Bond yields flattened after a very tense week filled with heightened geopolitical tensions, as well as significant economic news. Rates dropped Wednesday after it was reported that Iran fired missiles at U.S.-occupied air bases in Iraq. Thankfully, no U.S. casualties were reported. The flight to safety was short-lived as the stock market rallied the day after the attack. Both the U.S. and Iran suggested that further escalations would be halted. Oil prices took a wild ride up and then quickly came back down as oversupply halted a surge in oil prices based on disruption fears surrounding the conflict.
On the economic front, weak manufacturing data was discounted due to the Phase One U.S. China trade deal being inked on January 15th. The all-important December jobs report was a bit lighter than expected, but overall not a terrible report. Unemployment remains at 3.5% and at a multi-decade low, and the U-6, or total employed, fell to 6.7%. The U.S. economy remains on solid footing and appears to be in what is often referred to as a “goldilocks” trend as the combination of low-interest rates, low unemployment, and low but stable economic growth increases our overall prosperity.
A surging stock market and low-interest rates should bode well for the coming spring home-buying season as potential homeowners feel flush. Inventory remains tight, but home builders are optimistic. With this in mind, we continue to advocate locking-in interest rates at these attractive levels. Many economic forecasts are factoring in higher inflation in the coming year, which would propel bond yields higher. Also, the overall global economy seems to be doing better and for now, any sign of a potential recession in 2020 has faded.
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.
The highly watched Monthly Jobs Report put to rest concerns about a slowing economy as the report beat estimates with 196,000 jobs created versus 177,000 expected.
This data should put to rest for now fears on a looming recession and thus help boost stocks and slightly lower bond yields. Unemployment remained at a multi-decade low of 3.80% and hourly earnings rose to 3.20% year over year from February (which is bond-friendly as wage inflation remains tame). The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) remained unchanged at 63.20%.
In other good news, the yield curve steepened. The potential flattening of the curve was a major concern just a few weeks ago, as that would be a sign of impending recession. However, a positive sloping yield curve is an indicator of a healthy outlook for the economy. Also, China and U.S. trade talks appear to be going well for the moment which has also helped stocks move higher. However, concerns remain as global economic growth has slowed in Europe, China, and Japan as central bankers continue to provide massive stimuli to their respective economies to spur growth. Finally, a Brexit deadline is looming in what is turning out to be a very complicated matter. So far, the markets have not been spooked by a no-deal Brexit, but that could change as the deadline approaches.
Here in the U.S., low rates have spurred home buying and refinances. We recommend taking advantage of the low interest environment because if the U.S. economy continues to surge, the Fed rate hike conversation will be back on the table. With this thought in mind, we remain biased toward locking-in interest rates at these very attractive levels, especially with the strong jobs report confirming no recession and the positive chatter regarding U.S. and China relations coming out of Washington.
Bonds have been on a tear as rates have dropped in response to a variety of factors including a very volatile December for equities, a slowing global economy, Brexit, Italian debt fears, trade tensions with China, and dysfunctional political system in Washington.
The Fed this week confirmed that it will continue to be data-dependent and that monetary policy is not just simply running on auto-pilot. This was positive for both equities and those relying on debt financing.
On Wednesday, the Fed chose to keep overnight lending rates at current levels and also opined on the direction of the Fed draw down its balance sheet, also known as Quantitative Tightening (QT), as well as future rate hikes. A few months ago, most economists had three rate hikes forecasted for 2019, now, the consensus is for probably only one rate hike. All of this has pushed the 10-year Treasury yield (the benchmark lending rate to under 2.75%) which has helped increase mortgage applications, amongst other requests for credit.
The widely watched monthly jobs report did not disappoint and pushed up yields a touch this morning. The report was very positive with 304,000 jobs created in January. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4%, but so did the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR). Three-month average job creation is running at 240,000 jobs per month, a very strong number. During the Obama presidency, many economists though numbers like this would be unattainable this late into an economic expansion. Wage inflation remains in check (as do other inflation readings). Geopolitical concerns have taken a back seat to the resilient domestic economy for now. The U.S. equities market snapped back from an awful December with the strongest January in years. Historically low rates are still in play along with strong U.S employment and positive earnings from many big companies.
It is worth noting that some consumer confidence readings have slipped and how this will play out may not be felt for several months in the economic readings.
With rates on the rise after this strong jobs report, we believe it is prudent to strongly consider locking-in interest rates at these levels.