The “Sell in May and Go Away” theory is on full display as stocks endure a tough week of trading to the benefit of lower bond yields. The main culprits are ongoing trade tensions with China and strong rhetoric from President Trump concerning Mexico. The U.S. will begin imposing tariffs on Mexican goods coming to the U.S. until Mexico applies stricter measures to help halt the illegal immigration crisis. This surprised the market on Thursday. Adding to the volatility is a slower growing global economy, negative interest rates on German and Japanese government debt, and fears of a potential recession. All of these factors have helped push U.S. Treasury yields to a many months low even against the backdrop of strong consumer confidence, a 3.1% GDP 1st quarter reading, and a fairly decent first-quarter earnings season. For the moment, it certainly is a tale of two stories with the “fear trade” winning.
Mortgage rates are also benefiting from lower rates and low inflation readings, but not as much as U.S. Treasuries. We continue to advise borrowers to take advantage of this very low rate environment as it would not take much to push yields higher should some positive comments come out of Washington or Beijing concerning trade talks.
Bond yields dropped precipitously and global stocks were volatile as tensions rose over the U.S.-China trade talks, which has dampened investor expectations of a near-term resolution between the world’s two biggest economies. Further pushing yields lower was the ongoing Brexit non-resolution which has forced Theresa May’s resignation. Finally, Europe continues to stall under a huge debt burden and the unintended consequences of negative bond yields which have done little to spur economic growth.
The U.S. economy remains strong, so part of the low-interest rate story has to do with how low bond yields are across the pond and in Japan. Many European bonds trade at or below zero. With unemployment near a 50-year low, tame inflation readings are the other major story that has placed a ceiling on domestic yields. Bonds traded this past week at a near a 17-month low.
Housing has rebounded from a poor 4th quarter, but high prices continue to weigh on prospective buying decisions. Locally, our own real estate market has seen a strong increase in applications as the busy season is upon us and interest rates on multiple product types are very attractive.
With the 3-month 10-year Treasury curve inverting, we will continue to monitor the bond market closely for recession clues. A prolonged inversion of short-term against long-term yields is a respected indicator of a looming recession. However, for the moment, we believe the U.S. economy is performing well and interest rates this low should be locked-in at these levels; the 10-year Treasury is trading under 2.30% as of Thursday, May 23, 2019.
U.S. consumer prices rose moderately in April but less than expected. Low inflation readings will keep a lid on bond yields, as well as reinforce the Fed’s position keeping short-term lending rates unchanged for the rest of the year. With inflation in check, some are opining for the Fed to lower interest rates. We tend to disagree and believe a wait-and-see position by the Fed is wiser, as there are some indicators that inflation may pick up and that ultimately these low inflation readings may be transitory.
In other important news, trade talks fell apart this week with China. This resulted in higher tariffs being placed today on Chinese goods imported into the U.S., which will likely lead to retaliation from China sometime in the near future. How these negotiations go is anyone’s guess, but the consensus is that a deal will be struck eventually. However, there is always a chance that negotiations could fall apart and a full-blown trade war will occur, or that these negotiations will drag on much longer than expected. Those fears, while remote, have helped push long-dated treasury bonds lower in what is known as a “flight to quality.” The trade tensions also dented equities this week as analysts reassess the effects of ongoing trade tensions on future economic growth and corporate earnings.
Low rates do benefit our borrowers and have spurred both a good home buying season, as well as our clients who have refinanced into lower rates. With the 10-year Treasury note trading under 2.500%, we remain biased toward locking in interest rates. Should the U.S. strike a trade deal with China, we could easily see rates move up from here.