The Perfect Storm In Bonds
The Fed has managed to remove some of the complacency in financial markets for now, but we would also argue that financial markets have managed to remove any complacency the Fed (and any other central banks) may have had regarding how easy the exit strategy from QE was going to be. As we discussed here, the market and the Fed are trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma, and, as Citi notes, the events over the past three weeks make it clear that 'collaboration' is the best strategy – i.e. a non-complacent market and no hawkish surprises from central banks. There is a big risk to this scenario though. As Citi explains, a risk that we fear not even the recent dovish messages by central banks may be able to do much about.
The recent sell-off has, unlike the previous sell-offs this year, managed to trigger outflows in funds and ETFs; as we mentioned above, our credit survey reports the first outflows since 2008. The negative feedback loop which has been triggered around fund and ETF outflows has gained a momentum of its own and the following four charts suggest bonds are in fact primed for the perfect storm.
The credit market may have never been more vulnerable to rising Treasury yields.
MTM investors make up a much higher proportion of credit investors now than normal,
and MTM risk itself is near all-time high.
amid record low breakevens (i.e. a need to reach increasingly for yield)
and extremely crowded positioning
In the last few days, the market has calmed down, but the ball is not now so much in the Fed’s or institutional investors’ courts, but in those of retail investors.
Whilst institutional investors will likely be happy to “collaborate”, in our view, we’re not sure if retail investors will. They will likely be receiving their quarterly statements in the next few weeks – how will they react to the recent negative performance on their funds? If the outflows continue, we see more downside in cash (vs. in synthetics) and in low beta credits (vs. higher beta credits) – the proxy hedging via indices and unwinding of what investors perceive to be their riskiest trades we’ve seen so far would be overshadowed by selling down those positions which (i) make up most of investors’ portfolios and (ii) are easier to dispose of in a capitulating market
What drew investor attention this week most notably - as we discussed all week was Cash lagging CDS. As Citi explains, in general, we are seeing cash bonds underperforming CDS in our sectors in the most recent market volatility. The rate-fear driven selloff, which led to substantial outflows in HY funds including ETFs, are putting more pressure on cash prices as investors are selling bonds to raise cash.
The bottom line is that we have 4 extreme charts that signal a perfect storm that is increasingly out of the hands of both institutional investors and the Federal Reserve as retail flows (once the darling of yield/spread compression) force unwinds in a vicious circle with hedging (via CDS) impossible given the redemptions.