Hoisington Investment Management market review and outlook for the second quarter 2015.
Hoisington Investment Management - Misperceptions Create Significant Bond Market Value
From the cyclical monthly high in interest rates in the 1990-91 recession through June of this year, the 30-year Treasury bond yield has dropped from 9% to 3%. This massive decline in long rates was hardly smooth with nine significant backups. In these nine cases yields rose an average of 127 basis points, with the range from about 200 basis points to 60 basis points (Chart 1). The recent move from the monthly low in February has been modest by comparison. Importantly, this powerful 6 percentage point downward move in long-term Treasury rates was nearly identical to the decline in the rate of inflation as measured by the monthly year-over-year change in the Consumer Price Index which moved from just over 6% in 1990 to 0% today. Therefore, it was the backdrop of shifting inflationary circumstances that once again determined the trend in long-term Treasury bond yields.
In almost all cases, including the most recent rise, the intermittent change in psychology that drove interest rates higher in the short run, occurred despite weakening inflation. There was, however, always a strong sentiment that the rise marked the end of the bull market, and a major trend reversal was taking place. This is also the case today.
Presently, four misperceptions have pushed Treasury bond yields to levels that represent significant value for long-term investors. These are:
- The recent downturn in economic activity will give way to improving conditions and even higher bond yields.
- Intensifying cost pressures will lead to higher inflation/yields.
- The inevitable normalization of the Federal Funds rate will work its way up along the yield curve causing long rates to rise.
- The bond market is in a bubble, and like all manias, it will eventually burst.
Hoisington Investment Management - Rebounding Economy and Higher Yields
The most widely held view of these four misperceptions is that the poor performance of the U.S. economy thus far in 2015 is due to transitory factors. As those conditions fade, the economy will strengthen, sparking inflation and causing bond yields to move even higher. The premise is not compelling, as there is solid evidence of a persistent shift towards lower growth. Industrial output is expected to decline more in the second quarter than the first. This will be the only back-to-back decrease in industrial production since the recession ended in 2009 (Chart 2). Any significant economic acceleration is doubtful without participation from the economy’s highest value-added sector. To be sure, the economy recorded higher growth in the second quarter, but that was an easy comparison after nominal and real GDP both contracted in the first quarter.
Adding to a weak manufacturing sector, other fundamentals continue to indicate that topline growth will not accelerate further this year, and inflation will be contained. M2 year-over-year growth has slipped below the growth rates that prevailed at year-end. The turnover of that stock of money, or velocity, is showing a sharp deceleration. Presently M2 velocity is declining at a 3.5% annual rate, and there are signs that it may decline even faster. If growth in M2 or velocity subsides much further, then nominal GDP growth is unlikely to reach the Fed’s recently revised forecast of 2.6% this year (M*V=Nominal GDP).
At year-end 2014 the Fed was forecasting nominal GDP growth to accelerate to 4.1% this year, compared with 3.7% and 4.6% actual increases in 2014 and 2013, respectively. In six months the Fed has once again been forced to admit it's error and has massively lowered its forecast of nominal growth to 2.6%. Additionally, the Fed formerly expected a 2.8% increase in real GDP and now anticipates only a 1.9% increase in 2015, down from 2.4% and 3.1% in 2014 and 2013, respectively. The inflation rate forecast was also lowered by 60 basis points.
Transitory increases in long Treasury bond yields are not likely to be sustained in an environment of a pronounced downward trend in growth in both real and nominal GDP. However the expectation of lower long rates is also bolstered by the well-vetted economic theory of “the Wicksell effect” (Knut Wicksell 1851-1926).
Wicksell suggested that when the market rate of interest exceeds the natural rate of interest funds are drained from income and spending to pay the financial obligations of debtors. Contrarily, these same monetary conditions support economic growth when the market rate of interest is below the natural rate of interest as funds flow from financial obligations into spending and income. The market rate of interest and the natural rate of interest must be very broad in order to capture the activities of all market participants. The Baa corporate bond yield, which is a proxy for a middle range borrowing risk, serves the purpose of reflecting the overall market rate of interest. The natural rate of interest can be captured by the broadest of all economic indicators, the growth rate of nominal GDP.
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