One year ago, the two most crowded trades going into 2015 were being long the USD and short US Treasurys. While the former trade had questionable success, the latter most certainly did not work and while hedge-fund managers and other large speculators spent December 2014 setting the biggest bets against Treasuries in four years, fast-forwarding 12 months later we find that the smartest money in the room has fully abandoned those massive short Treasury bets.
"either the Fed achieves its goals quickly to a very low terminal Funds rate. Buy bonds. Or they need to be even more aggressive. Buy even longer duration bonds. The choice is more about where to put the long leg of the curve flattener not about whether to steepen or flatten the curve."
"... the next 12-18 months will be divided into three periods corresponding to the three distinct regimes of market dynamics. They can be summarized by the following modes of the curve: short-term tactical bear flatteners on the back of a Fed liftoff story, followed by volatile bear steepeners of the “taper-tantrum” type around mid-year, and a bull-flattening finale as structural factors deem rate hikes to be a policy mistake."
Eurodollar curve captures the mechanics of Fed expectations in a simple way. Away from the very front end, the curve dynamics is displays a rather rigid structure where a single risk premium parameter explains bulk of the spreads movement in different sectors of the curve. Typically, in anticipation of Fed hikes or cuts, the market makes up its mind about the terminal Fed funds (Greens) and begins to price in the rates path around that. The more aggressive the initial hikes are, the less they will have to do later
The key overnight event was the much anticipated, goalseeked and completely fabricated Chinese economic data dump, which was both good and bad depending on who was asked: bad, in that at 6.9% it was below the government's 7.0% target and the lowest since Q1 2009, and thus hinting at "more stimulus" especially since industrial production (5.7%, Exp. 6.0%) and fixed spending also both missed; it was good because it beat expectations of 6.8% by the smallest possible increment, and set the tone for much of Europe's trading session, even if Asia shares ultimately closed largely in the red over skepticism over the authenticity of the GDP results. Worse, and confirming the global economy is now one massive circular reference, China accused the Fed's rate hike plans for slowing down its economy, which is ironic because the Fed accused China's economy for forcing it to delay its rate hike.
China has officially gone the "nuclear" route, SocGen says, and the read through for the global economy is not good. Here's how to profit going forward...
During the last several years of uber-accommodation by the Fed, both stock and bond prices rose. It would not be surprising if both fell in price as the Fed proceeds with a June “lift-off”. However, stocks might be the worse of the two performers. In a sense, markets are now beyond the control of the Fed. They were able to change investor behavior for a few years, but the herd mentality is now becoming dislodged: “lift-off” could possibly cause a steep reversal. We expect SPX to dip below 2000 by the time of the March 18th Fed Meeting.
"I am concerned that a sizable equity market correction looms. In order to justify general equity market over-weights, either risk premiums needs to fall further, or the economy and financial markets need to have reached a level of ‘escape velocity’ powerful enough to push them forward, even in the face of Fed rate hikes. I find such a ‘soft landing’ scenario improbable at best."
With rates seemingly flip-flopped today (yields higher as stocks drop), we thought it worth skimming what the smart money in the bond market is thinking. As RBS Strategist Bill O'Donnell warns, "Janet must act like a diving instructor, hoping to bring levels to the surface without giving the economy the bends. What makes it really risky for Janet is that financial sector regulation has created a ‘one-way valve’ in secondary market liquidity. Nobody really knows how the system will hold up under duress." This is confirmed by Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann who fears, "the Fed will have difficulties controlling market gyrations and its potential loss of credibility from troubles that are likely to arise from its exit strategy."
This week’s market reaction to Fed chair Janet Yellen’s Humphrey Hawkins testimony – which was initially perceived as hawkish – provided another highlight of just how nervous investors have become about the risk of tighter monetary policy, post the very strong June payrolls report. As BofA warns, the current pace of jobs creation mirrors what forced the Fed’s hand in the 1994 rate hiking cycle, which led to lower stocks and wider credit spreads. Simply put, as the indicator of just how insane "markets" have becomes, rapidly improving job growth (as fallacious as it is under the surface) means BOFA thinks that hedges should be set and long positions in risky assets reduced.
For the past several weeks it felt as if Bank of America's chief technician, MacNeill Curry (or at least his clients) had an infinite balance sheet to fund relentless P&L losses, resulting from his daily recommendation to short the 10 Year, which contrary to the best wishes of the Fed and the sellside penguins constantly refused to go lower and validate the "economy is getting better" thesis. Today, even his TBTF balance sheet finally ran out, and moments ago he finally capitulated, and was stopped out on his TYU4 short.
Goldman Sachs, like most of the mainstream economists believes today's FOMC statement will likely be "broadly neutral" with no indication of sooner rate rises than expected (despite what we have noted as the timing not being better), some modest upgrades to the economic outlook (to keep the "everything's good and you don't need us anymore" meme alive), and continued taper at the same pace (with maybe some acknowledgemnet of the transitory pop in inflation). UBS, on the other side, suggests there is a chance of some FOMC surprises with Janet Yellen pulling a semi-Carney as Citi's Steven Englander has previously noted "the Fed needs more volatility in order to maintain its illusion of omnipotence."
The market is highly confident that it has a good handle on tomorrow’s FOMC meeting, despite the fact that several factors will require modification. There is high conviction that the Fed will not surprise the market, but rather take a “steady as she goes” approach that delivers a market consensus outcome. The reasons for this view are obvious and logical; however, such complacency breeds risk as well as opportunity, because the arguments for accelerating tapering to $15 billion (per month) are quite compelling.