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Bond investors disappointed by economic forecasts

Peter Gee  |  27 Jun 2018Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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Bond investors continue to be challenged by the prospect of rising inflation and tighter monetary policy. The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate index year to date is down 1.7 per cent in US dollars. Both investors in global government bonds and global corporate debt have lost ground as bond yields have risen and corporate credit spreads have widened.

As well as further tightening of monetary policy in the US, two other issues have contributed to the losses. Emerging market debt has been sold off as investors have become more aware of emerging market risk, sparked in particular by unpleasant surprises out of Argentina and Turkey, and the Bloomberg Barclays Emerging Markets Aggregate index is down 4 per cent in US dollars.

In the eurozone, investors were alarmed by the formation of an unlikely and economically radical coalition in Italy, which reawakened older fears of eurozone financial stress for holders of Italian government debt.

The 10-year Italian government bond yield, which had been around 1.75 per cent before the election result, spiked to 3.1 per cent on 8 June, and at its current 2.6 per cent, is still well up on its pre-election level.

International fixed interest outlook

The macroeconomic currents continue to run against bonds as an asset class. While it has taken a much longer time than expected, a sustained global economic expansion, helped by monetary policy left on multiyear ultra supportive settings, has finally got inflation moving back up to the levels that central banks would like to see.

In the US, for example, the latest reading on core inflation was 2.2 per cent, and in its latest forecasts, the Fed has said it expects core inflation to stay at 2.1 per cent in both 2019 and 2020. Progress towards more normal inflation rates has generally been slower outside the US but even in the formerly deflationary eurozone and Japan, prices are rising faster.

The latest Economist poll of international forecasters expects inflation to be 1.6 per cent this year in the eurozone, and 1.3 per cent in Japan. This has two consequences for bond yields. Inflation leads investors to demand higher yields to preserve their real, after inflation, return. Inflation back nearer the central banks' targets means they can remove the previous degree of monetary stimulus.

On 13 June, the Fed raised its target range for the federal-funds rate by another 0.25 per cent, to 1.75 to 2 per cent, and indicated there are likely to be two more 0.25 per cent increases this year, one more than markets had been braced for.

On 14 June, the European Central Bank said it would slow down its bond purchase programme, which had been keeping bond yields down, from September, and is aiming, provided there are no economic surprises, to wind it down completely by the end of this year. Interest rate increases, however, still look some distance away, for example, according to the ECB, late 2019. As these processes work through, bond prices will remain under pressure. It is unlikely to be a rout.

US forecasters in the latest poll run by the Wall Street Journal expect the 10-year US Treasury bond yield to peak at 3.6 per cent by the end of next year, and to stay around that level in 2020. That is also the level at which the fund managers surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, or BAML, would consider rotating back into bonds from equities. But until yields have plateaued, capital losses will be constraining returns from the asset class, and fund managers are unsurprisingly steering clear, with a 49 per cent underweight allocation in the BAML survey.

Major geopolitical or financial surprises might reignite safe haven demand for bonds, but absent shocks, the economics does not look like playing out well for the asset class.

 

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Peter Gee is a manager research analyst, Morningstar Australia.

© 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782 ("ASXO"). The article is current as at date of publication.

is a fund analyst for Morningstar Australia.

© 2020 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782. The article is current as at date of publication.

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