Practical analysis for investment professionals
30 March 2018

Weekend Reads: 14 Charts and No Foolin‘

Posted In: Weekend Reads

Celebrating Easter and April Fool’s Day both on the same day feels appropriate in 2018.

Interest rates have risen again, and plenty of traders are waiting for the punchline.

My task this weekend starts with assuring you it’s all for real. If the world feels a little crazy, it’s because you are paying attention. But stick around. We’ll try to turn it into fun.

I found a lot of charts that I want to talk about, so let’s jump in with one that gives me very mixed feelings.

You have to wonder: Why all the silence?

It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with material to tweet about. Maybe he’s just being polite to his colleagues in the eurozone, who are contending with a sudden and surprising reversal in their macroeconomic fortunes.

Importantly, the US economy isn’t just looking good by comparison. The United States is large and diverse, but growth has been a reliably urban phenomenon since the Great Recession.

The gap between upbeat headline economic statistics and dire lived experiences is not new to the United States. It’s been a reliable feature of post-Great Recession life. And you would expect the mood as it reverses to be buoyant.

So what’s killing the vibe?

The unfortunate side effect of growing faster than our trading partners is that it directs their money and attention here.

The dollar has caught a bid, and that’s just the beginning. I talked about the bond market’s “dangerous curves” last month. Perhaps I should have written about dangerous lines instead.

The standard fear when this condition presents comes straight out of economics textbooks, where flattening yield curves are typically described as harbingers of a recession.

Of course, that’s not automatic.

One might see the above chart, count the red circles, and conclude that in four out of seven cases a flattening curve is a sign that the party will continue for several more years. But of course, be careful. Anything is possible.

It does feel a bit weird, though, to hear the last few months’ trading described as a “bear market in bonds.” Thirty-year Treasuries have spent most of the month rallying and were trading at 3.01% at the close of business this Thursday. That’s 12 basis points lower than they were at the end of February.

As it happens, the long bond opened 2017 yielding 3.04%. That was a selloff from 2016’s open of 2.98%, but it’s hardly a bloodbath.

I don’t mean to minimize forward-looking concerns, like the increasing amount of the US federal budget going towards debt service payments.

It’s hard not to feel that the market is evolving some very particular tastes regarding leverage.

Look in particular at how many “investment grade” bonds, in fact, receive the lowest grade: BBB.

Could this perhaps have something to do with the lack of “high-yield” bonds?

The profit-free nature of recent equity issuance certainly makes it seem like capital markets are feeling promiscuous.

And the experience of more seasoned offerings has shown that a company’s multiple can expand significantly as a reward for simply staying in place.

Of course, that’s only true for individual equities.

Some active managers have been experiencing the opposite, turning in significant outperformance only to be greeted by a chorus of redemptions.

So I’d forgive you for wanting to go corporate. The market verdict seems to be that consistently manufacturing alpha isn’t worth quite as much as an ability to say “We’re Number 1” frequently and with tremendous conviction.

I hope you found this useful. I have more links you might want to peruse over the course of the weekend.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/FrankRamspott

About the Author(s)
Sloane Ortel

Sloane Ortel is the founder of Invest Vegan, an ethics-first registered investment adviser that manages distinctive discretionary portfolios of public equities on behalf of aligned individuals and institutions. Before establishing her own firm, she joined CFA Institute’s staff as a sophomore at Fordham University and spent close to a decade helping members adapt to a changing investment landscape as a collaborator, curator, and commentator. She is also a co-host of Free Money, a podcast for sustainability-oriented investors with a sense of humor.

2 thoughts on “Weekend Reads: 14 Charts and No Foolin‘”

  1. Colin McLean says:

    A great set of graphs – lots to worry about there ( at least for European investors) and I liked the Town & Country link.

    1. Sloane Ortel says:

      Thanks Colin! The town and country bit cracked me up too 🙂

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