Historically low bond yields across both the private and government sectors are reducing the margin for error when it comes to the ability of financial markets to withstand a bond market shock.
Global quantitative easing (QE) has seen bond yields driven to low and often sub-zero levels in many economies. The European Central Bank is currently undertaking a EUR60 billion a month eurozone bond buying programme, this is expected to last at least until September 2016. In the past Japan, U.K . and the U.S. have been very active when it comes to QE to stimulate their economies and create inflation with the bond market being a key asset.
Why would investors essentially pay good money to lend out their own money? Well, one reason an investor would do this is if they expect to see a decline in prices such, as in a deflationary environment when negative yields can in fact be higher than other variable yields offered. Another reason is an investor wants to store their wealth in what they believe to be a safe asset. Investors often like to park their money in German and U.S. government bonds in times of uncertainty, both are considered by many to be safe-have assets.
It is however risky for any investors to invest in long term fixed income with low or sub-zero returns. It certainly is not the safe bet that many investors think, nor should these low rates of returns be considered the new normal. At the other end of the scale and what is even more risky are junk bonds and bonds such as those offered by troubled governments such as Venezuela and Greece. In the current low yield environment too many investors are chasing higher yields without considering the significant consequences, the attraction of double digit yields blinds them to the risk. This is a similar thought process, or lack of thought process that in hindsight we saw before the GFC when the price of risk was often undersold or not properly priced in. It will only take one or two high profile defaults from these high yielding investments and we can expect to see investor expectations shift and potentially cause a run on bonds as investors head for the door.
While banks and financial firms in the U.S. have reduced their exposure to the more questionable grade bonds due to new regulations, what we have seen in the past 6 years is that insurance firms, mutual funds and other institutions are taking up the slack. This would see the reach of any crisis spread beyond ‘Wall Street’ and into other sectors of the economy. Restricting financial firms also has the unintended consequence of reducing liquidity, should we see investors move quickly out of bonds in search of higher returns (something entirely possible with the Fed set to lift rates soon), or we see general bond market jitters then do not be surprised to see investors scramble to be first to get to the exit door, no one wants to be last out. This scenario could see prices dive in a short period, not helped by the lack of support and buying from financial firms as they are restricted on what and how much they can purchase. A number of financial market experts such as JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and billionaire investor Jeffrey Gundlach have expressed concerns around the lack of liquidity in the bond market.
The big losers from a bond market crisis will be governments, corporations, pension holders and funds, money managers and other institutions. This would be significant as most, if not all investors would be touched in some way by a bond market crisis, just as all investors were when the GFC hit.
The big winners from a bond market crisis are those investors holding gold and other precious metals, just as we saw following the GFC.
Adding to the concerns around financial markets is the fact that equity markets in key markets such as the U.S. and Germany have reached fresh new highs, highs not even seen before the GFC. Investors need to be wary about investing in the bonds or equities as we are moving closer to a crisis, it is not going to take much for financial markets to tip over with bonds often of questionable grades potentially being the match that starts the fire. It was the subprime crisis that sparked the GFC and it could be a bond crisis that sparks the next global financial crisis.
The closer we move to a new financial crisis, the more funds investors should be allocating to precious metals. Investors should currently be looking to position their portfolios to withstand a crisis by re-weighting their portfolios to include approximately 20-25% of their funds in gold.
Courtesy of Bullion Index .