Category Archives: Around the Investment World

Negative Interest Rates – Searching for Meaning

We have mentioned negative interest rates in the past.  Let’s take a look at what it means to you.

Central banks lower interest rates to encourage economic activity.  The theory is that low interest rates allow companies to borrow money at lower costs, encouraging them to expand, invest in and grow their business.  It also encourages consumers to borrow money for things like new homes, cars, furniture and all the other things for which people borrow money.

It’s the reason the Federal Reserve has lowered rates to practically zero and kept them there for years.  It’s also why the Fed has not raised rates; they’re afraid that doing so will reduce the current slow rate of growth even more.

But if low rates are good for the economy, would negative interest rates be even better?  Some governments seem to think so.

Negative interest rates in Japan mean that if you buy a Japanese government bond due in 10 years you will lose 0.275% per year.  If you buy a 10 year German government bond today  your interest rate is negative 0.16%.   Why would you lend your money to someone if they guaranteed you that you would get less than the full amount back?  Good question.  Perhaps the answer is that you have little choice or are even more afraid of the alternative.

Per the Wall Street Journal:

There is now $13 trillion of global negative-yielding debt, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That compares with $11 trillion before the
Brexit vote, and barely none with a negative yield in mid-2014.

In Switzerland, government bonds through the longest maturity, a bond due in nearly half a century, are now yielding below zero. Nearly 80% of Japanese and German government bonds have negative yields, according to Citigroup.

This leaves investors are searching the world for securities that have a positive yield.  That includes stocks that pay dividends and bonds like U.S. Treasuries that still have a positive yield: currently 1.4% for ten years.  However, the search for yield also leads investors to more risky investments like emerging market debt and junk bonds.  The effect is that all of these alternatives are being bid up in price, which has the effect of reducing their yield.

The yield on Lithuania’s 10-year government debt has more than halved this year to around 0.5%, according to Tradeweb. The yield on Taiwan’s 10-year bonds has fallen to about 0.7% from about 1% this year, according to Thomson Reuters.

Elsewhere in the developed world, New Zealand’s 10-year-bond yields have fallen to about 2.3% from 3.6% as investors cast their nets across the globe.

Rashique Rahman, head of emerging markets at Invesco, said his firm has been getting consistent inflows from institutional clients in Western Europe and Asia interested in buying investment-grade emerging-market debt to “mimic the yield they used to get” from their home markets.

Clients don’t care if it is Mexico or Poland or South Korea, he said, “they just want a higher yield.” ….

Ricky Liu, a high-yield-bond portfolio manager at HSBC Global Asset Management, said his firm has clients from Asia who are willing for the first time to invest in portfolios that include the highest-rated junk bonds.

How and where this will end is anybody’s guess.  In our view, negative interest rates are an indication that central bankers are wandering into uncharted territory.  We’re not convinced that they really know how things will turn out.  We remain cautiously optimistic about the U.S. economy and are staying the course, but we are not chasing yield.

Tagged , , , ,

BREXIT is a political crisis, not a financial crisis

We have a tendency to take a dispassionate view of world affairs.  It helps us avoid getting caught up in the hype that the media sells when things happen.  When the unexpected happens, as it so often does, the initial reports and the initial reactions are often the opposite of the truth and have little relationship to reality.

We have some insight into European affairs for personal reasons and have always felt that the EU was an artificial construct in a continent that is home to so many disparate cultures.  So we are not surprised that the whole rickety structure is showing signs of coming apart.  But Europe has been the home of little countries and big countries for millennia and has thrived over that time.  There’s no reason to think that the EU is either critical or even necessary.  It has its uses but it also has its failures and it’s the failures that have grown larger over time.  So finally, when put to a vote, the people on an island off the coast of Europe has decided it was time to declare its independence from the EU and reclaim their heritage.

We also found the commentary from  Jenna Barnard of Henderson Global Investors compelling and wanted to share it.

While the result of the referendum “Brexit” last week may be the biggest political crisis in the United Kingdom since the Second World War, this is not a financial crisis in our view.  Credit markets are not suggesting systemic risk at present as the banks are in a relatively healthy place due to rigorous regulation and stress testing over the last few years.

Clearly the result is a significant blow to confidence / “animal spirits” in the short term and will put a least a temporary break on growth in the UK and perhaps Europe. Bank share prices have also been hammered and their willingness to lend remains muted. European companies are therefore likely to remain relatively conservative – more about dividends and conservative balance sheets than share buybacks /M&A.

The Bank of England is planning to cut rates to 0% from 0.5% but the central bank doesn’t want to take them negative.  We expect further credit easing – free money to the banks for mortgage lending (“funding for lending”), more QE possibly.  We believe another central bank heading to the zero lower band fuels the global grab for yield.

The issue at stake as of today is HOW the UK exits. There are soft and hard version of exit with soft (maintaining access to the free trade area) being the preferable version for the economy. Today the leading “leave” politician in the UK (and likely the next Prime Minister), former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, has written his weekly column for a national newspaper that suggests a very soft form of exit; along the lines of Norway and Switzerland i.e. retain access to the free trade area. To do this the UK would have to agree to free movement of labor (to be clear, not people, but the labor market; new migrants would need a job to come to the UK).

We will continue to watch and advise you to events as they unfold.  As we write these comments on Tuesday morning the US stock markets are up over 1% and the European markets are up over 3%.  Reality is overtaking panic.  If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Tagged , , , , , ,

BREXIT! A Rational View

Today’s markets are roiled by the decision of voters in Great Britain to exit the European Union (EU), which has been dubbed “BREXIT.”  As with most events in the investment world, there are people out there who make a living scaring you.  Rather than panic, we recommend you step back and think rationally what this means.

KEEP CALM

First, why did the British people vote to leave the EU despite the unified opposition of both of Great Britain’s major political parties?  The answer is that more than half of their voting public was tired of being told what to do by un-elected bureaucrats in Brussels (the capitol of the EU).  The people wanted to have a say in how they were going to be governed.  In effect, BREXIT was a revolt of the masses against the classes.

Polls prior to the election indicated that the vote would be against BREXIT, opting to stay in the EU.  The result surprised much of the big money which led to today’s panicked selling at the open.

As we prepare these comments we see a small rebound from the opening bell but the day is young and we don’t know where we’ll be at the end.  But if we step back, we think that Brian Wesbury of First Trust has some worthwhile thoughts:

The bottom line is that investors should ignore scare stories about what would happen if BREXIT wins.  Great Britain runs consistent trade deficits with the rest of Europe. Regardless of what foreign leaders say before the vote, if the British vote to leave, the rest of the EU is going to chase them to the ends of the earth.  No way will they allow one of their biggest export markets to become more distant.  They will beg the UK to sign a free trade deal.  In addition, and this is actually great economic news, it would free the US and UK to sign a free trade deal that the EU is now holding up.

Any market volatility would be short-lived and any swing to the downside would be a buying opportunity.  BREXIT is not a reason to sell.  In fact, freedom is a good thing

Have questions?  Ask us.

Tagged , , ,

Interest rates around the world.

And you think that interest rates are low here?  You should be Japanese.

The Japanese people are paying the Japanese government to buy government bonds.  The rate on 10 year bonds is minus 0.159%.  Lenders are willing to pay the Japanese government for the privilege of getting back their principal, ten years from now.

Things are just slightly better in Germany.  The German government bond is yielding 0.025%.  That means if you lend the German government $1000 today they will give you back $1002.50 in ten years.

UPDATE:  June 14th, the morning the rate on the German bond has dropped to zero.

Tagged ,

The View on Brexit

Britains will soon be voting on whether to stay in the EU (the European Union) or leave.   Polls are divided on exiting the EU, or “Brexit” for short.  The British establishment is all for remaining in the EU but a lot of people are for getting out.  Voters are being deluged by scare stories about what will happen if they exit the EU, everything from loss of jobs to depression.  There has even been a claim that Britain leaving the EU will cause the climate to change even faster.  Some have labeled the tactics “Project Fear.”

The issue driving Brexit is that people are fed up with an unelected European bureaucracy making important political decisions for them.  People are seeing many of the decisions that were once made through Parliamentary democracy delegated to strangers in foreign capitals.

People are also becoming wary about a massive influx of refugees what under EU rules can move freely throughout Europe.  People who do not share the cultural or political beliefs of the British and who have no wish to assimilate.  We will undoubtedly be hearing more about this as the vote nears.

Brian Wesbury of First Trust has this take:

The bottom line is that investors should ignore scare stories about what would happen if Brexit wins. Great Britain runs consistent trade deficits with the rest of Europe. Regardless of what foreign leaders say before the vote, if the British vote to leave, the rest of the EU is going to chase them to the ends of the earth. No way will they allow one of their biggest export markets to become more distant. They will beg the UK to sign a free trade deal. In addition, and this is actually great economic news, it would free the US and UK to sign a free trade deal that the EU is now holding up.

Any market volatility would be short-lived and any swing to the downside would be a buying opportunity. Brexit is not a reason to sell. In fact, freedom is a good thing.

Tagged , , ,

Is OPEC Headed for the Ash Heap of History?

We read an intriguing essay by Brian Wesbury of First Trust today.  Using the phrase that Ronald Reagan used nearly 25 years ago about the Soviet Union about Marxism and Leninism being left on the “ash-heap of history,” Wesbury thinks that OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) may be headed the same way.

Now it appears OPEC, another nemesis of the US from the prior century is heading for the ash heap of history as well, not because of geopolitics, but because of the hard work of engineers.

A combination of fracking, seismic imaging, and horizontal drilling has led to a huge reduction in the cost of drilling and an increase in the supply of oil and natural gas, not just in the US but around the world.

Case in point: in the past twelve months the US has run an $8.4 billion goods trade surplus with OPEC, including Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. What a difference from less than a decade ago. Back in 2007-08, the US ran a $190 billion goods trade deficit with OPEC. The reason for the change in the trade balance is that the US is importing much less from OPEC, $64.8 billion in the past twelve months versus $253.4 billion at the peak in 2007-08.

Those are amazing statistics.  A $200 billion dollar change in the balance of trade in just under a decade, all due to a technological revolution in the production of oil and gas.  We are accustomed to thinking about technology in terms of silicon chips, iPads and cell phones.  But the bigger sociopolitical change may have been in the dirty, greasy, un-glamorous field of petroleum engineering.

Who would have guessed?

Tagged , ,

Before the Bell 4/8/2016

Markets at a Glance

Major Stock Indexes

(Yesterday’s Close)

8:56 AM EDT 4/8/2016

Last Change % CHG
DJIA 17541.96 -174.09 -0.98%
Nasdaq 4848.37 -72.35 -1.47%
S&P 500 2041.91 -24.75 -1.20%
Russell 2000 1092.79 -16.03 -1.45%
Global Dow 2278.87 11.68 0.52%
Japan: Nikkei 225 15821.52 71.68 0.46%
Stoxx Europe 600 332.18 4.08 1.24%
UK: FTSE 100 6193.97 57.08 0.93%

Currencies

8:56 AM EDT 4/8/2016

last(mid) change
Euro (EUR/USD) 1.1360 -0.0019
Yen (USD/JPY) 108.70 0.49
Pound (GBP/USD) 1.4084 0.0028
Australia $ (AUD/USD) 0.7548 0.0042
Swiss Franc (USD/CHF) 0.9569 0.0011
WSJ Dollar Index 86.44 -0.09

Futures

8:46 AM EDT 4/8/2016

last change % chg
Crude Oil 39.12 1.86 4.99%
Brent Crude 41.24 1.81 4.59%
Gold 1234.5 -3.0 -0.24%
Silver 15.190 0.032 0.21%
E-mini DJIA 17573 115 0.66%
E-mini S&P 500 2050.50 15.50 0.76%
Tagged , ,

Stocks, Bonds, Currencies and Commodities at the End of the First Quarter

Markets at a Glance

Major Stock Indexes

9:22 AM EDT 4/1/2016

Last Change % CHG
DJIA 17685.09 -31.57 -0.18%
Nasdaq 4869.85 0.55 0.01%
S&P 500 2059.74 -4.21 -0.20%
Russell 2000 1114.03 3.59 0.32%
Global Dow 2285.09 -29.76 -1.29%
Japan: Nikkei 225 16164.16 -594.51 -3.55%
Stoxx Europe 600 329.64 -7.90 -2.34%
UK: FTSE 100 6086.65 -88.25 -1.43%

Currencies

9:22 AM EDT 4/1/2016

last(mid) change
Euro (EUR/USD) 1.1379 -0.0002
Yen (USD/JPY) 112.04 -0.54
Pound (GBP/USD) 1.4210 -0.0150
Australia $ (AUD/USD) 0.7621 -0.0036
Swiss Franc (USD/CHF) 0.9607 -0.0010
WSJ Dollar Index 86.79 0.21

Futures

9:12 AM EDT 4/1/2016

last change % chg
Crude Oil 36.99 -1.35 -3.52%
Brent Crude 38.81 -1.52 -3.77%
Gold 1219.9 -15.7 -1.27%
Silver 14.980 -0.484 -3.13%
E-mini DJIA 17486 -109 -0.62%
E-mini S&P 500 2038.25 -13.25 -0.65%
Tagged , , , , ,

Global Stocks Lower After Brussels Explosions

Major Stock Indexes

4:09 PM EDT 3/22/2016

Last Change % CHG
DJIA 17582.57 -41.30 -0.23%
Nasdaq 4821.66 12.79 0.27%
S&P 500 2049.80 -1.80 -0.09%
Russell 2000 1096.95 -1.63 -0.15%
Global Dow 2315.94 -7.42 -0.32%
Japan: Nikkei 225 17048.55 323.74 1.94%
Stoxx Europe 600 340.30 -0.52 -0.15%
UK: FTSE 100 6192.74 8.16 0.13%

 

Currencies

4:09 PM EDT 3/22/2016

last(mid) change
Euro (EUR/USD) 1.1224 -0.0018
Yen (USD/JPY) 112.28 0.33
Pound (GBP/USD) 1.4214 -0.0154
Australia $ (AUD/USD) 0.7623 0.0045
Swiss Franc (USD/CHF) 0.9724 0.0025
WSJ Dollar Index 87.26 0.10

Futures

3:59 PM EDT 3/22/2016

last change % chg
Crude Oil 41.48 -0.04 -0.10%
Brent Crude 42.54 0.31 0.73%
Gold 1248.5 4.3 0.35%
Silver 15.895 0.048 0.30%
E-mini DJIA 17497 -31 -0.18%
E-mini S&P 500 2041.75 -1.00 -0.05%

Government Bonds

4:08 PM EDT 3/22/2016

price chg yield
U.S. 10 Year -6/32 1.939
German 10 Year 7/32 0.215
Japan 10 Year 3/32 -0.101
 
Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: