Watch The 30!

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I like long bonds.  I am not saying that I like them as an investment.  I like them because they tell me about the economy.

Though I argued to the Obama Administration that they should issue Fifties, Centuries and Perpetuals, the Thirty-year bond remains the longest bond issued.  I think its yield tells us a lot about the economy.

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How fast is nominal growth?  Look at the Thirty; it is highly correlated with that.

What should the Fed use for its monetary policy?  Look at the Thirty, and don’t let the Five-year note get a higher yield than it.  Also, don’t let the spread of the Two-year versus the Thirty get higher than 1.5%.  When things are bad, stimulus is fine, but it is better to wait at a high spread than goose the spread higher. Excesses in loose policy tend to beget excesses in tight policy.  Better to avoid the extremes, and genuinely mute the boom-bust cycle, rather than trying to prove that you are a genius/maestro when you are not.  Extreme monetary policy does not get rewarded.  Don’t let the yield curve get too steep; don’t invert.

Finally, the Thirty is a proxy for the cost of capital.  It’s long enough that it is a leap of faith that you will be paid back.  Better still for the cost of capital is the Moody’s Baa average, which tracks the bold bet of lending to low investment grade corporations for 20-30 years.

That said, the Thirty with its cousin, the long Treasury Inflation Protected Security [TIPS] gives you an idea of how long term inflation expectations and real rates are doing.  The thing that kills stocks is higher long term real interest rates, not inflation expectations.  The main reason for this is that when inflation rises, usually earnings do also, at least at cyclical companies.  But there is no reason why earnings should rise when real rates rise.

This is why I pay more attention to the Thirty rather than the more commonly followed Ten.  I know that more debt gets issued at a maturity of ten years.  Granted.  But the Thirty tells me more about the economy as a whole, and about its corporations.  That’s why I carefully watch the Thirty.

Article by David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA - The Aelph Blog

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About the Author

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.

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