The Yield Curve Is Back to Being Interesting Again (More Interesting If Powell & The Gang Take Their Foot Off The Monetary Accelerator Pedal)

I remember my academic colleague at The Ohio State University (now at Notre Dame), Paul Schultz saying “Why do you find fixed-income and the yield curve interesting?” I have always found the yield curve to be interesting … at least until The Federal Reserve hammered down the short-end with it zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) and tried manipulating the 10-year Treasury Note yield through Quantitative Easing (QE) meaning The Fed’s purchase of Treasuries and Agency Mortgage-backed Securities (MBS). No, I still think the manipulated yield curve is interesting.

Here is today’s Treasury actives curve (green) versus the yield curve at the peak of the previous housing bubble in 2005 yellow). That is a 300 basis point shift as the short-end. And a 243 basis point shift for the 10-year Treasury Note.

(Bloomberg) — The yield curve is one of the most-powerful forces in the observable financial universe. While much of the price action that we see on a day-to-day basis may be driven by some sort of dark energy, the curve provides a highly visible lodestone indicating the state of policy settings and the likely trajectory of the economy. That being said, the curve is often misunderstood — a bear flattening often produces plenty of hand-wringing, when it’s the bull steepening that you should really worry about. In fact, referring to “the curve” itself is something of a misnomer — while different iterations of the yield curve often travel in tandem, sometimes their paths diverge. That has been the case recently, though perhaps not for much longer. The recent rise in two-year yields looks more than justified, as various fixed income models demonstrate in a roundabout way.

For the past year and a half or so, most of the focus on the yield curve in this column has been on the 5s-30s iteration. The rationale for this has been relatively straightforward: With the Fed funds rate locked in near zero for the foreseeable future, the two-year note has been moribund. As such, 2s-10s has really just been another articulation of the 10-year yield. And much like recent price action vis-a-vis my 10-year model, the curve briefly traded where it “ought” to in March before once again becoming too flat in recent months.


 
At least 5s-30s has had the benefit of containing a useful forward-looking component on both legs of the spread. Yet even as I type that, it is interesting to note that 2s-10s and 5s-30s exhibited virtually identical price action at virtually identical levels earlier this year. While they remain positively correlated, of course, a clear wedge has emerged between the two curves as five-year yields have broken decisively through 1%, pricing greater conviction that a monetary tightening cycle will fully emerge over the next half-decade.


 
Yet I am left to wonder about the two-year note. The eurodollar strip is pricing that the bulk of monetary tightening will come by the end of 2023, a period that’s now largely captured by the shortest-maturity coupon security. To be sure, the appropriate level for 2s is a function not only of the ultimate magnitude of monetary tightening, but when it begins. After all, a 150 bp hike in Q4 of 2023 carries very different implications for the current two-year note than a 25 bp rate rise every three months from Q3 of next year onwards.

It occurred to me that I could back out a model for two-year yields by simply subtracting the output of my yield curve model from that of the 10-year model. I had no real idea of what to expect from this exercise, but even with the proviso that short-end yields rarely stray too far from the policy rate, I was pleasantly surprised at how close the fit is from this “derivative” model for the two-year.


 
The question then arose, naturally, of what actually went into the calculation of this “model.” After all, knowing the formulae of the two constituent models — for the 10-year and the yield curve– should allow for the distillation of a separate equation for the two-year note. Because that sort of thing is more fun than unpacking more boxes, that’s how I spent a few minutes on Wednesday night. The outcome isn’t necessarily an optimal model for the two-year, but more of an accidental one.

A bit of high school algebra

For what it’s worth, the resultant formula is 2y = 1.24 * FDTR + 1.3 * (ED2 – ED6) -0.015  PCE CYOY + 0.08 * USURTOT – 0.25 * (10y average of FDTR) + 0.12 * (10y average of USURTOT) – 1.27. I am pretty sure that one could get similar results with a simpler framework; the notion that a 2% rise in core inflation is worth just 3 bps on the two-year yield, all else being equal, leaves me simultaneously amused and bemused.

What does seem evident, however, is that henceforth there is going to be considerably more signal generated from two-year yields than has been the case in recent quarters. As such, 2s-10s are going to be worth following again, just as much if not more than 5s-30s. Both nominal yields and the curves are clearly constrained by the notion that all of this inflation kerfuffle really is transitory at its heart, and that, with r* remaining in the gutter, the long-run lid on nominal policy rates is going to be extraordinarily low.

That’s probably as good a null hypothesis as any, and possibly better than most. That being said, if we’re still having a lot of the same inflation conversations a year from now, we’re gonna need a long hard think about whether some of the post-GFC lessons need to be unlearned. In the meantime, at least fixed income is interesting again. I wonder where the yield curve and the model will eventually meet up to shake hands again… -Cameron Crise

The yield curve will become more interesting if Powell and The Gang take their foot off the monetary accelerator pedal.

September US Existing Home Sales Surprise! 6.29M Home Sold SAAR, Median Price Drops Like A Rock, Inventory Still MIA

It was a surprise to see 6.29 million home sold SAAR in September. That is a 7% MoM growth rate.

The median price of existing home sales GROWTH slowed to 15.85% YoY (it was over 24% for the last two months).

And INVENTORY of existing homes for sale remains MIA.

Perhaps President Biden can issue an executive order forcing households to place their homes up for sale if they refuse to get vaccinated for Covid. /sarc

Other than insanely high prices for existing homes and the utter lack of available inventory, the September EHS report is a shining star.

Fed Inferno? Mortgage Purchase Applications Rise 1.87% From Previous Week, But Down 10% From Same Week Last Year

Yes, the super-heated housing market is showing signs of slowing down.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), mortgage purchase applications rose 1.87% from the previous week. However, purchase applications are down 10% from the same week last year.

Refinancing applications dropped -.48% from the previous week as the 30-year mortgage contract rate rose from 3.14% to 3.18%. Refi apps are up 6% from the same week last year.

As rates begin to rise, mortgage refi applications will decline.

With the Atlanta Fed GDP tracker showing GDP growth slowing to 0.5%, we are starting to see the beginning of a Fed inferno.

Here is Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki!

705742? Bitcoin Hits 63983 As US Treasury Curve Steepens (As Mortgage Rates Rise?)

I have no idea why Jack Dorsey tweeted “705742.” But I do know that Bitcoin hit 63,982.92 this morning as the US 10Y-3M curve has been steepening.

Since the 3-month Treasury yield has been repressed to near zero, the 10Y-3M curve is pointing to rising 10-year yields. Which likely means that 30-year mortgage rates will be rising too.

UPDATE! Bitcoin hits 66,615 as Proshares Bitcoin Strategy E rises as well.

Goin’ Down! US GDP Nosedives To 0.5% On Bubbles And Bottlenecks

Goin’ down! GDP, that is.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2021 is 0.5 percent on October 19, down from 1.2 percent on October 15. After recent releases from the US Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the nowcasts of third-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth and third-quarter real gross private domestic investment growth decreased from 0.9 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively, to 0.4 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively.

US real GDP nosedived to 0.5% according to the Atlanta Fed GDPNow real-time tracker.

Again, The Fed and Federal government pumped trillions of stimulus into an unprepared economy resulting in massive bottlenecks. So, we are getting declining GDP and rising inflation.

Yesterday’s industrial production dove leading to the 0.5% GDP figure. Today’s housing starts didn’t impact GDP in a meaningful way.

And she was.

US Housing Starts Drop 1.58% In September (Permits Drop 7.67%) As Interest Rate Increases And Inflation Loom

US housing starts slowed in September to at a -1.58% MoM rate. Permits dropped 7.67% MoM.

Now that interest rates are expected to rise … in late 2022, we may be a slowing in the housing market.

Here are the numbers.

The US Treasury 10Y-3M slope is rising as inflation rises (that inflation curve looks like the ARCTAN function from prepayment modeling!)

Treasury Curve Flattens as Inflation Risk Stokes Hike Bets (Schrute Bucks As A Hedge Against Inflation?)

The US Treasury yield curve has flattened to almost pre-Covid levels, signalling fear of inflation. And given our bottlenecked economy that The Fed and Federal government seem not to understand (or care), the flattening signals a wild ride ahead.

The Treasury yield curve flattened sharply Monday as surging energy prices stoked inflation fears and added fuel to growing expectations that the Federal Reserve will have to lift policy rates as soon as next year.

The gap between 5- and 30-year yields shrunk to as little as 84.5 basis points, raising concerns over it potentially signaling a growth slowdown, before rebounding to about 88 basis points. The low Monday put the spread at its least since April 2020, a time when pandemic fears brought the global economy to a near shutdown. Five-year yields are up 4 basis points to around 1.168%, while the 30-year bond yield was down around 1 basis point at 2.03% at 12:36 p.m. New York time.

Instead of cryptocurrencies, we might be better off with Schrute Bucks as a hedge against inflation.

The New Abnormal! US Capacity Utilization Falls To 75.2% (Short-date Volatility Spikes)

It used to be that capacity utilization was a signal for The Federal Reserve to raise or lower their key target rate. When capacity utilization rose above 80%, the economy was deemed to getting “hot” and The Fed would raise rates. And vice-versa.

But then mass outsourcing occurred, primarily to China and southeast Asia. Since the 1970s, the general trend in US capacity utilization has been downward. But the last time the US saw capacity utilization of above 80% in Q4 2007. Capacity utilization almost hit 80% in August 2018

Oddly, The Fed started raising their target rate in 2015 under Fed Chair Janet Yellen AS CAPACITY UTILIZATION WAS FALLING. Capacity utilization hit almost 80% as The Fed put the brakes on rate hikes before Covid struck.

So, capacity utilization was obviously not on the mind of Yellen and the FOMC. Call it the new abnormal.

With capacity utilization falling, the path of Fed policy rate has shifted sharply over the past couple of weeks, to currently pricing first hike into the September 2022 FOMC meeting and second hike by February 2023 — there are now 100bp of rate hikes priced by the end of 2023, in line with the Fed’s dot-plot forecast.

Short-dated volatility on front-end U.S. rates — known as the upper left corner of the volatility surface — continues to catch a bid over the U.S. morning session, spurred by a sharp hawkish re-pricing of the Fed’s policy stance.  

The face of abnormal Fed policies.

Secret Warning? Zillow Pauses Home Purchases as Snags Hit Tech-Powered Flipping (Fed Flippers??)

They call them flippers, faster than lightning. At least until now.

Zillow Group Inc. shares fell as much as 6.8% in premarket trading Monday after the online real estate firm said it would stop buying new homes and work to clear a backlog of properties it already has.

The Seattle-based company, which acquired more than 3,800 homes during the second quarter, has seen its stock price tumble about 27% this year after it nearly tripled in 2020 amid the pandemic-fueled housing market boom.


The shares have come under additional pressure in recent weeks after a viral TikTok video from a real estate agent in Las Vegas said an unnamed company was pulling off a convoluted scheme to manipulate housing prices in his home market. Zillow is also facing increased competition from firms like Opendoor Technologies Inc., which announced in August that it bought about 8,500 homes during the second quarter.

Zillow, which acquired more than 3,800 homes in the second quarter, will stop pursuing new home purchases as it works through a backlog of properties already in its pipeline.  

“We are beyond operational capacity in our Zillow Offers business and are not taking on additional contracts to purchase homes at this time,” a spokesperson for Zillow said in an email. “We continue to process the purchase of homes from sellers who are already under contract, as quickly as possible.”

Zillow is best known for publishing real estate listings online and calculating estimated home values – called Zestimates – that let users keep track of how much their home is worth. The popularity of the company’s apps and websites fuels profits in Zillow’s online marketing business. 

Of course, The Fed dumping in trillions into a bottlenecked housing market is helping to fuel the flipper fire.

Is this a secret warning about a possible slowdown in the housing market?

Has The Fed Lost Control With Its Abnormal Policies? $2.7 Trillion in Crisis Savings Stay Hoarded by Wary Consumers

Has The Federal Reserve lost control of the economy? And inflation? The answer is likely yes. Why?

The Covid crisis has been played by the Federal government as an excuse for insane levels for spending coupled with massive monetary stimulus from The Federal Reserve.

As an example of The Fed losing control is US savings. The Fed’s model is to drive savers into consumption, therefore raising production and increasing GDP growth. But alas, The Fed can’t overcome the fear faced by consumers with Covid, Covid shutdowns, and rapidly rising prices.

(Bloomberg) — Consumers in Europe and the U.S. aren’t rushing to spend more than $2.7 trillion in savings socked away during the pandemic, dashing hopes for a consumption-fueled boost to economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the wake of lockdown easing during the northern hemisphere’s summer holiday season, excess savings in euro-area bank balances declined only marginally in August, and Italy still recorded an increase, according to calculations by Bloomberg Economics. In the U.S. there has also been no drawdown, the figures show. 

The absence of a consumption surge that had been anticipated by some economists may speak against the prospect of a lasting inflation shock feared by central banks. While higher balances could help households cope with skyrocketing heating bills, tepid demand might temper businesses’ ability to push through permanent price increases.  

In the USA, we see accumulated savings despite near-zero deposit rates at banks.

To be sure, The Fed reacted (or overreacted) to the Covid outbreak by increasing the money supply and their purchase of Treasuries and Agency MBS as the Federal government went on a wild spending spree.

But with trillions in Stimulypto Federal spending and Fed money printing, the bottlenecks in the economy (which apparently weren’t known before … ) have contributed to massive price increases that aren’t going away any time soon.

Notice how Fed monetary policies changed after the housing bubble burst and ensuring financial crisis/Great Recession. Before 2008, The Fed periodically whipsawed their Fed Funds target rate. But since late 2008, we have seen hardly any move from The Fed (except for 2017-2020 while Trump was President). For Obama,

Here is a look at The Fed’s record under Obama, Trump and Biden. The Fed raised their target rate only once under Obama until Trump was elected. Then The Fed raised rates 8 times. Then began lowering them again (5 times) leading to a big drop when Covid stuck. So for Trump, The Fed changed their target rate 13 times compared to 1 rate change under Obama and none under Biden.

And the above chart is only The Fed’s target rate. My point is that Yellen failing to raise rates under Obama has resulted in this over DC-Stimulypto we are seeing today.

Note the difference in Fed policies BEFORE the financial crisis. We need to return to a normal Fed policy rather than the hyper-inflationary zero-rate, QE policies since 2008.

M2 Money velocity (GDP/M2 Money) remains near an all-time low.

But given DC’s spending spree and all-time lows for M2 Money Velocity, The Fed is going to need to keep purchasing trillions in debt at low interest rates. The abnormal Obama years (Bernanke/Yellen) are the NEW abnormal. Or should I say abby normal policies?

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein : Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?

Igor :No.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein : Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?

Igor : Then you won’t be angry?

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein : I will NOT be angry.

Igor : Abby someone.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein : Abby someone. Abby who?

Igor : Abby… Normal.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein Abby Normal?

Igor : I’m almost sure that was the name.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?

So, yes, Bernanke and Yellen put into place abnormal policies that Powell is following into the world’s largest economy (or gorilla).

Only Igor and The Federal Reserve would pick such abnormal policies that ultimately lead to massive misallocations and inflation.

On a side note, do Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg really believe that they can fix the backed-up ports that are flooded with cargo thanks to Stimulypto? By Christmas??

Not with natural gas prices up 90% since January 4th!

Here is a video of where The Fed comes up with their abby normal monetary policies.