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Municipal Market Newsletter Archive

Treasuries Tank; Any Followers?

June 1st, 2018 by Kurt L. Smith

When it comes to interest rates you know we rejected the “lower rates for longer” mantra from the beginning. Largely this was due to the fact that we believed interest rates were bottoming and the new long-term trend of ever increasing rates, which we called in November 2012, was just beginning.

The chart below details significant interest rates over the past five-plus years of our journey. Longer-term rates on ten year and thirty year notes and bonds challenged our premise briefly in 2016, allowing the “lower rates for longer” mantra to swell, but the results, or shall I say, performance, speaks for itself.

 

All-Time Low Yield            June 2017  Low                       Recent High

0.14%      9/20/11                1.26%    6/2/17                   2.60%    5/17/18

0.53%      7/25/12                1.67%    6/14/17                2.95%    5/17/18

1.32%      7/6/16                   2.10%    6/14/17                3.13%    5/18/18

2.09%     7/11/16                 2.68%    6/26/17                3.26%    5/18/18

-Source: Bloomberg

 

Owners of ten year US Treasuries in July 2016 have watched the yield on their note increase an astonishing 181 basis points, for a 13 percent price decline in the note’s value (vis-à-vis the Treasury 1.625% 5/15/26). For owners of the bellwether thirty year bond, the 117 basis point increase in yield has lowered the bond’s value about 23 percent (vis-à-vis the Treasury 2.50% 5/15/46).  All treasury prices per Bloomberg.

Double digit loses in longer-term treasury prices over the past two years are huge. Yet even at the most recent high yields lately of 2.60% to 3.26%, they continue to look low by historical standards.  With double digit price damage occurring at what many folks consider “low yields,” it should prepare bond investors for continued and greater carnage as yields continue their (so far) slow movement to more “normal” interest rates. (more…)

Thankfully, We Own Municipals

May 4th, 2018 by Kurt L. Smith

Three percent ten year US Treasury notes have generated recent buzz with the highest interest rates in over four years. More interesting may be the yield on two year treasury notes at over 2.50%, the highest yield in over nine years.

Lower for longer? This mantra for investing in both bonds and stocks has blown up. Interest rates are not lower and haven’t been lower for many years. My job is not to convince believers of the mantra that they have it wrong. Besides, despite rising interest rates, performance figures haven’t changed appreciably one way or the other. We continue to move forward with our approach.

Our municipal bond market is a relatively puny player in the world of financial assets. With $3.8 trillion outstanding in municipal bonds, municipals make up a small portion of the $40 trillion US bond market (SIFMA). Black Rock and Vanguard each manage more financial assets than the entire municipal bond market.

In the scheme of things, municipals do not matter. In the great buildup of the $40 trillion US bond market, municipals have become but a rounding error or an opportunity for diversification, whether warranted or not. (more…)

Remember Credit Quality?

April 2nd, 2018 by Kurt L. Smith

Since November’s letter, Top of Tops, I’ve discussed the unfolding progress of the new bear markets in both stocks and bonds. While recognizing the risks of an impending bond market crash, we instead were treated to the beginning of a stock market crash.

On March 23rd the Dow closed at 23,533, essentially even with the November 1st close. But what a wild five months it has been for stocks. Almost straight up to the all-time high of 26,617 January 26th, to a 12% sell off in a mere ten days to a new closing low as of this writing.

I don’t just see possible horrific losses for stocks unfolding, I see probable horrific losses for stocks unfolding. This is why I have referenced the 1987 stock market crash (down 22% in one day, down 40% over eight weeks). The seemingly impossible has happened before. Who knows, this time it may be worse.

Conventional wisdom may direct investor’s funds towards bonds if such a stock market panic unfolds. That would be a mistake in my opinion. While stocks attempted to bounce since their 12% sell-off and have failed, bonds did rally. But this rally happened in the midst of a larger bond market sell-off.  With an overall downtrend for both stocks and bonds, if both do get aligned and move strongly lower together the resultant fear could heighten concerns of a crash in financial asset values. (more…)

Shot Across The Bow

March 1st, 2018 by Kurt L. Smith

While bonds continued their slow, steady march to higher yields (and lower prices), the stock market corrected. One thousand Dow points lost in just over an hour. Stock indexes swooned, even falling below the levels I marked in my November Letter as the Top of Tops.

I am sure you didn’t sell in November, just as I am sure you didn’t sell 3,000 points higher at 26,500 in January. You are not conditioned to sell; you are conditioned to buy the dips. We have enjoyed thirty-plus years of bull market reinforcement, not to mention every bit of economic, scholarly and sage advice written to further reinforce stocks for the long run.

Last month’s letter predicts the bond crash of 2018. Despite the stock market’s gyrations of late, the bond market neither soared or crashed.  The bond market continues to deteriorate, yet at a seemingly glacial pace over the past several months. Ten year US Treasury notes were 2.01% on September 2nd and touched 2.95% in February (Bloomberg) while activity in municipal bond markets remain somewhat muted. Overall, new higher yields for US Treasury notes and bonds, furthering the bond bear market but no crash, yet. (more…)

The Bond Crash of 2018

February 1st, 2018 by Kurt L. Smith

Another month of higher interest rates continues the upward trend since my call back in June that interest rates are moving higher.  A slow slog, yes, but bond prices are slowly sinking. The market continues to chip away at the general consensus of  “lower rates longer”.

This is the story of how a gargantuan bond market turns.

Over the course of the thirty-plus year bond bull market no discussion of bonds could be had without mention of inflation. As inflation heated up throughout the 1970s and peaked in 1980, bond prices collapsed…until they collapsed their last. Inflation figures began to decline as well. As double-digit inflation figures became a thing of the past, the bond bull market began to gallop.

Bonds and inflation are believed to be inexorably linked. When asked whether there is risk of even higher interest rates today, most investment professionals will answer no adding that inflation is benign. Ask them why rates are up dramatically in the past few months and  again, most would probably say that there has been a slight uptick in inflation.

As inflation goes, so goes interest rates. Or is it, as interest rates go, so goes inflation. One way or another, the general assumption is that interest rates and inflation are correlated. (more…)

Not The Same As The Old Year

January 11th, 2018 by Kurt L. Smith

Happy 2018 to you and yours! I hope 2017 was a good year for you and may 2018 be wonderful.

One always tries to keep the wind at your back and this appears to be the consensus with investors. Optimism is extremely high and the business press (and stock market performance) reflects this sentiment.

This is the definition of trend. To be the trend it must show general tendency AND it needs to continue long enough to get noticed. The trend is your friend because you are an investor, not a trader. The trend can provide you sound grounding to make decisions as well as a framework for what may come.

These past several months we have discussed the next move in the continuing trend for bonds as well as a change in the trend for stocks. Bonds hit their high in price (low in yield) on September 8th. Since then, rates have slowly risen, while I believed they would move up faster. The ten year US Treasury was 2.01% in September, a 2.47% high in November and a new 2.50% high in December. Two year treasuries were 1.25% in September, 1.78% higher in November and a new 1.92% high in December and 1.97% this past week.

The reason I continue to write about bond yields is because it is important to know the trend. I marked the end of the bond bull market back in 2012. Buyers of long-term bonds back in 2012 invested in low yields, their current bond value is less to boot as rates have risen and bond prices have fallen. (more…)

They Are All Markets

December 15th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

Well, so much for Top of Tops. Last month’s market call that both bonds and stocks were headed lower, proved premature. The September-October bond market decline failed to gather downward momentum while stocks added another leg upward.

While 1,000 Dow points isn’t what it used to be (lately about 4%, whereas 10% or more in years of yore), it is still 1,000 points. For me, a 1,000 points of wrong, but that’s the way markets can behave.

Take Bitcoin, everyone’s favorite (new) subject. In what appeared to be a  frothy, over-extended market, Bitcoin merely added another fifty percent.  And that was just last week!

Does one have to do with the other? Can the frothiness of Bitcoin and the added leg up in stocks or the pause in the bond bear market be related? Yes, they are all related: they are all markets. (more…)

Top of Tops

November 6th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

Relish in all of the good news? Certainly you must be joking? All-time highs for stocks and bond yields seemingly at low-forever yields (meaning high forever prices) and I want to rain on this parade? In a word, just one word, yes!

The reason why I have been keeping you apprised of the albeit slow changes in the bond market is because the trend change is beyond important: it is generational. Who knew that the next and most impactful move in the bond market would also occur at the all-time high for stock prices?

We have been keeping score vis-à-vis the ten year US Treasury note. Indeed the note did hit a low of 2.01% on September 8th and yields hit 2.47% on October 27th. Not the radical change I had predicted last month, but not bad and moving in the right direction.

I am focused on bonds and the bond market as reflected by yields on the ten year treasury. We can also look at the bellwether thirty year which should be at a low here at 2.85% up from 2.63% on September 8th. These low yields certainly fit the narrative of low yields. They will not remain low for much longer; certainly not forever. (more…)

Slow Moving Bond Bear To Quicken

October 16th, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

The trend is indeed your friend and the only friend one has needed these past few years has been the one in stocks. Despite the fact that municipal bonds were the best performing asset class in 2014 (yeah, that long ago), stocks are where the action is. Enjoy it, because trends change.

When it comes to bonds, only two words are needed: low rates. Forget trend change; forget even a price or yield change. When it comes to bonds, low rates is all you need to know. Spoken by stock market pundits, why would anyone be concerned about bonds? Stocks are where the action is.

Rates are indeed low, but they have been lower. The reason we care is because the trend is your friend and when it comes to bonds, the trend has changed. You know it because I keep telling you. Sure it’s a lonely proposition, but the market continues, albeit v-e-r-y slowly, that I am indeed correct.

In June, I believed a 2.13% low on the ten year treasury completed the bond market’s correction of the 1.32% to 2.64% initial move up. Yep, I tried to hurry the market. In September the market hit 2.02%. But last week we were back to 2.40%. I like my proposition!

At rates of 2-this or 2-that, every stock investor will continue to claim the low rate mantra. But after a 1,000 or 5,000 point decline in the Dow, the perspectives will change. The story will change. (more…)

Catastrophic Disaster

September 1st, 2017 by Kurt L. Smith

Our heart and prayers go out to the residents and all affected in the ongoing disaster of Hurricane Harvey. The loss of life and property will continue to upend millions of lives for a long, long time.

I had begun this month’s letter before Harvey hit Texas noting that another summer month had passed and well, nothing happened. There is nothing un-unusual about a slowdown in the summer months, but with volatility at historical lows for both stocks and bonds, this summer became a virtual standstill.

We are used to slow times in the municipal bond market. Save a quarter or two in 2013 and another burst late last year, the past five years have been horrible volume-wise. Yet somehow we continue to scratch and claw finding worthwhile bonds along the way.

And now Harvey. EPIC, widespread, catastrophic, such adjectives seem to fall short of understanding the consequences of a foot of rain, or two, or three or four feet. We aren’t talking about an island, or a city, but an entire region of my huge state. And yes, there was a hurricane too, devastating Rockport and Port Aransas. (more…)

NEWS FEED

The Era of Very Low Inflation and Interest Rates May Be Near an End via @nytimes nyti.ms/2vNkBRp