Monday, April 18, 2022

It looks very scary!

Imagine being on an intercontinental jumbo flight, which is full with passengers, the pilot has just announced the power to all the engines are lost and they are about to crash land into an open space on the earth, nose down. What would be in the minds of the fellow passengers?

Anyone who is remotely aware of the US bond market carnage of last month can contemplate this same feeling about the fragile US economy that is about to crash land with assured causalities. It is almost certain there is going to be a crash landing. What is hoped for, there is a some kind of safe landing where only some get affected. It is almost impossible to save all of them or at least majority of them.

The bond market has been virulent in the last 4-8 weeks. Yields rising more than 100 bps within a month or so in both short and long-term bonds. There is literal blood-bath. The total return value on the bonds has not lost this much value within this kind of a short time span in recent memory. Jim Bianco says, this is the worst bond market blood bath in our lifetime so far.  Unfortunately there isn't a stop on the horizon. There is no bottom coming. As of this morning, the 30-year is knocking on the 3%, trading close to 2.96%. The 10-year, isn't far off at 2.86%.

The yields on the bonds move opposite to its price. With rising yields there are no enough takers. Peter Schiff says, It is right, the bond market is pricing in a recession ahead of us. The recent inversion of the yield curve rightly suggests that. What they are not realizing is how high the yields are going and how fast it's going to happen.

The carnage in the bond market is not being noticed by the stock market. If the yields on the bonds keep going this way for say another 3-months., the yield on the 30-year may well go past 5%. This obviously is a negative for the stock market because people would opt for risk-free returns than the risky bet on the stock market at current high valuations. The yields going further would cause a bond market crash. Once the yields go past these smaller numbers, existing bonds would lose a lot of value. With the Fed going from a net buyer to a net seller - There wouldn’t be any takers for the bonds. With planned deficit budget and trade deficit for the coming year, the government is only going to  borrow more.

The vanguard bond portfolio is down more than 8% similar to the stock portfolio YoY. If the so-called, bond safe haven can lose 8% within a quarter, just imagine how much the risky assets possibility of huge falls. The yield on the 30-yr is going to rise further and further. The only thing that can stop this is a stock market crash. If the stock market doesn't crash, the bond market definitely will and that will crash the stock market too. There isn't lot of good possibilities actually. The Fed has promised to raise interested rates by 50 bps, when they meet in first week of May. The Fed is very late already. The bond investors know it. What they don't know now but will eventually know later - is that the Fed will give-up on its inflation fighting goal to save the economy.

The inflation picture now in the US is abnormal to this generation of people. The American public has lived in a no to low inflation zone for the past 40 years. Paul Volcker raised interest rates to 20% to tame the high inflation of the late 70s and early 80s. Since then the bonds had been in a bull market. Alan Greenspan introduced the American public to low interest rate regime during his tenure at the Fed. The housing boom was caused by it. Once the interest rates started going up, the housing bubble burst causing the great financial crisis in 2008. As part of the recovery from the financial crisis, the economy was boosted with even more of lower interest rate regime and multiple quantitative easing (QE) also called stimulus - to create multiple bubbles under Ben Bernanke. Everything was OK until the US saw inflation creeping up. The inflation in Feb 2021 was a 2 handle. The YoY is now up to 8.5%. The rapid ascent in inflation is relatively unheard of in recent US history. It has brought jitters all over.

Import/export data came in last week. This is probably more accurate than the CPI because it is not manipulated by the method of measurement. It's just plain dollar amount of prices. They run more than 12% YoY. The retail sales up by 0.5% ., and just 0.2% excluding Food & Fuel - confirms the customer is thinning out and isn't spending as usual. The true inflation is really biting the American household.

Without a fundamental shift in asset prices, the economy cannot be resolved to its neutral value. For this to take place - interest rates need to go higher and got to go higher faster. In all of this., the Fed has just started. It is moving interest rates by 0.25 is too slow compared to the unfolding price increases across all products and services. Of all industries the tech seems will get hit first.

Tech-bubble has already been pricked. After the smaller tech being hit hard, now the darlings of the last decade are getting whacked. We have seen the big-tech (FAANG) now getting hit. Most of them are already in bear market territory or just be there soon. Other non-FAANG darlings like nvidia for example is down more than 35% from its recent highs. The Banks are getting killed too. They are all trading well below their recent highs, some to an extent of even down 40%. With mortgage rates now staying more than 5% - the bottom trend in housing is just round the corner, probably it's in the next slide.

We can say the one and the only thing - that is going the Fed's way is that the unemployment figures are lower at 3.6% and the job creation is OK every month. As the stock market and the bond market bleeds in blood., it is just a matter of time - the layoffs starts. Eventually this would happen. Markets keep going down and jobs being created every month don't go together. Also, the worker productivity has gone significantly lower since the pandemic after the "work from home" habit. With workers sitting in their living room couches, innovation (workplace creativity) is not triggered. Direct interactions with team members, discussions, working at arms-length create an innovative work culture.

The Fed will raise interest rates until something breaks. At this moment, it doesn't have any other option to save its face. It wants the market to correct significantly but at the same time doesn't want the economy to enter a new long painful recession that could run for years. If the stock or the bond market crash even before the anticipated rate hike - it would put Fed in a really bad spot. At one point or another - To make the market happy, the Fed has to backtrack and go back to accommodating monetary policy again. That may create all sort of new problems along with history!