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.
We like to think our models and indicators help us preserve a high degree of market objectivity. But sometimes we wonder: the latest rally has progressed to the point where we see trouble afoot in both the strongest and weakest charts we can find.