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Municipal Market Newsletter Archive

The Plan Unfolds

July 13th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

It has been twelve months since the end of the hockey-sticked shape mania of long-term bond prices. Markets don’t trend in straight lines, so over the past twelve months I have used this letter to help you navigate where we are on the journey towards a collapse in long-term bond prices.

The July 2017 letter called the top in long-term bond pricing while subsequent letters followed the initial move to December lows and last month’s call that the correction was over. After a correction price high on June 12th, long-term bonds have declined in price for the past twelve trading days (as of the writing of this letter).

Of course it may be better to be lucky than good, but I will accept any good fortune that comes our way. This letter provides me the opportunity to put forth my opinion, however much in the minority it may be, and I intend to take the opportunity because I believe it is quite important when a collapse in the long-term bond market is involved. (more…)

Capitulation

June 14th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

It is not often that followers of the all-too-staid bond markets get to use the word capitulation. Usually things don’t move fast enough (or far enough) to warrant the use of the word. We, however, having declared the end of a three decades long trend, see a significant change taking place.

We marked late 2012 as the end of the bull market in Bonds, though the hockey-stick final mania in the longest maturing bonds didn’t occur until last spring, culminating July 6, 2016. Shorter term bond yields had risen since 2012 while the 10 year US Treasury bottomed at 1.32%, a significant turning point in trend.

The second half of 2016 saw yields spike to 2.64%, such that by year-end (December 2016 Letter) we called for a correction of this first move in the long-term bear market for long-term bonds. Indeed yields moderated back down to 2.13% early in June. So far so good and right along our projected path.

Which brings us to today. Actually it was a June 9th Bloomberg headline that used Capitulation, saying “Investors betting on rising bond yields just threw in the towel in a big way, according to Bank of America.” Citing the “biggest inflows to bonds in well over two years”, BofA concluded the performance of credit equities are “highly correlated.” (more…)

A Buy and Hold World

May 5th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

The municipal bond market is not so much of a market as it is a distribution scheme. Each week new issues of municipal bonds are sold, or distributed, to buyers looking for bonds like these offered. The bonds may disappear immediately or usually they are all distributed to buyers over several weeks.

The end result is the bonds are distributed. We can’t control whether or not any bonds are later offered or enter the marketplace. Last month I wrote that it only takes one: one bond coming back into the marketplace that may prove to be worthwhile for us.

This means the bulk of all municipal bonds are bought and held. With long-term bond yields trending down for thirty-plus years (and prices trending higher), a buy and hold strategy has been a winning strategy.

Yet somehow, someway, bonds come into the marketplace each and every day in an attempt to be redistributed. Thankfully not every bond holder buy and holds, so at least we get an opportunity to see if the bonds they are selling are worth buying. (more…)

It Only Takes One

April 10th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

After four months of sideways price (yield) action in bonds, one might tend to believe nothing has changed or nothing is happening. Thankfully the municipal bond market offers us tens of thousands of unique opportunities over a similar timespan.

Ten year treasury notes doubled in yield from 1.32% to 2.64% in the second half of 2016, but for 2017 the market has traded in a narrow range. This corrective phase may already be complete or we may have more time to diddle. The important takeaway is that I believe the market for longer-term bonds will resolve into much higher yields and much lower prices. (more…)

Rates Rise; Who Cares?

March 8th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

These are heady times in the stock market. As market indexes set historical all-time highs, who cares about bonds? Stocks are all the buzz.

Back in August my letter was First Bonds, Now Stocks. “If you liked the bond market rally this year, then I think you will really enjoy the stock market rally which appears to be gathering steam.” Gather it has. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded at 17,063 on June 27th, 2016; on March 1st, 2017 it was 21,169 for a 24% rise.

Meanwhile the bubble on Bonds did indeed burst as ten year Treasury yields bottomed at 1.32% on July 6, 2016, before doubling to 2.64% on December 15th. So while stocks were gaining steam, bond prices were indeed weakening as yields doubled. As the Dow rallied, ten year Treasury bonds sank, producing an 11% price loss into the December yield highs. The long bellwether Treasury bond was down 22% in price over the same period.

Both the rise in stock prices and the fall in Bond prices were expected. After bond prices bottomed in December we expected prices to bounce and indeed the bounce appears to be over such that prices are trending lower again as the yield on the ten year treasury is back over 2.50%.

January’s Letter, Lines In the Sand noted Big Bill Gross’s line at 2.60% for the ten year treasury.  At just over 2.50% as March begins, we are within striking distance. (more…)

Municipal Bonds Are Different

February 3rd, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

While technically all municipal bonds are government bonds, municipal bonds represent a subset of government bonds. Unlike the behemoth debt associated with almost all countries on the planet, including ours, municipal bonds are, well, usually smaller and sometimes just small.

Size matters, except when it comes to debt, bigger usually is not better. This is a qualitative difference where municipal bonds have the ability to shine. Unlike the debt upon debt upon debt of most government debt today, municipalities have the ability to truly be unique in their amount of leverage.

All five year bonds are five year bonds. And almost every five year government bond will be repaid because the government has promised to repay it. These government bonds carry the “full faith and credit” of their issuer to be repaid and are known as general obligation bonds.

When it comes to general obligations, bigger can indeed be better. Larger governments usually have more resources and usually are viewed as being less risky, or even safe or without (credit) risk as United States treasury bonds were viewed. (more…)

Lines In The Sand

January 19th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

On January 10th, Big Bill Gross the Bond King, drew his line in the sand referencing the ten year treasury yield at 2.60%. If the ten year yield goes above 2.60% this year, said Big Bill, the bear bull market would be on and its effects on the stock market would be felt.

Now you tell us Bill. After a historic first half of 2016 which gave us the final throes of a mania in Bonds, we experienced  a historic sell-off in the second half with yields doubling from July to December in ten year yields. Indeed, the bear market for bonds has not only begun but, depending on maturity horizon, has been in place since 2012.

With the stock market continuing its version of the Bonds final mania, Big Bill probably also knows that nobody cares. Off his throne at PIMCO, Big Bill probably needed to reference stocks in his bond bear market call for relevance sake.

Until the mania in stocks ends, and like the long bull market in bonds, it will end, no one will probably care, or notice, the bond market. Investors in stocks are making money just by owning stocks, not by listening or following experts like Big Bill. (more…)

The Wait Is Over

December 7th, 2016 by Kurt L. Smith

I love it when a plan comes together. The August letter, First Bonds, Now Stocks, could not have been more spot on. The latest rally in Bonds began to reverse in July and it appears the first move towards a Bond Bear Market is now in place. And indeed the excitement the markets reserved for Bonds earlier this year did indeed move to Stocks with a recent exclamation point capping a three thousand point move up in the Dow that began in February.

For those of you reading the press clippings of these latest moves, please remember the narratives are worthless. Trends do not extend forever and long-time readers of this letter know I have been preparing for a change in the long-term trends of Stocks and Bonds for some time.

My excitement that my long wait may finally be over is based on the excitement both the Stock and Bond markets registered in 2016. Soaring prices, plunging and even negative yields, characterized the Bond market all spring long. Prices topped (and yields bottomed) in July with the bellwether thirty year US Treasury bond at 2.08%; by the first of December it was over 3.08%, an almost 50% jump in yield and 19% plunge in price. (more…)

My Daily Travels

November 4th, 2016 by Kurt L. Smith

Working in the municipal markets on a daily basis is like having the opportunity to travel the country each and every day. I visit California and Texas most often as they are big states with numerous debt issuers. But by the end of each day I have generally made a wide swing across many states and then tomorrow I will get up and do it all again.

Change doesn’t occur rapidly across the country but change does occur. Growing areas, primarily the biggest cities along the east and west coasts and in Texas, continue to grow. Everywhere else, and that’s a lot of everywhere else, seems to be doing a lot of nothing.

If municipalities were stocks, odds are you would only buy the top five or so. Think of them as the Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google of municipalities. That’s how few areas of the country are growing. Not that growth solves all problems, but lack of growth, particularly if you were counting on it, can add unforeseen risk to the situation. (more…)

The Coming Change

October 15th, 2016 by Kurt L. Smith

If you frame the world in the context of long-term financial trends, you may see a world without change. Thirty five-plus year bull markets for stocks and bonds are where we have been and where we currently are. Not only have interest rates fallen from all-time record highs in the early 1980’s to all-time record lows lately, but the prospect for lower interest rates longer is the consensus for as far as the eye can see.

Market moves of this historic magnitude are what books are made for, not a monthly letter. After thirty five-plus years, what’s another one year, or five years? The consensus is lower longer. In other words, the consensus is for no change.

Yet the conditions for change continue to swell. Some people are angry, very angry, about our economic situation. Sure we have had one of our worst rebounds from a recession possibly ever. Some young people are asked to assume more and more debt while facing an insecure economic time. But angry?  We are discovering the business model for pension funds is not working.  Older workers, increasingly teachers, police, firefighters and other municipal workers are becoming increasingly aware how the ongoing lower longer outlook will impact them dramatically. (more…)

NEWS FEED

Dallas Stares Down a Texas-Size Threat of Bankruptcy, via @nytimes. Growth and a big problem nytimes.com/2016/11/21/bus…