Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fear and the 10-Year Treasury Yield

Talk is rampant in financial circles over the trending 10-year bond yield, the benchmark Treasury that touched the 4.00% mark on Monday. In general terms, rising bond yields mean rising interest rates overall, from everything from credit cards to home mortgages and also serves as a early warning sign for inflation.

The run-up of the 10-year bond yield has sparked new widespread fears that inflation may return to US markets, crimping the year-long rally in stocks and pounding down any hope for recovery in the housing sector. These fears are largely unfounded, however, because the alignment of Treasury yields to the real economy is simply not sensible at this time.

First, the Fed isn't going to move on interest rates any time soon, even though they merely follow the direction of the markets as a normal course of operations. Second, higher interest for loans is something of a mystical chimera, since only mortgage loans have been held lower by the unprecedented slump in residential housing. Credit card rates for most Americans are already sky-high, with no relief in sight from the immoral banks and credit lending companies.

Third, as an inducement to inflation, bond yields should work as a dead weight on equities, as investors can make worry-free money on Treasuries as opposed to stocks. If stocks, and their underlying companies are forced to pay more for money that is going to slow down everything, from sea to shining sea. Additionally, high unemployment is underpinning the entire economy, producing slack demand, though the incredible sums of stimulus money has worked as an inducement to spend, baby, spend.

Treasury yields on the 10-year have been abnormally low for some time and will probably remain so, until there are real, powerful signs of a sustained recovery. The 160,000 jobs created in March are a one-off, hardly indicative of a trend, though one would have to believe that businesses simply cannot cut many more workers.

There are more factors at work, including flat wage growth and tight lending standards which are keeping robust economic growth in check. The 10-year hit 4%, and backed off immediately, as is the cyclical nature of the beast. The chances that it will surpass that mark and remain there are about as good as they are for yields to fall back into the 4.4 to 4.6% range, which is where they're likely to head in coming weeks and months.

What may be the real concern not finding any voice anywhere, is that foreign investors have soured on the longer-term Treasury offerings, the 10 and 30-year bonds, and are demanding a better payout. That would make more sense than any other argument recently being offered.

Investors on Wall Street still don't seem very afraid of anything, as stocks fell early in the day but rebounded on US dollar weakness. The weak dollar - strong stocks trade continues to be the height of Spring fashion, even as wrong-headed as that condition appears to be.

Dow 10,969.99, -3.56 (0.03%)
NASDAQ 2,436.81, +7.28 (0.30%)
S&P 500 1,189.43, +1.99 (0.17%)
NYSE Composite 7,604.44, +3.51 (0.05%)

Volume remained subdued as advancing issues soared past decliners late in the day, 3706-2731. New highs beat new lows by better-than a 10-1 margin, 917-90.

NYSE Volume 4,615,025,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,122,137,250

Oil rose for the sixth straight day, as though the warmer weather would serve as an inducement for everyone in America to go out for a leisurely drive. Crude for May delivery rose 22 cents, to $86.84, based entirely on nothing. There's are better arguments for oil selling for lower prices than there exists for supporting higher ones: higher prices for energy serve as a tax on consumers and takes away from other discretionary spending. But, being summer in America and the media foisting the parlance of "recovery" upon us, $3.00 a gallon is already standard in larger metropolitan areas.

Gold finsihed ahead by $2.20, to $1,135.10, though silver fell 19 cents to $17.92. We may be close to a temporary top in metals and most other commodities as well. The global economy cannot withstand a bout of inflation at this juncture, especially with entire nations suffering from the debt bomb. Consumers seem to be still pretty well entrenched, so where the spending is coming from is anybody's guess.

The bond yield bulls have it all wrong. Longer-dated instruments aren't going to exacerbate an already steep yield curve.

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