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.
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.
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.
The refusal of the bond market to acknowledge the worsening inflation readings seems to have strengthened the consensus view that any inflation trouble will be “transitory.” Do bonds still know best when there’s a systematic, price-insensitive buyer hoovering up $120 billion of them per month?
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.
Bond yields have paused in the last several weeks, but we think it’s likely to be a pause that “refreshes.” Many bond indicators, including the Copper/Gold ratio popularized by Jeffrey Gundlach, suggest yields should be moving dramatically higher in the months ahead.
The “lower for longer” interest-rate thesis propped up the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index for more than a decade. Rising bond yields have since helped drive this former darling to an 18-year relative-strength low. Yet, assets in the S&P Low Volatility ETF are still five-times larger than its High-Beta counterpart.
Even after watershed events COVID-19 and MMT, some things never change.
Next year will begin like almost every one of the past dozen years, with economists and strategists expecting bond yields to rise.
Unlike most of those years, though, there are several measures of “cyclical pressures” that would seem to give them a good chance of being right. The best-known among these might be the “Copper/Gold Ratio,” popularized by DoubleLine’s Jeffrey Gundlach, which suggests 10-Yr. Treasury yields should be around double their current level (Chart 1).
For almost nine months, an historic Fed liquidity flood has washed away any economic, valuation, technical, or “sentimental” stock market challenges. Nonetheless, each economic disappointment brings hope this flood will intensify. Those hopes aren’t irrational, because when it comes to any measure of liquidity, rate of change is more important than level.
Turn on financial television at any random time, and you’re likely to soon hear the argument that still-high U.S. stock market valuations are “justified” by extremely-low interest rates. We’ve countered that these low U.S. rates are simply a reflection of the secular slowdown in economic and earnings growth.
March’s mad dash for cash didn’t stop with rates/credit/FX markets. Among equities, there was also a strong preference for cash liquidity. The market rewarded companies that had strong cash positions and punished those without—which explains why traditionally defensive styles actually underperformed.
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.