``Inflation will do it. But how much? To bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down to the same level as at the end of 2008 would take a doubling of prices. That 100 per cent increase would make nominal GDP twice as high and thus cut the debt-to-GDP ratio in half, back to 41 from 82 per cent. A 100 per cent increase in the price level means about 10 per cent inflation for 10 years. But it would not be that smooth – probably more like the great inflation of the late 1960s and 1970s with boom followed by bust and recession every three or four years, and a successively higher inflation rate after each recession. The fact that the Federal Reserve is now buying longer-term Treasuries in an effort to keep Treasury yields low adds credibility to this scary story, because it suggests that the debt will be monetised. That the Fed may have a difficult task reducing its own ballooning balance sheet to prevent inflation increases the risks considerably. And 100 per cent inflation would, of course, mean a 100 per cent depreciation of the dollar. Americans would have to pay $2.80 for a euro; the Japanese could buy a dollar for Y50; and gold would be $2,000 per ounce. This is not a forecast, because policy can change; rather it is an indication of how much systemic risk the government is now creating.”- John Taylor Exploding debt threatens America
The Bonds Vigilantes are back! That’s according to the newswires and the opinion pages.
Bond vigilantes are supposedly a class of bond investors who serve as disciplinarians against government overspending. Sensing the perpetuation of profligacy, these market enforcers would sell sovereigns which would translate to rising interest rates and which effectively functions as a kibosh on the extravagancies of government.
The recent volatility in the long dated US treasuries markets (see figure 1) apparently breathed life on such market persona after more than two decades long of hibernation.
The recent surge in yields has prompted for concerns on the marketplace over the sustainability of stock market gains. Rising interest rates, as interpreted by the mainstream, may yet foil government measures to resuscitate the housing market and US consumers. As you will notice in the chart above, long dated treasuries often serve as benchmark to bank lending rates-so rising Treasury yields means higher mortgage rates.
But often doesn’t mean always. And with US government’s severe scale of marketplace interventions, mortgage rates and treasury yields departed earlier, as we noted in early May, see US Mortgage Rates versus Treasury Yields: Does Divergence Signal An Anomaly or A New Trend?
Yet the dynamics of the bond markets of the yesteryears haven’t been the same as today; foreigners have been pinpointed as the potential source of rising yields, through liquidations.
According to this report from Bloomberg, ``The bond vigilantes are being led by international investors, who own about 51 percent of the $6.36 trillion in marketable Treasuries outstanding, up from 35 percent in 2000, according to data compiled by the Treasury.”
Unfortunately, the classic definition of the bond vigilantes doesn’t hold true today, because rising long dated yields doesn’t automatically equate to investor selling YET see figure 2.
As noted in last week’s $200 Per Barrel Oil, Here We Come!, the composition of the ownership of US treasuries held by foreigners, mostly by China, has dramatically shifted. In the face of declining foreign currency surpluses, foreigners have sold US agencies and reallocated their holdings mostly into short term bills.
This, we argued, has been primarily politically motivated. China doesn’t want to seen as ruffling the feathers of the US leadership and instead would like to be perceived as in “cooperation” and “collaboration” with them, despite expressing displeasure over the direction of present policies. This essentially places the responsibility of the repercussions from US policies entirely on US policymakers. So in contrast to bond vigilante actions of liquidations, foreigners have continued to buttress the US treasuries market, however yields continue to climb.
As example, Thursday’s US Treasury issuance of $26 billion in 7 year notes had been fully subscribed and this adds to the week’s total of $101 billion. While demand for the 7 year notes have been ample, ``the Treasury was forced to raise the yield by nearly 0.03 percentage points to entice buyers” reports the Associated Press.
In other words, rising yields hasn’t been due to foreign investor liquidations YET, but from oversupply or overissuance of US sovereigns relative to available capital, where the markets has been pricing a premium (through higher yields) for scarce capital to fund US government expenditures.
Nevertheless, events seem to be unfolding in an extremely fluid mode, such that we can’t count on the persistence of foreign support on US treasuries, especially if markets do turn disorderly.
Although the news report cited above, didn’t account for the category of buyers of the recently issued 7 year treasury notes, the US Federal Reserve can pose as the “buyer of last resort” as it can simply “monetize” debts through its digital or printing presses, since an “auction failure” can be highly disruptive to the financial markets, especially to the US dollar.
Bond Vigilantes Ahoy!
Nonetheless the bond vigilantes appear to have indeed surfaced in select US debt markets, concentrating on areas where governments have intervened to favor “political classes”. Here, comparable spreads have ostensibly widened between companies or industries affected by state intrusion relative to those without.
According to the Reuters (bold emphasis mine), ``To gauge whether those cases have made debtholders wary of other companies with so-called favored political classes, Garman compared spreads, or bonds' extra yields over U.S. Treasury yields, for companies with collective bargaining agreements with the high-yield bond market as a whole…
``Apart from automakers, sectors heavily influenced by collective bargaining agreements include supermarkets, construction, wired telecommunications, delivery and healthcare, Garman found. Gaming, select media and publishing companies and paper and textile companies also made his list.”
Uncertainty over the arbitrary selection of winners by the US government, the clash of objectives or priorities between management and government and the fickleness, changeability or instability of policies has translated to investor aversion or bond vigilantism.
Decoupling In Global Bond Markets?, Monetary Forces Gains Momentum
And as almost every government in the world have massively applied “stimulus” to their respective economies to provide for “cushion” from recession and to “jumpstart” economic growth, as discussed in Ignoble Deficits And The $33 Trillion Global Government Debt Bubble?, they will be competing with the private sector for access to funding in the capital markets which implies for “higher yields”.
Moreover, the capital markets will likely be the primary conduit for these fund raising activities as the banking system remains substantially dysfunctional, particularly in the bubble bust affected areas.
Evidences of such dynamics have begun to emerge, according to this Wall Street Journal report (all bold highlights mine),
``In the first quarter of the year, the value of corporate investment-grade bond issuance globally rocketed to $875.1 billion -- a 124% increase from the same period last year. That boom stands in sharp relief to a fall in the market for syndicated loans, in which a syndicate of banks makes a loan to a corporation, spreading the risk of the corporation's default between them.
``The value of banks' new corporate investment-grade lending fell 40% to $349.3 billion compared to the same period last year, according to financial data from Dealogic….
``There are two main reasons why loans from banks are stuttering: banks' available capital and banks' cost of funding. Both have made the interest terms that banks are offering corporations relatively high, making the bond market a preferable route to financing…
``Bank lending to the corporate sector has shrunk dramatically. In the nine months to December last year, global cross-border bank lending shrank almost $5 trillion -- the sharpest fall on record -- according to research out this month by the Bank for International Settlements.”
In other words, the current operating dynamics as seen in the US treasury markets will likely be applied elsewhere, but to a lesser degree on Emerging Markets and in Asia as the latter’s banking system have largely been unimpaired.
The US bond market volatility in conjunction with a falling US dollar have prompted for a divergence or “decoupling” in bond activities see Figure 3.
The Morgan Stanley’s fund of investment in US treasuries as represented by the USGAX (red-black line), which according to Google, “normally invests at least 80% of net assets in U.S. government securities, which may include U.S. treasury bills, notes and bonds as well as securities issued by agencies and instrumentalities of the U.S. government” has been diverging with the JP Morgan’s benchmark for Emerging Debt JEMDX (black line) which according to Google invests in ``a portfolio of fixed-income securities of emerging-markets issuers. The fund normally invests at least 80% of assets in emerging-market debt investments. These emerging-market securities may be denominated in foreign currencies or the U.S. dollar.”
Last week, emerging market bonds posted their best week since 2002 (Bloomberg) in spite of the turmoil in the US sovereign markets as US bond yields rose to nearly a 6 year high (Bloomberg). If this isn’t decoupling, I don’t know what is.
Yet the falling US dollar (USD- lower window in the chart) has easily been made as a scapegoat for the actions in the volatility in the US treasury markets. The simplified explanation is this- a weaker US dollar extrapolates to higher value of emerging market currencies, ergo high bond prices for Emerging Market Bonds.
But this dynamic hasn’t been in place when the US dollar index fell from its peak in 2002 until its trough in early 2008!
In other words, the languid performance of US dollar index and the divergences in emerging markets sovereign relative to the US sovereign hasn’t likely been the underlying cause and effect. Instead, we suggest that it has been monetary forces that has accounted for as the principal driver of this rapidly evolving phenomenon-globally.
In short, monetary inflation has been getting a far bigger pie of the activities in the financial markets as well as in the real economy.
All told, as capital markets takes on a bigger role in the distribution of limited capital over banking system, in the choice of either funding government expenditures or private investment, the resurgent function of bond vigilantism will likely be accentuated as time goes by.