The core of the problem is that as inflation soared, bond yields fell, creating an instant contradiction: Inflation is poison to bond investors, so they would normally be expected to sell. I have an explanation, but it isn’t perfect.
My take: Investors came to the realization that the huge post-pandemic debt burden will keep rates lower than in the past, while they kept faith that inflation will be manageable. There is little to indicate investors fear a recession-inducing mistake by the Federal Reserve, and they aren’t expecting runaway inflation either.
The market response from March to the start of this month can be thought of as pricing in a repeat of the secular stagnation brought on by the 2008 financial crisis, with the twist of slightly higher inflation than in the past decade.
And there is one more oddity that is far harder to understand: By Aug. 3, yields on 10-year Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS, reached minus 1.2%, the lowest point for inflation-adjusted yields in history.
It could only make sense if investors were expecting stagflation, or weak economic growth combined with higher inflation. But if the risk of stagflation were rising, investors should be buying gold — which usually rises when TIPS yields fall — and dumping the junkiest corporate bonds, as defaults would be sure to rise. Instead, the relationship between gold and TIPS broke down, while junk bond yields rose only a little from what had been close to record low spreads over Treasurys.
Author(s): James Mackintosh
Publication Date: 15 August 2021
Publication Site: Wall Street Journal