer maturities is limited as volumes in Treasury issuances remain abundant.
This basically means that if you buy the long part of the curve, you may experience tightening valuation, while for certain, if you invest in the short part of the curve, there is a big possibility that valuations will not be supported as the Fed will hike in December and at least once next year.
We prefer US IG credits in the short part of the curve while we are cautious of financials.
A flattening yield curve environment it is particularly difficult for the banking sector as their main activity is to borrow in the short term and lend at higher rates in the future, and profits erode as the yield curve flattens, or worse, inverts. In this space I believe it is important to avoid subordinated bonds and less liquid issues.
We believe that capital preservation in this environment is paramount, hence to avoid exposure to duration risk, we prefer shorter maturities up to three years of investment grade credits which have a pick-up over treasuries of around 150bps. This way, investors lock in returns for the next few years, and avoid rising inflation eroding the real yield offered by these bonds.
Yet, is inflation going to overshoot? I will explore this topic another time but from the graph below it is possible to see that while US CPI YoY (pink) points slightly upwards in October, the US CPI ex-food and energy (Green) is still decreasing. It definitely doesn’t look like inflation is getting to where the Fed expects it to, and the biggest risk is that Powell and his fellow FOMC members will overtighten the economy.