U.S. stock investors are currently grappling with a series of challenges, as the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield is on the verge of surpassing 5% for the first time in 16 years.
Breaking Through 5%
On Thursday morning, the benchmark rate climbed as high as 4.98% and there is speculation that it could break through the 5% mark during Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's anticipated hawkish remarks, scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. Eastern time. It's worth noting that the last time the 10-year rate BX:TMUBMUSD10Y closed above 5% during a New York session was on July 19, 2007.
The Significance of 5%
The prospect of a 5% 10-year rate is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it tends to make government debt more attractive in comparison to stocks. This is because investors and traders consider the higher cost of doing business for companies and discount the value of their future earnings. Raffi Boyadjian, lead investment analyst for Cyprus-based multiasset brokerage XM, highlighted this point, explaining that stock market participants were concerned about the continuous rise in bond yields witnessed on Wednesday. The 2- BX:TMUBMUSD02Y, 10, and 30-year yields BX:TMUBMUSD30Y all reached their highest levels since 2006-2007. As a result, stocks now face "growing headwinds" as the reality of higher long-term interest rates sets in. All three major stock indexes DJIA SPX COMP were lower on Thursday morning as long-dated yields continued to climb.
Read: The 10-Year Treasury Yield Is About to Hit 5%. What That Means for Stocks, Gold, and More.
A Challenging Bond Market
This climb towards 5% is occurring during what Bank of America (BofA) describes as the worst bond bear market in nearly 250 years of U.S. history. Chris Low, chief economist of FHN Financial in New York, expressed concerns about the technical aspects of the market, suggesting that the rise in yields is becoming "almost self-perpetuating" and creating a doom loop scenario.
The Changing Landscape of Bond Buyers
In recent times, the landscape of bond buyers has undergone significant changes. Central banks, traditionally the largest purchasers of bonds, have scaled back their activities as they strive to minimize their balance sheets. Meanwhile, countries like China have been actively selling long-term Treasurys. As a result, the responsibility of buying bonds has shifted to other key players such as banks, pension funds, and insurance companies.
Challenging Choices for Institutional Investors
According to expert analysis from Low, a renowned economist, institutional investors find themselves facing a dilemma. While they possess funds that need to be invested, they are wary of the inherent risks associated with certain types of bonds. In particular, these investors have already incurred substantial unrealized losses by extending the duration of their holdings in government debt, agency debt, callable agency debt, and corporate debt.
The cautious nature of these institutional investors can be observed in their current approach. Many are reluctant to invest if they do not have readily available cash. Those who do choose to invest are extremely cautious and selective in their purchasing decisions. They prefer to avoid long-term bonds, opting for safer alternatives instead.
The Return to Historical Levels
In the past year, the 10-year yield has made a remarkable recovery. Initially, during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, it plummeted close to zero. However, it has since rebounded and is now approaching historical levels seen before the 2007-2009 financial crisis and subsequent recession.
Factors Driving Change
Several factors have contributed to the recent fluctuation in bond yields. Firstly, unexpected economic strength in the United States and persistent inflation have played a significant role. Alongside this, the Federal Reserve's insistence on maintaining higher interest rates for a more extended period has influenced market dynamics. Additionally, there are indeterminate factors called term premium that have impacted bond prices. These factors could be linked to the increasing supply of government debt and uncertainties surrounding inflation.
Term Premium's Influence
Rabobank, a multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in the Netherlands, attributes much of the recent fluctuations in the US and German government fixed-income markets to term premium. The uncertainty surrounding future economic outlooks has led investors to demand higher returns for holding core government debt.
In conclusion, the bond market is experiencing a shift in buyer dynamics. Central banks have stepped back, leaving other financial institutions to take on the responsibility. Institutional investors, cautious about potential losses, scrutinize their investment choices carefully. Additionally, factors such as economic strength, inflation, and term premium contribute to the complexities of the bond market.
The Appeal of a 5% Yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note
At FHN Financial in New York, there is a belief that a 5% yield on the 10-year Treasury note holds significant psychological significance. According to Low, a representative at FHN Financial, this level of yield presents itself as an attractive investmen, especially when compared to the 1% to 2% returns seen in recent years. The appeal of a 5% return is expected to draw in more investors, particularly retail investors who may not have considered Treasurys in a while. Additionally, this surge in interest will potentially provide stability to prices, even establishing a floor for the market.