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Posts Tagged ‘bond market performance’

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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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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Portfolio Construction

November 18th, 2020 by Kurt L. Smith

With the crescendo of all US Treasury yields to trading below 1% in early March marking the high-water mark for bond prices, the need to revisit how portfolios are constructed has emerged. Is the traditional 60% stocks/40% bond model dead?

This may indeed be a worthwhile question to explore but it is the underlying assumption or the underlying narrative of a stock/bond mix that warrants examination. For decades scholars of portfolio management theory ran studies after studies showing how a mix of assets, even as simple as stocks and bonds, can lower the risk and improve returns of non-diversified portfolios.

With the advent of computers in investing and something as relatively simple as a pie chart, investors could “see” how they were invested. When stocks swooned in 2000 and 2007, yes, diversification worked as advertised…just look at the results!

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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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Size Matters

May 6th, 2019 by Kurt L. Smith

Through much of my career in the bond market bigger truly was better. Nobody was bigger or better than Bill Gross of PIMCO. His bond fund was mammoth and if you had something worthwhile to sell, one call to Big Bill was all that was needed to get the deal done. He was legend, true or not.

Big Bill also had quite a tail wind. As the bond bull market began to gather momentum in the early 1980’s, Big Bill was ready. He knew performance would drive growth in assets and he knew the kinds of bonds that would perform well. His record speaks for itself.

During a bull market there should be little reason to sell. I am sure Big Bill culled some of his mistakes from his portfolios through the years, but largely one can buy and hold and never need to sell. Worthwhile performance led to growing assets and more funds available. Eventually the bond matures and this will only add to the money he continued to attract for decades.

Scaling from a small operation to a multi-trillion dollar behemoth, Big Bill and PIMCO, had a plan and executed it. He is more than worthy of the title Bond King. Needless to say his success has been studied and will continue to be studied as a great success in money management.

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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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