With Monday set as the day the ECB will embark on an ill-fated crusade to monetize the entirety of euro fixed income net issuance twice over, inquiring minds want to know how long it will be before yields on all EMU government bonds fall into negative territory.
The yields on bonds issued by one-time trouble spots including Spain, Italy and bailout recipient Portugal struck record lows on Friday. Short-dated Irish bond yields fluctuated around 0% and Spanish two-year bonds dropped to around 0.08%.
Traders and investors often position for well-flagged monetary policy shifts in advance, pulling back once details are released, but in the case of the ECB’s bond-buying program, that hasn’t materialized.
“We could see the two-year Spanish, Portuguese and Italian bonds yields falling below zero in coming months,” said Azad Zangana, a European economist at Schroders , which has about £300 billion ($455 billion) of assets under management.
“It is only a matter of time,” said Nick Gartside, chief investment officer for fixed income at J.P. Morgan Asset management, with $1.7 trillion under management. “We’re still big buyers of debt in those countries.”
Alberto Gallo, head of macro credit research at Royal Bank of Scotland , said that the restriction of only buying debt yielding more than minus 0.2%, will likely generate even more demand for long-term debt in southern Europe, in contrast to elsewhere in the region, “since many core countries already trade very close to the no-buy zone.”
Oh, how far we’ve come in three short years. Recall that in mid-2012, many periphery governments were priced out of the debt market altogether and yet now, not even 34 months on, these same countries are being paid to take investors’ money. Not only has the market been stripped of its ability to serve as a price discovery mechanism, it has been destroyed altogether.
In this environment there is virtually no question that in short order, everything that’s not tied down in the eurozone will be monetized and will trade with a negative yield. In fact, we’ve been headed that way for quite some time as the following chart shows:
… and as you can see from the following, the core is well on its way towards being paid for each and every piece of government guaranteed paper they care to issue with nearly half of bonds issued by Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, and Austria already trading with negative yields…
Here’s where it gets particularly interesting. Yesterday, Mario Draghi virtually guaranteed the ECB will soon operate from a position of accounting insolvency by pledging to buy €1.1 trillion in bonds at a weighted average price of 124% of par.
Buying above par effectively means the ECB will only have to buy 80% of the number of bonds it would otherwise have to buy to hit its monthly targets (a way of silencing critics who claimed the central bank wouldn’t be able to locate enough assets). It also means that should periphery sovereign spreads suddenly blow out (i.e. begin to price in 2012-like redenomination premia due to a deterioration in Greece or a Podemos victory in Spain), balance sheets engorged with EGBs will incur massive losses plunging the ECB into a negative equity position.
Central banks will generally counter the accounting insolvency argument by claiming they plan to hold the bonds until maturity and thus will not actually realize any losses. However, if you drive yields so low that every issue you’re chasing sports a negative yield, you can no longer use that argument. That is, buying bonds with a negative yield and holding them to maturity guarantees a loss. It’s quite difficult to see how this ends well.
Bought a European bond with a money-losing yield? Don't worry, the ECB will buy it from you— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 5, 2015