Guest Post: Careful With 30Y Treasuries

Submitted by Bo Peng 

Careful with 30Y Treasuries

With Fed announcement of the second round of treasury purchase in the 2-10Y segment and corresponding yields at all time lows, it may be tempting to pick the only cheap thing left in this space, the longest-term treasuries. It seems natural to speculate that the 30Y will follow, and the next natural thing for Fed to do should be buying the 30Y.

Well, every obvious play in the market comes with some caveat. The more obvious and sure thing it seems, the more worried and paranoid you should be.

A few risks I can see about this seemingly obvious play.

1. Big players may be tempted to do a curve steepner between 10 and 30Y, long 10Y and short 30Y or some variations of it. Such bets paid off handsomely in 09, then lost spectacularly since this April but if big money piles on again, it would tend to drive up the 30Y yield.

2. One rationale behind a curve steepner trade, and a big risk for long 30Y, is inflation expectation. Perpetual stimulus and bailouts will quite plausibly drive up inflation at some point in the future, and Fed will be heavily biased to act too late rather than early against inflation when it happens. And hyperinflation, if and when it happens, tends to be in the typical black swan fashion -- sudden, violent, and unpredictable in timing and scope.

3. Fed may be politically constrained in going further out the curve to buy treasuries.

4. Usually, the longer the maturity, the more interest rate risk or the higher the leverage. This is usually a major rationale to buy 30Y if you want higher leverage. But, because the curve is already so steep between 5-10Y and 30Y, the deltas (interest rate sensitivity) are about the same. In fact, gamma for the 10Y is higher (more negative) at current levels, meaning that if yields decrease more (say 1% instead of 1bp), the capital gain on 10Y is actually higher than on 30Y. This makes 30Y less sensitive to rates, which is counter-intuitive. But the inflation expectation is such that the curve may not shift up in parallel (see point 1 above), and the 30Y bet could be a lose-lose compared to 10Y -- if inflation shoots up, 30Y loses more because yield goes up more at the long end; if deflation kicks in, 10Y gains more because of higher convexity. And this is why the curve steepner is tempting to begin with.

I try to constantly remind myself of the LTCM bets and the Merrill bond-CDS basis bet and think thrice about any obvious trades. And if you can't think of how it could fail, you'd be safer to simply assume it's a trap. Unless you're trading other's money and get paid on relative performance basis, you can always better afford to miss some opportunities to make money than lose money.

1. There's always another opportunity somewhere else, down the road.
2. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
3. There's no free lunch.

Well, free lunch galore if you have discount window access or otherwise win the government random bailout/handout lottos. The New American Dream makes winning lawsuits look way too tedious and low on ROI and Sharpe ratio, except the Old American Dream is morally far-superior on relative basis. Forget about McDonald's hot coffee, people. That's so, like, pre-crisis and amateur. Just stop paying your mortgage and credit card and student loan and the money you borrowed from mom in senior center, or better yet, join TBTF. Sooner or later our central-planning state-capitalist commiekaze government will help you out.

Disclosure: Long 5-10Y TIPS and treasuries