After the recent prolonged rally in U.S. fixed income and equities, we are now in the late stages of a bull market cycle. While such markets are difficult to navigate, they can still be profitable. In my new Market Perspectives piece, I write about how Guggenheim sees gradations in the theme of overvaluation across the spectrum of fixed income (as seen in the chart below), and about how we are approaching this late stage of the bull market in credit.
Despite tight spreads, history tells us that credit spreads can tighten further. However, it is worth remembering that bull markets do not die of old age. Instead, they typically die of a policy mistake when central banks raise interest rates too quickly and snuff out an expansion or raise them too late and fail to slow economic overheating, often after certain asset prices have reached unsustainable levels. There is little reason now to expect the former from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is unlikely to raise rates until late 2015 and possibly into 2016.
With no pending crisis expected, thanks to central bank liquidity and a bias among Fed policymakers to keep interest rates low, the recent bull market for credit spreads is alive and well, supported by surging capital inflows, which have also helped U.S. stocks hit fresh highs. Bull markets have three phases. The first is the recovery, when prices are very depressed, the second is built on strong fundamentals, and the third is the speculative phase. Clearly, the Fed is increasingly risking the possibility of allowing the U.S. economy to overheat. Given its preoccupation with reducing unemployment while tolerating an increase in inflation, the central bank is setting the stage to potentially drive markets to unsustainable valuations. Most likely over the course of the next 12 to 24 months we will enter the speculative phase of this market. But, the best profits of a bull market often come in the speculative phase, so investors should stay the course for now.
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Measuring how far current spreads to U.S. Treasuries have moved past ex-recession average spreads, we can place credit assets in quartiles of overvaluation. By this measure, Build America Bonds and AAA-rated municipal bonds are in the fourth, or highest, quartile of overvaluation while CCC-rated corporate bonds are in the third quartile of overvaluation. There are still pockets of value — Collateralized Loan Obligations, preferred stock and some investment-grade debt — but across the spectrum of fixed income, the level of overvaluation has increased dramatically over the last six to eight weeks.
Source: Credit Suisse, Barclays, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Gugggenheim Investments. Data as of May 30, 2014.
This article is distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investing advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. This article contains opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners or its subsidiaries. The author’s opinions are subject to change without notice. Forward looking statements, estimates, and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary and non-proprietary research and other sources. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but are not assured as to accuracy. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of Guggenheim Partners, LLC. ©2014, Guggenheim Partners. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is neither representation nor warranty as to the current accuracy of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information.
While the market will remain volatile and likely lead to a period of outright panic, that is when having a “cool head” will pay off.
The next challenge for central bankers is changing monetary policy when the economy has come to depend on it.
While spreads have since narrowed, we are still finding bargains in high-yield bonds and bank loans.
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