By Ven Ram, Bloomberg macro commentator and reporter
If you asked your bank manager for a loan, the rate you will be offered will vary proportionally with not only how much you borrow, but also how long you borrow for. That, of course, is a no-brainer since the longer the bank is willing to lend to an individual, the greater the risk of something going wrong. Mainly, they encompass credit and inflation risks, and in the case of institutional investments, liquidity as well.
Yet, in the market for Treasuries and several other major developed markets, investors have recently become indifferent to the risk surrounding the longevity of their loans to governments. In other words, they are essentially saying, there is no more inflation risk in lending to Uncle Sam over, say, 10 years than there is when lending for a far shorter period. That is a massive irony against a backdrop where inflation is Le probleme du jour.
Shrinking term premiums is one major reason why Treasury long-dated yields have fallen after the brisk first quarter that, back then, resembled a juggernaut on the move. (The issue isn’t peculiar to the U.S. by any stretch: investors are willing to loan the U.K. for a 30-year period for well less than 1%, but will readily settle for even less -- at around 50 basis points -- if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will agree to keep the sum in his state’s coffers for 50 years, thank you. Sure, there are reasons such as demand for ultra-long debt from pension funds, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
Why is it that investors couldn’t seem to care less about earning a decent term premium?
A combination of liquidity, declining natural rates of interest and unbridled expansion of balance sheets -- and that’s not an exhaustive list -- have got us to where we are now. Getting out of it, though, isn’t going to be easy. Getting into quicksand takes a trice, but last I checked no one had found a way yet to come out of it in one swift ascent.