Last month’s inversion in the 10-Yr./3-Mo. Treasury spread further tilts an already lopsided scale in favor of a U.S. recession in 2023. That spread has been considered the gold standard from an economic forecasting perspective, and is the basis for the New York Fed’s Recession Probability estimate (which, by the way, should break above its critical 35% threshold when it’s published later this month.)
In a simple test of 15 yield-curve variants, we found that the 2s10s spread ranks second to last, based on its correlation with one-year-forward real-GDP growth since 1978. The three best measures employed the 3-month bill as the “short” rate. The spread between the 5-year note and 3-month bill showed the strongest correlation with subsequent economic growth.
Well before the war drums in Eastern Europe began to beat, this stock market correction had already been marching to a different beat. The market’s confusion might be understandable, because—unlike during most of the post-GFC corrections—it has so far failed to “self-medicate!”
A persistent feature of stock market declines in the past 13 years has been that they have typically triggered a simultaneous falloff in bond yields.
It’s probably about high time that we check in with our past and present members of the esteemed 4% Club. For those of you not familiar with this vignette: back in the day, achieving a 4% weight in the S&P 500 had been a rare feat, occurring only during periods of extreme enthusiasm for technology, conglomerates or oil. The blessing of membership soon turned into a curse, with most taking just a cup of coffee behind the velvet ropes before being thrown to the curb because of dramatic underperformance to the rest of the Index. Our two most recent inductees seem to be following the proper established Club protocol for not lingering at the party too long. The two other members, however, have been receiving their mail at the Club for quite some time.
Compare the U.S. monetary response in early 2020 to China’s: The Fed quadrupled the M2 growth rate (from 6% to 24%) in three months, while China merely bumped M2 growth from 8% to 11%. This relative policy restraint leaves China in a better position to handle potential fallout than if it had gone “all in” like the U.S.
Fifty years ago this month, Richard Nixon formally suspended the convertibility of U.S. dollars into gold. Editorials commemorating this have tended to have a celebratory tone, and why not? Abandoning the gold standard greatly expanded the arsenals and imaginations of policymakers, both of which have been on historic display over the last 18 months.
In the May Green Book, and again in the May 21st issue of “Chart of the Week,” we discussed the trailing one-year correlation between weekly percentage changes in the S&P 500 and the 10-year Treasury bond yield. Rollovers from high levels in this correlation have signaled most of the important pullbacks in the bond market over the last 20 years.
After Consumer Price Inflation spiked to a 12 1/2-year high of 4.2% in April, there’s been a torrent of analysis decrying the collapse of “real yields”—including the real Treasury-bond yield, real S&P 500 dividend yield, and even the real S&P 500 earnings yield. Since all of these yields already traded at extremely low nominal levels, the inflation adjustment makes every one of them look even worse. For example, the real yield on 10-year Treasuries just sunk to -2.60%, the lowest reading since 1980 (Chart 1).
The 10-year Treasury yield has absorbed the past two months’ worsening inflation numbers by going exactly “nowhere.” Bond investors seem to be all-in on the Fed thesis that the inflation pickup is just transitory.
During the recent consolidation, however, the Treasury yield showed a subtle change in character—one that suggests there might be more inflation paranoia than meets the eye. The 10-year yield’s daily correlation with stock price movements flipped negative, and then plummeted toward a 21-year low.
The bull market took out another old record last month when the S&P 500 topped the cumulative total return of the 1949-56 upswing. The total return since March 9, 2009, is now 468%. Since the highs of March 2000, the S&P 500 cumulative total return is actually a few basis points behind U.S. 10-year Treasury bonds.
It’s been one of the worst years on record for diversification, with our hypothetical All Asset No Authority (AANA) portfolio down 7.2% YTD through yesterday. That’s the second-worst year for AANA since 1972, and there’s probably not enough time left for performance to undercut 2008 (-24.9%) for the bottom spot.
In recent commentaries, we’ve highlighted the surprising number of U.S. stocks making 52-week lows on both a daily and weekly basis, a sign that the market’s push higher has become more fractured. While pondering the significance of those lows, however, we missed a new 52-week high last Friday in a series we think will be especially critical to the stock market’s near-term fortunes: the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond yield. Specifically, the yield matched its weekly closing high of 3.07% posted on May 18th.
While a plunge into a recession could always result in a final “blow-off” phase to the 35-year secular bull market in bonds, any youthful, long-term buyer of 10-Year Treasurys should weigh that exciting possibility against the odds that bonds do no more than match the inflation rate over the next 30-50 years.