HUNTING FOR YIELD: STOCKS, INTEREST RATES, COMMODITIES, AND BITCOIN © Leo Haviland November 7, 2021
“‘Because I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream.’” Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream”
In recent years, fervent yield repression (with resulting low United States Treasury yields relative to inflation) by the Federal Reserve and its central banking comrades, often assisted by money printing (quantitative easing), and accompanied by artful easy money rhetoric, often have encouraged epic quests for adequate “yield” (return) and bullish trends in stocks and assorted other (“related”) marketplace domains. Especially since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 and the related economic and worldwide stock marketplace crashes, the revered Fed and other central bank wizards, in addition to expanding magnificent money printing programs, have promoted and enforced a yield repression regime.
The heroic Fed earnestly and repeatedly declares its devoted allegiance to its legislatively mandated goals of “maximum employment” and “stable prices”. However, how often does the venerated Fed even mention the third aspect of its monetary policy objectives, “moderate long-term interest rates”? The Fed is eager to deflate (repress) UST yields, and seems happy (even ecstatic) to greatly inflate S+P 500 and home prices. Do the magnificent climbs in stocks and homes represent “stable prices”?
American inflation rates in March 2020 and many months thereafter obviously were lower than those of recent months. Yet even around March 2020 and the next several months, real returns from benchmark United States Treasury instruments across the yield curve were small or negative in comparison to the Consumer Price Index. What about more recent times? The UST 10 year yield is about 1.46 percent, but for the past several months, US CPI-U inflation has surpassed five percent. This negative return situation (which encourages borrowers and debtors but thereby cheats savers and creditors) of course (all else equal) tends to make UST ownership unattractive for many marketplace participants.
What has resulted from keeping yields low and often negative in real terms relative to the current Consumer Price Index and similar inflation gauges? Not only have central bankers assisted spenders (consumption) and helped debtors, but also they have encouraged avid searches for adequate (sufficient) “yield” (“return”) in the S+P 500 (and other international equity realms), emerging marketplace dollar-denominated sovereign debt, corporate debt, as well as in other “asset classes” such as homes, commodities “in general”, and many cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The enthusiastic buying by eager and sometimes frantic yield-hunters has generated meteoric price rallies in the S+P 500 and these other realms since their dismal March 2020 bottoms.
Investment rhetoric encourages price rallies in marketplaces, especially in stocks. Thus Wall Street leaders, supported by the loyal financial media, loudly applaud “investment”, “investors”, and bull moves. Assorted investment generals and their loyal troops perennially fight to identify stocks (especially American ones) as well as other praiseworthy asset classes to buy (or keep holding).
Widespread marketplace faith still exists in the power of the Fed and its trusty friends to engineer and appropriately manage interest rate yield outcomes, especially in the government securities marketplace. Fed epistles and hymns proclaim its praiseworthy pilgrimage of pursuing the goal of an inflation average of two percent over some misty version of the long run, as well as its noble intention to keep long term inflation expectations “well anchored” at two percent.
The Fed and other central banking magicians and evangelical finance ministers have repeatedly claimed (prayed) that recent inflationary signs in America and elsewhere in recent months are merely “transitory”, “temporary”, or the “result of special factors” (such as high prices for used cars; or, supply bottlenecks). However, this inflation viewpoint probably is wrong.
Convergence and divergence (lead/lag) patterns between marketplaces can change or transform, sometimes dramatically. Marketplace history does not necessarily repeat itself, either entirely or even partly. But marketplace history nevertheless provides guidance regarding the probabilities of future patterns.
Increases in benchmark high-grade government interest rates (such as US Treasuries) and higher yields for lower-quality debt securities (such as corporate bonds and emerging marketplace sovereign debt) probably will weaken the S+P 500 and related advanced nation stock marketplaces. Very elevated government debt levels in America and many other leading nations will help to undermine stocks. Price divergence between the S+P 500 and emerging marketplace stocks (which since February 2021 have not soared to new highs, but instead have declined) also warns of potential weakness in the S+P 500.
Price and time trends for commodities “in general” probably will intertwine with and track those of the S+P 500 and other stock marketplaces.
Cryptocurrencies in recent years have attracted widespread attention and increased “investor” and other trading (and regulatory) attention. Despite the great variety of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is a well-known and actively-traded representative of the crypto trading arena. The overall “search for yield” financial environment reflected in the bullish price trend in the S+P 500 and elsewhere has assisted Bitcoin’s price ascent. An important additional factor, but not the only one, supporting Bitcoin’s heavenly price leap has been growing inflation and fears that it may increase further. Of course the supply/demand/available inventory situation of Bitcoin is important, and an exciting new marketplace such as Bitcoin can attract additional buyers into its domain, especially when prices have tended to soar upward significantly. Also, Bitcoin offers people a means by which to hide their assets and money movements from government and other regulatory eyes. And fears about American and other government debt levels and trends probably also have been an important consideration fueling Bitcoin’s climb.
These inflation and debt concerns intertwine with wariness regarding the trustworthiness of political and economic leaders and institutions (including banks). Some cryptocurrency participants probably worry about the long run strength of the US dollar, and perhaps other leading currencies as well. Persistent cultural divisions in America and numerous other nations, helps to build and sustain distrust about institutions and leaders.
Bitcoin’s price rise since its creation about a dozen years ago (around the time of the global economic disaster of 2007-09) astonishes observers. However, underline also that since around first quarter 2020, Bitcoin’s price and time trends often have paralleled those in the S+P 500 and related stock marketplaces.
Bitcoin’s celestial advance to date probably constitutes a danger signal regarding the international financial system and thereby potential economic growth. Nevertheless, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not integral to the current or near-term functioning of the financial system and the global economy. Moreover, worldwide economic and political leaders have long demonstrated an ability to support traditional global economic (financial, commercial, business) and political arrangements. For example, note the interrelated responses around the globe in 2008-09 and thereafter to the worldwide economic crisis, as well as actions in late first quarter 2020 and thereafter to the fearsome economic downturn (and the 1Q20 stock marketplace crash). Consequently, for the near term horizon at least, if the S+P 500 and related stock marketplaces fall significantly in price, then the Bitcoin price probably will decline (whether at around the same time or eventually) as well.
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Hunting for Yield- Stocks, Interest Rates, Commodities, and Bitcoin (11-7-21)