Saturday, February 22, 2014

Return-free risk...

The Dow, ever so slightly, dipped on the week, last week. Which was quite the accomplishment given relatively poor economic reports and the prior week's rally. Clearly, traders are discounting an economic rebound once the skies clear over the East Coast. But the thing is, the bond market simply ain't buying it. Yes, yields are higher than they were a year ago, but, historically speaking, they remain REALLY LOW.

You see the bond market is that bellwether indicator that tells us whether weather is truly a factor or whether there's something more pernicious threatening. Truly, if the bond market (bond investors collectively) were seeing an economic bounce coming, we'd, in my view, see yields bouncing a good bit higher---and prices a good bit lower---than where they sit today.

That said, the bond market hasn't been its old self for quite some time---roughly 5 years that is. While there are many who praise the Fed for keeping bond yields low for so long, my concern is that when an entity essentially corners (if not becomes) the market for a given commodity all sorts of strange and not so wonderful distortions are bound to develop. And when the market is given back what should have never been taken from it to begin with, it can exact some pretty tough love while rediscovering equilibrium.

My point? While the weather is such a convenient, and often feeble, excuse a CEO might use to explain away a quarter of poor earnings---or a bullish analyst to justify his bullishness---when we're talking the "polar vortex" that had gripped a large swath of our nation (more projected for March btw), I'm thinking this time it very well could be legit. Now the bond market is either signaling that I'm dead wrong, or that the Fed's relentless injections have it effectively tranquilized. We'll know soon enough.

So here we go: The Fed, at last---by tapering QE---is attempting to wean the patient junky off the meds. It'll be interesting to see what occurs when the bond market awakens to a combination of a brighter economy (whenever that shows up) and a clearer head. I'm not as committed to the bond-bubble-bursting notion as I was three years ago (simply because there've been too many "experts" calling for it), but I'm still thinking that the process of regaining equilibrium will not be a pretty sight. I.e., if you own bonds (U.S./non-U.S. corporates, governments, mortgage backed or munis) and you think you're safe, please think again.

Last week I heard an analyst say that currently all the bond market has to offer is return-free risk. I couldn't agree more!

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