Why Are Bond Yields Dropping?

It has been a wild couple of weeks for U.S. Treasury bonds.  Because of this situation, we would like to provide an update about what we believe is happening in the bond market.  We have been monitoring the cause of the drop in yields since rates started peaking in mid-March.  Since then, economic growth and inflation expectations have steadily declined.  Bond yields have also fallen.

Source: Bloomberg. As of 07/08/2021
Source: Bloomberg. As of 07/08/2021

This trend is not isolated to the United States alone.  Globally, yields have come down as the reality of temporary inflation, slower job growth, central bank intervention, and eventual slowing economic growth set in.  The decline in global yields has likely pushed international investors, looking for higher yields, back into domestic treasuries.

Source: Bloomberg. As of 07/08/2021

Real yields have dropped to near historical lows.  While inflation expectations have come down significantly, yields are dropping faster than inflation expectations. 

Source: Bloomberg. As of 07/08/2021

Even though economic growth is peaking, investors are starting to take a “risk-off” stance.  Jim Caron, a portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley, described the current environment as “a peak in growth, a peak in inflation, and a peak in policy stimulus”.  As investors digest this and start to accept peaking expectations, it seems they are adjusting their investment holdings accordingly.  Investors have started to take a more cautious approach to their equity and fixed income holdings.  The shift back into “safer” assets has contributed to the drop in yields.  Investors are more willing to accept negative real yields due to the expectation current yields will not seem so low once the economy starts to slow and a hawkish Federal Reserve slows growth even further. 

In our opinion, a “risk-off” rotation, global yields dropping, and continued Fed asset purchases are all contributing factors to the drop-in yields.  Another force pushing yields lower is a treasury short squeeze.  Over the past several months the market has seen net-short treasuries.  This trade made sense at the time.  It appeared investors believed significant economic growth, hotter than expected inflation, and a more hawkish Fed would push rates higher and bond prices lower.  However, inflation does not appear out of control, economic growth is likely peaking, and the Fed is in no rush to implement a policy change.  Once yields started dropping, short sellers needed to cover their losses by selling out of their positions, pushing yields even lower.  As yields continued to drop, more and more short sellers had to exit their positions continuing the cycle.

Source: Refinitiv Datastream. As of 07/08/2021

While this move in yields might be a surprise to some, we have anticipated this sort of reaction for some time now.  It is likely we see yields recover slightly once the short sellers settle and the risk-off rotation slows. 

Information and charts used in this commentary were obtained via Bloomberg L.P. as of July 8, 2021.

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