Today stocks and bonds both paused to think about yesterday’s huge rally.
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Monty Python observed back in 1970 before attempting to torture a coal-miner’s wife with a dish rack. There’s an important investing version of this core truth: The financial market usually worries about the wrong problem. So that when the “Spanish Inquisition” (in financial terms) finally arrives, everybody is surprised. Well, we investors and traders have done it to ourselves again. We’ve spent much of 2022 and a good part of 2023 worrying about whether Federal Reserve interest rate increases would send the economy into a recession. There are still a few recession die hards worrying about that possibility, but by and large the worry has shifted to whether or not the Fed will delay its rate cuts in 2024–and thus delay the arrival of the “rate-cut-bounce.” While MANY–but certainly not all–investors, traders, and market analysts have been looking OVER THERE, however, the credit markets have built up a huge debt overhead and the global debt bomb looks ever closer to exploding. A crisis with the dire effects of the Global Financial Crisis of mid-2007 to 2009 is a possibility. I’d “guess” that most portfolios aren’t ready. The time to get ready is now. This increasingly looks like a debt market crisis of the type known as a Minsky Moment. To get ready first understand the source of the problem. I’m putting together a new Special Report for next week on what to do to get ready. Today’s post is a kind of set up, a get ready for the post on getting ready, if you will.
So what do you do with your portfolio for the rest of 2023? And what’s your best strategy to be prepared for 2024? In Part 1 of this Special Report I laid out the 10 developments that I thought would drive the financial markets for the rest of 223 and into 2024. Today, in Part 2, I’m going to give you the first 2 of 10 moves to take–with as much detail and as many specifics as possible–that you should be making now to position your portfolio for the uncertainties of the last quarter of 2023.
Oh, boy, something to look forward to. The Senate returned to session on September 5 and the House will follow on September 12. And a new government shutdown looms. (This is different than the threat of a default on U.S. government debt that was averted by a last-minute deal to raise the debt ceiling. This time the government and agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Agriculture would simply hang closed signs on their doors until Congress appropirated money for operations.)
The timing has a good likelihod of disrupting a clear trend in the financial markets.
The Treasury will auction a literal truckload of debt this week. And that’s making the bond market nervous. We’ve already had major volatility that wiped out this year’s 4% gain in Treasury bonds. The worry is focused on the long end of the yield curve where demand for 20- and 30-year Treasuries has been light. The Bloomberg index of Treasuries maturing in 10 years and more has slumped 5.7% so far in August.
A flood of Treasury bill, note, and bond sales will drive yields over the next few months as the U.S. Treasury rebuilds a cash account drawn down to the splinters at the bottom of the barrel during the debt ceiling crisis. On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury clarified the schedule for auctions designed to refill those coffers. The timing, in my opinion, points to a July peak in Treasury yields. (And don’t forget that the Federal Reserve meets on July 26. Today, June 8, the financial markets are saying that there’s a 75.8% chance of either 25 or 50 basis points of interest rate increases at the conclusion of that meeting (some combination of rate increases at the June 14 and July 26 meetings) with odds at 49.9% of just 25 basis points of increased to the Fed’s benchmark rate, now at 5.00% to 5.25%, as a result of the two meetings. I’ve suggested buying the 2-year Treasury on that July peak.
Today’s Quick Pick is 2 Year Treasuries. Ten-year Treasuries with a 5% yield may still be a long way out, but Two-year Treasuries now have a yield of 4.5%. Rates may continue to go up in the short-term and the Fed is likely going to raise interest rates again in June or July, but this is a good place to start a position in these Treasuries. You can, of course, get a CD with a 5% yield, but the CD won’t earn you capital appreciation. If rates go down when the Fed stops raising rates, treasury yields may go down, but the bond may go up. We’ll likely see a peak in rates in the third quarter, so at the moment, I think Two-year Treasuries are a good buy.
Maybe “expect” is the wrong word. Maybe I really mean “look for” as in “look for an opportunity” to buy Treasuries at a short-term peak in yields. With a debt filing extension in effect and default off the table, the U.S. Treasury can now turn to the task of rebuilding its cash buffer. That means selling lots of Treasury bills, notes, and bonds. How many? Well, at least $500 billion with. And some Wall Street estimates put the selling spree at $1 trillion by the end of the third quarter of 2023. The selling begins with the auction of $170 billion in Treasury bills on Monday, June 5. I expect two consequences.
Remember the good ol’ days when Treasuries paid 0% or so and you had to give a bank your toaster to open an account, paying 0.01%? Right now you can find a CD paying 5%–and it doesn’t require locking up your money until the sun goes super-nova either.
Today, the 12-month Treasury closed with a yield of 4.99%. And the 6-month bill paid an even higher 5.02? You can find a bond ETF with an SEC yield of 4.63%. And even a money market fund paying 4.45%. What’s the case for stashing some of your cash in something “safe” as the stock market looks like it’s about to go into one of its periods of volatility? And what’s the best choice when you’ve suddenly got so many vehicles offering to pay you 5% or so? In today’s post, I’ll sketch out the pluses and minuses of these alternatives.
Today I posted my two-hundred-and-twenty-eighth YouTube video: Don’t Pay for the Illusion of Control. Today’s topic is: Don’t Pay for the Illusion of Control. The market is rallying on the expectation that the Fed will reduce its interest rate increases to just 25 basis points on February 1, after the previous hike of 50 basis points. The belief is that the Fed will continue to wind down rate increases until they eventually stop after having vanquished inflation without tanking the economy. I have a few concerns about this rally. The market has priced this as 100% likely, so if the Fed disappoints with another 50 basis point increase, the market will not react well. Another huge problem with the idea that the Fed is controlling the market is this: there is no controlling this economy. Fed rates are just one of the factors in a very complicated economic picture right now. Here is a sample of some of the other things that can and will affect the market: as the Fed has reduced its balance sheet (and therefore reduced its supply of treasuries), the debt ceiling crisis has resulted in a lower supply of treasuries from the Treasury, and banks are moving their money to reserves, while money market funds are looking to buy bonds and there are none to be found. On a global scale, China’s battle with COVID could cause as many as one million deaths and slow that economy, while Beijing pours money into its financial system. Japan has seen an unusual surge in inflation and the fighting in Ukraine will likely get worse this spring as Russia looks to regain control of the war. All this to say, the Fed does not control the economy and I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the Fed basket.
Right now, the Federal Reserve’s benchmark short-term interest rate stands at a range of 3.75% to 4.00. Expectations on Wall Street point to another 50 basis points in December and another 50 basis points in February.
Which would take the interest rates up to a range of 4.75% to 5.00%. Would that be the peak?