Bond yields are under some pressure this week as the equities markets trade with renewed volatility and investors become more cautious. We also saw a mixed bag of economic reporting with some manufacturing data and retail sales coming in better than expected. Inflation remains a global concern and while the Fed remains in the transitory camp. For the moment, there is no denying that the cost of living has increased. Landlords are raising rents, costs of goods and services have surged, and while income has risen it is not keeping up with inflation for the average wage earner. The 10-year Treasury breached its 200-day moving average for the first time in many months. Fears of inflation and of the even more worrisome stagflation (slowing growth and high employment) are the topic of anxious conversation. Compounding matters are the 4 million people who have decided to leave the workforce permanently due to the Covid epidemic while help wanted signs are omnipresent and companies struggle to fill positions.
The markets are also digesting the administration’s new tax proposal which is focused on increasing tax rates on those who earn over $400,000. This new proposal will also increase tax on capital gains and place limits on how retirement savings, affecting primarily upper-income workers. Overall, I believe this plan is a negative for the equity and real estate markets as higher taxes mean less available funds would be freed up for investing in stocks and buying real estate. The impact will be felt especially in very expensive coastal cities.
On the housing front, San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing a surge in homes for sale. High home prices and high demand are encouraging sellers to list properties, a boon for prospective buyers. We will see if it continues. If yields move up, more supply will be needed to cool off buying frenzies. Tight home supply remains a major issue as the Covid pandemic has triggered supply chain issues and delays in home construction.
The market could be impacted by a recent development we noticed in the margins. A large Chinese development firm, Evergrande, has defaulted on billions of dollars of debt. While this will have little effect in the U.S., it could ripple out to multi-national banks that lent billions Evergrande. It is also a reminder of the consequences of what may happen when companies lever up to unreasonable levels and banks permit this to generate fees. Whether this is the first of many overleveraged Chinese developers to default is yet to be seen, but this story reminds me of what happened in the U.S. with Lehman Brothers, which started off as an isolated incident and quickly devolved into the Great Financial Crisis of our time.