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.

Transitory? Producer Price Inflation Hits New Record High of 8.6%

So much for transitory inflation.

The US Producer Price index (Final Demand) rose to a blistering rate of 8.6% YoY.

Will this translate to higher consumer prices? Of course it will.

When The Fed or the Biden Administration says that inflation is transitory and will be fixed once we unclog the shipping pipes, remember this warning from the UN that global warming will wipe out entire nations if not reversed by 2000. So, it is too late! I am buying a gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalade with a monster V-8 engine!! (Not really, I am more of a Ford kind of person).

Victory? US Real Average Hourly Earnings “Rise” To -0.8% YoY (Too Bad Real Home Prices Are Rising At 14.34% YoY Clip)

Good news on the wage front. Sort of .

US REAL average hourly earnings rose in September to -0.8% YoY.

Too bad that REAL home prices are growing at a 14.4% YoY clip.

The Federal Reserve’s new motto: making home unaffordable! With help from the US Treasury.

Alarm! Big Short Resurfaces in U.S. Bonds, Wary of ‘Convexity Trigger’

Alarm!

It was great to be a “Master of the Universe” (Treasury and MBS trader) since October 1981 when the US 10Y Treasury yield peaked at 15.84% and mortgage rates peaked at 18.63%. Treasury and mortgage rates have generally fallen ever since. But what happens if Treasury and mortgage rates rise?

Bond investors are piling back into short positions, motivated not only by the specter of inflation but also by the risk that yields are approaching levels that will unleash a wave of new selling by convexity hedgers. 

That level is around 1.60% in the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield, less than 10 basis points from its current mark, according to Brean Capital’s head of fixed income strategy, Scott Buchta. It’s the mid-point of “a key threshold” between 1.40% to 1.80%, an area “most critical from a convexity hedging point of view.”

Convexity hedging involves shedding U.S. interest-rate risk to protect the value of mortgage-backed securities as yields rise, slowing expected prepayment rates.

It’s already begun to pick up as yields stretched past the 1.40% level. Another wave is expected at around 1.6% — a point of “maximum negative convexity” in agency MBS, “where 25bp rallies and sell-offs should have an equal effect on convexity-related buying and selling,” Buchta says. 

Signs that short positions are accumulating include Societe Generale’s “Trend Indicator.” Among its 10 newest trades are short positions in Japanese 10-year debt, German 5-year debt futures, U.K. 10-year gilts, U.K. short sterling and U.S. 2- and 5-year notes. Meanwhile, CFTC positioning data for U.S. Treasury futures show asset managers flipped to net short in 10-year note contracts in the process of dumping the equivalent of $23 million per basis point of cash Treasuries over the past week. Hedge-fund shorts also remain elevated in the long-end of the curve, as measured by net positions in Bond and Ultra Bond futures. 

“Bond-bearish impulses remain in place,” says Citigroup Inc. strategist Bill O’Donnell in a note, citing tactical and medium-term set-ups. Traders should be aware of short-covering rallies in the meantime, however, he says. 

“Potentially extreme short-term positioning and sentiment set-ups could easily allow for a counter-trend correction under the right conditions,” he said.

U.S. 10-year yields topped at 1.57% this week, the cheapest level since June, spurring the breakeven inflation rate for 10-year TIPS to 2.51%, the highest since May. Friday’s September jobs report could add fuel to this inflationary fire, rewarding bond shorts. 

Here is a chart of the rising 10Y Treasury yield against The Fed’s 5Y forward breakeven rate.

Here is a Fannie Mae 3% coupon MBS. Note the rise in Modified Duration with an increase in interest rates.

Convexity for the FNMA 3% MBS?

There is something on the wing. Some-thing.

Bizarro World! 1-month T-bill Yield Lower Than 1-year T-bill Yield (U.S. Faces A Recession If Congress Doesn’t Address The Debt Limit Within 2 Weeks, Yellin’ Yellen says)

Treasury Secretary Janet “Go big or go home” Yellen is beating the hysteria drum by saying that the US faces a recession if Congress doesn’t increase the debt ceiling.

Well, Janet, we are headed there anyway with GDP crashing to a measly 1.33%.

The fear of not approving a debt ceiling increase (laughable since Democrats can do it on their own) has caused there to be a “little dipper” in the US Treasury actives curve. Meaning that the 1-month T-bill yield is higher than the 1-year T-bill yield.

How bizarre is this getting?

Is Joe Biden Actually Dwight Schrute From “The Office”? Natural Gas Prices EXPLODING And Americans Being Punished!!!!

Since Joe Biden took office in January 2021, we have seen several actions from The White House. First, was the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline (making the US more energy dependent on others). Second, Biden waived US sanctions on Russian pipeline to Germany. Big winner? Russia. Big loser? US consumers trying to heat their homes.

Here is a chart of natural gas prices since Biden took office in January.

Biden reminds me of Dwight Schrute from the TV show “The Office” as he loves to punish people. In this case, families trying to heat their home. And have his own currency, Schrute Bucks.

Perhaps The Federal Reserve should rename the US Dollar as “Biden Bucks.”

Here is Joe Biden lecturing the American people on Covid compliance.

Stimulypto! US GDP Q3 Tracker Slumps To 2.3% Despite Massive Monetary Stimulus (Down From 13.7% On May 5th, 2021 Despite MORE Stimulus)

Can you say “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men ..” Or “All The Fed’s stimulus and all of Biden’s jobs bills ..”

Yes, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow Q3 tracker slumped to 2.3% despite the massive stimulus coming from The Federal Reserve and the Biden Administration. Down from 13.7% GDP growth as of 5/5/2021.

Consumer Sentiment For Housing Falls Due To Skyrocketing Home Prices (Consumers Get Powell’d!)

I have a new term for consumers that get beaten-up by The Fed’s massive distortion of markets. I call this being “Powell’d”.

The latest example of consumers getting Powell’d is in the University of Michigan consumer survey. Buying conditions for housing just fell to the lowest level since 1982.

Foul Powell on the prowl.

Dracula’s enemy Harker says that he sees rate hike in late 2022 or early 2023.

“I am in the camp that believes it will soon be time to begin slowly and methodically — frankly, boringly — tapering our $120 billion in monthly purchases of Treasury bills and mortgage-backed securities.”

Here is a photo of Harker with Fed Chair Powell.

Fed Chair Powell calls inflation ‘frustrating’ (consumers call it ‘devastating’)

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell calls inflation ‘frustrating.”

Only a multi-millionaire like Powell would call it frustrating. Most US consumers would call it “devastating.”

Look at home prices, natural gas, gasoline and food prices since The Fed turned on the money pump to combat the Covid shutdown by government. Well, at least food price growth has slowed, but that is more that offset by natural gas (heating) costs skyrocketing.

Rent? That too has zoomed upwards, although Powell likely isn’t worried about his rent rising by 11.5%.

I wonder if Powell is frustrated by banks parking their money at the Fed’s reverse repo facility? Ninety-two participants on Thursday placed a total of $1.605 trillion at the Federal Reserve’s overnight reverse repurchase agreement facility, in which counterparties like money-market funds can place cash with the central bank. The previous record, set the day before, was $1.416 trillion. Thursday’s leap was the biggest one-day increase in usage since mid-June.

Biden blames “greed” for rising prices, Powell is “frustrated” by bottlenecks. But why pump trillions into the economy when you know there are bottlenecks? Or meatpacking firms are “greedy”?

US GDP Price Index Highest Since 1981 As Q2 GDP Revised To 6.7% (Thanks For The Stimulus!)

Thanks for the stimulus! Or thanks for the Covid virus that enabled The Fed and DC to go crazy with low rates and spending.

While US GDP printed at a revised 6.7% QoQ (annualized), it is the GDP PRICE Index that bears looking at. It rose 6.1%, the fastest rate since 1981.

At least GDP was revised upwards to 6.7% QoQ, thanks to unpredented monetary and fiscal stimulus.