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Posts Tagged ‘treasury bond’

Why Municipal Bonds?

June 23rd, 2021 by Kurt L. Smith

The obvious answer to the question “Why municipals?” is they are tax-free. That is a good reason, especially if the benefit is greater than the alternatives. From the days of double-digit yields of the early 1980’s the added benefit of the tax-free feature has almost always been worthwhile to investors in the highest tax brackets.

Of course, an almost forty year bull market for bonds helps as well, but that is over. Bond performance no longer has the wind to its back; bond performance now faces many headwinds. Selection is key no matter the market, but in today’s new bond market, selection is paramount.

The final stages of the bond bull market have wreaked havoc with investment managers and their investor clients. Where is the yield and what has performed well in these final throes of the bull? You know it is junk, or high yield. For municipals this means prisons, nursing homes, dormitories and other housing or land-based, new projects. For corporates, well you can find lower rated credits across industries.

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Return To Normal?

May 25th, 2021 by Kurt L. Smith

Vaccines are wonderful and it is great to get together with friends and family again. The feeling of hope and sharing good times are wonderful.

Last week we vacationed with the family in the mountains of North Carolina. Beautiful mountains, near the Appalachian Trail and, oh yeah, without any gasoline. Someone at the Colonial Pipeline thought it would be a good idea for a sixty-year-old pipeline to be on the internet. A group of Russian hackers looking to make an easy $5 million dollars agreed.

Before we left North Carolina we were re-routed off Interstate 40 in Memphis because the bridge across the Mississippi River was discovered to have quite a crack. I guess we were just lucky to make it across the bridge just a few days earlier on our way to the gasoline desert of North Carolina.

My February letter led off with the tragedy Texans faced losing electricity and later water service. While the cause was not Russian hackers, it might well have been. At least the Russian hackers apologized for their actions regarding the pipeline. Texans on the other hand, got to see their state legislature in action (yes, inaction).

Our infrastructure sucks. You do not have to be in the infrastructure business (like municipal bonds) to know this. We get to experience it…regularly. This is nothing new.  No one wants to be responsible and yet we are all responsible. We like to think we are immune here in Texas because so much of what we have is new: new highways, new airports, or at least terminals all over the state.  Yes, growth is better than the non-growth I see across the country but, as we experienced in February, we are not immune to infrastructure problems.  We are not even lucky.  Texas is a great place to be if you do not want to be responsible. Companies are moving here in droves as a result.

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An Ever Changing World

April 22nd, 2021 by Kurt L. Smith

High prices may be a time to celebrate, but they may also be a time for decision making. Nothing illustrates this better than the market for the U.S. Treasury bond bell whether trading at the highwater mark of highwater marks last year and losing all its gains since.

Last month we discussed the bellwether bond, the 2.375% of 2049 losing it’s 140 price premium, selling at a discount one year later in March 2021. For owners of this bond, it may be a case of easy come, easy go or we may hear “I bought it for the yield (seriously?)” as they continue to own the asset.

All owners of stocks should take notice. Gains do disappear, though stock investors also may take comfort in making the statement “I bought it for the yield” and continue to buy and hold. Everybody wanted to (and seemingly did) own General Electric, the darling of the 1980’s and 1990’s bull market, but then life happened, and it was not pretty.

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Should We Be Traders?

March 24th, 2021 by Kurt L. Smith

One year ago, I wrote my March 6th letter highlighting the risks of bond market investing when treasury securities all yielded less than 1%. It was a watershed moment and one I believed would be a reference point for years to come.

We have been following the bellwether treasury note and bonds as they continue to lose value as interest rates move higher. The ten-year note, 1.50% of 2/15/30, traded this past week below par at 98-22, down from 111-19 on March 9, 2020 or 11.5% lower (all prices from Bloomberg). The thirty-year bond, the 2.375% of 11/15/49 traded at a discount of 97-11+ versus 140-17 on March 9, for a 30.7% loss.

From a trading perspective, original buyers of these treasuries have watched their portfolio values surge and then come back to earth. A forty-point gain in the long bond is now wiped out. This is the nature of buying into a late-stage bull market. How high is high? Will you know it when you see it? Will you act or freeze?

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Be Prepared

February 24th, 2021 by Kurt L. Smith

The past week has been a tragedy down here in Texas. One crisis morphed into another leaving dozens dead and tens of billions in destruction. Simply terrible and preventable.

As a Texas native, ridiculously cold weather for a ridiculously long (for us) time is not a once in a century experience. Every decade or so it happens. But Texans are not all native Texans now (or ever). Texas has been growing by transplants forever and their expectations eventually collide with a horrible reality.

A gardener prepares his garden in the winter. A homeowner prepares her pipes before they freeze. An investor prepares for the downturn as the market moves higher. There is time for celebration but there is also time for work, the preparation what comes next.

Last month we focused on the ten-year Treasury note and long bond. Friday, February 19th, those sold at new low prices (high yields). The long Treasury bonds has now lost 35 points in value from March 9, 2020 at 140.17+ to 105.05+ Friday (all prices from Bloomberg). One of the recently sold ten-year Treasury notes, the .625% of August 15, 2030, has now lost more in price that it ever promised to pay investors in interest over its ten-year life, trading at 93.6875.

These treasuries are, of course, the favorite investment for the Federal Reserve Bank. Their appetite for all treasury securities has grown on their balance sheet from about $2.5 trillion a year ago to $4.8 trillion now (per Bloomberg). All the while, their price continues to fall.

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Bonds (Don’t) Move

January 20th, 2021 by Kurt L. Smith

Everyone can agree bond yields are low. Another way of saying that is, everyone can agree bond prices are high. But unlike the unhinged high prices of stocks, bonds are tethered to a maturity. The assumption of course being that the bond will be paid at time of maturity.

This risk of being paid (or not) is usually compared against what many consider to be the risk-free rate of US Treasury securities. Thus, Treasuries represent a non-credit risk option as they are assumed to be paid; the government will simply print more money to redeem them. All other (US) bonds do not have this feature of printing additional money; therefore, they are considered spread products.

As you know I recommended selling your bond products (mutual funds primarily), marking March 6th as the high-water mark for bonds. To say that March was a volatile month borders on understatement, but we witnessed US Treasury notes and bonds trade at their all-time highs in March.

The ten-year, Treasury note receives the most attention in the marketplace. For most of 2020 the note yielded less than 1%, again, a low yield in anyone’s book (and a high price). But recently the yield has moved over 1% leading to, well, the focus of this letter.

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Our World Has Changed

June 17th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

Most of us come to realize that change is inevitable and adapting to change is a part of life. Sometimes change is like aging in front of a mirror:  it isn’t until you look back several years that you realize, yes, I have changed…I mean aged.

This, of course, is not what I am talking about. Today we have a sea change (literally), as well as one massive change after another. The world has changed and adapting to it will be key to our survival.

My focus here is on the bond market, which just happens to be the primary tool of our monetary authorities: The Federal Reserve and the central banks of the world.  Fiscal authorities are also joining the bond rush as governments issue bonds to finance their response to our changed world.

The fundamental change that happened in the bond market occurred in early March and was the subject of my April letter. US Treasury securities traded at yields of 0.70% and lower across all maturities from a few days out to the longest thirty-year maturity per Bloomberg. This extremely low (or no) yield means longer term bond prices were at their highest prices ever as the price of the bond includes, effectively, almost all of the income you would receive in the days, years or even decades to come for the bond.

But it is not just treasury bonds. Other bonds such as mortgages, corporates and municipals also benefitted by the high bond prices as the yield spread on those bonds in early March were at or near historical lows. Historically low spreads, together with the low (no) yields of the treasury base means bond prices on almost all bonds were their highest prices ever.

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Bonds Rolled Over (Again)

November 18th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

From the front pages this summer, the story on bonds is they are no longer a story. Prices have rolled over as yields have risen and investors who bought on the price dips lately may be rethinking their commitment.

I have spent most of the last few years, as well as the last few months telling you this was the end of the run, not the beginning of a new one. The performance of the bond market over these years fits my description.

After several years of higher yields and lower bond prices, the bond market began a price correction late last year. But it was the performance of long-term treasury bonds in July and August of this year that received the out-sized attention. One of the longest treasury bonds, the 2.875% of 2049, rallied from about 100 in May, to 105 in July and 122 in August (source: Bloomberg, with prices rounded for conversation sake). Quite a move for a bond yielding less than 3%.

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The Topping Process Continues

August 8th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sold off almost 2,000 points in just a few days recently. The Dow now trades at the same level as it did back in January 2018.

Bonds meanwhile continue their move higher in price (lower in yield) as unlike stocks, their corrective move had added momentum. When it comes to bonds, we hear statements like highest prices (or lowest yields) since 2016. That’s because the current bond market rally is a correction of the downward price trend in bonds that dates back to 2016 (for me 2012).

Last month’s letter discussed how I expected asset prices of bonds, stocks and gold to soon complete. We have seen the initial move down for stocks and I look for similar strong downward moves to begin in bonds and gold at any time.

“At any time” is the operative word. Last month’s market focus was based on the movements of the asset markets over the past weeks as well as the past several years. Markets behave like markets, despite the actions of central bankers or presidents, war or peace. So last month’s giddy didn’t indicate a continuation of trend, but rather the end of a move.

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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…)

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