Reduced liquidity for bonds is getting to be a problem, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
At a speech before the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association annual meeting Tuesday, she reiterated an earlier observation that diminished ability to sell bonds is worrisome. Still, at SIFMA, she sought to temper her concern by adding that traders aren’t facing snags executing orders, with the biggest negative impact of lessened liquidity confined to higher transaction costs.
The gauge for bond volatility, the Merrill Lynch Option Volatility Estimate, aka MOVE index, has jumped some 40% since mid-August. Other than a spike in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, the index (it launched in 2019) has been fairly placid—until 2022 and the beginning of big rate hikes. This all is reminiscent of the stock market’s fast-paced volatility lately.
Another related difficulty for bonds: the imbroglio resulting from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases and the resulting strong dollar risk worldwide. That has promoted a rush by other central banks to match the Fed and jack up rates. To Richard Farr, chief market strategist at Merion Capital, one risk of this trend is that Treasury bonds will end up hurt.
One criticism of ESG investing is that, when it shows good returns, this might be because of temporary factors that have an outsize impact. Such superior returns are often driven by climate-news “shocks,” declared Robert Stambaugh, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and two other academics, in a recent paper. The reference is apparently to a spell of severe drought or destructive hurricanes. The professors expressed uncertainty as to whether any future ESG outperformance can be assumed.
Of course, with climate-oriented investing now a partisan issue, a welter of claims and counter-claims has appeared. To pro-ESG folks, science is on their side, hence the opposition is just blowing smoke to confuse people.
Anti-ESG politicians appear to be convincing the public that a “false equivalence” exists between their stance and the sustainability advocates, contended Witold Henisz, director of Wharton’s ESG Initiative, in a recent article in the Knowledge Wharton periodical. He wrote that “ideological opposition [is] cynically seeking a wedge issue for upcoming political campaigns — and, so far, it appears to be working.”
Whatever the outcome of the current debate over ESG-related bans and the like, the climate change question is not going away. Says CalSTRS’s Ailman, “It will be with us for the next 50 years.”
One calming thought amid today’s economic turmoil has been that any recession would be softened by the large trove of savings that the U.S. public has accrued since the pandemic began. But that cushion may be a lot less protective than many believe, according to a study by Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Pandemic savings have “been run down further than previously thought,” Shepherdson noted. “Consumers’ financial cushion against tighter financial conditions is smaller” than before, he wrote.
Thanks to Washington stimulus and curbed spending in the early days of COVID-19, savings had run up to $2.6 trillion. New government data, however, show that this ready cash has shrunk, no doubt due to high consumer outlays that kicked in since. Almost a third of the trove has been spent.
Indeed, consumers have gone back to their previous ways of preferring spending to saving, and then some. This past decade, before the pandemic, the personal savings rate was around 6% of their disposable income. That shot up to almost 25% in early 2020 and stayed high until the middle of 2021. Lately, it is a mere 3.5%.
The latest anti-ESG onslaught from Republican state officials is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign to forbid the Florida State Board of Administration from adopting environmental, social and governance investing tenets. At the moment, SBA doesn’t appear to be a devotee of ESG.
The governor, an outspoken conservative, plans to propose at an SBA meeting on August 15 that the body’s fiduciary duties must exclude ESG. “From Wall Street banks to massive asset managers and big tech companies, we have seen the corporate elite use their economic power to impose policies on the country that they could not achieve at the ballot box,” DeSantis said in a statement.
DeSantis, a possible GOP presidential contender in 2024, declared that “we are protecting Floridians from woke capital and asserting the authority of our constitutional system over ideological corporate power.” He also plans to push through legislation banning the SBA from making ESG-themed investments and requiring them to focus on maximizing returns.
The decision to boot Russian lenders from the global bank messaging system as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine is a very bad idea that could boomerang and hurt the West, Credit Suisse admonishes.
“Exclusions from SWIFT will lead to missed payments and giant overdrafts similar to the missed payments and giant overdrafts that we saw in March 2020,” wrote Credit Suisse strategist Zoltan Pozsar, in a research note.
“Exclusions from SWIFT will lead to missed payments everywhere,” Pozsar wrote. Two years ago, “the virus froze the flow of goods and services that led to missed payments.” Aside from the financial panic at the outset of the pandemic, the world ran into a similar problem in 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed, he said.
Pozsar wrote: “Banks’ inability to make payments due to their exclusion from SWIFT is the same as Lehman’s inability to make payments due to its clearing bank’s unwillingness to send payments on its behalf. History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Sticking around and backing dissident board candidates worked. Instead of divesting from Exxon Mobil, the US’s biggest oil company, the nation’s three largest public pension funds pursued a successful strategy of advocating for change, and they just helped elect a pair of outside directors. Expect more of this tack against fossil fuel outfits.
Running counter to the trend of pension programs dumping fossil fuel stocks, these giant retirement systems—the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), and the New York State Common Retirement Fund—believe that, in most cases, working from within is the better way to promote change.
They were key players in electing the two outside directors (a third is still up in the air as proxy ballots are counted), along with huge asset managers BlackRock and Vanguard, plus other pension entities such as the Church of England’s program.
The head the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) has stepped down in the wake of his journey to the Middle East to receive a vaccination for COVID-19.
CEO Mark Machin, 54, traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to get the shot earlier this month, as Canada’s rollout of its vaccination program has lagged. Canada’s largest pension fund (US$379 billion) named John Graham, the fund’s head of credit investments, as Machin’s successor.
“After discussions last evening with the board, Mr. Machin tendered his resignation and it has been accepted,” the fund said in a statement. The statement said he had traveled personally to get the vaccine.
Bitcoin has been on a roll lately, rising in price five-fold over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, the US dollar, the world’s reserve currency, has lost 9% of its value.
All this has buoyed talk that someday Bitcoin in particular, or cryptocurrency in general, will replace the buck. Well, forget about that, argues St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, invoking the lessons of pre-Civil War days to warn about the chaos brought by a world of nonuniform currencies—that would be one where the buck isn’t king.
Appearing on CNBC Wednesday, he predicted that “it’s going to be a dollar economy as far as the eye can see—a dollar global economy really as far as the eye can see—and whether the gold price goes up or down, or the Bitcoin price goes up or down, doesn’t really affect that.”
Collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), which are collections of home-loan bonds, have long been a stalwart of insurers. But for other institutional investors, ownership is scant. DoubleLine Capital, the rising fixed-income power, would like to change that.
And it has some interesting research showing that CMOs dedicated to agency-guaranteed bonds, known as mortgage-backed securities (MBS), can book superior performance over time. MBS, of course, are pools of individual mortgages. Those that agencies support—Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae, chiefly—carry the pledge that Uncle Sam will cover any defaults.
Once-popular non-government-backed mortgage securities, which took a hit in the 2008 financial crisis, have diminished in volume. These so-called “private label” home-loan bonds dropped by half from then to now, to $1 trillion.
Absent that nightmare scenario—and most prognosticators believe science can vanquish any of COVID-19’s shape-shifting—the conventional Wall Street wisdom is for better days ahead on both the health and the economics fronts. And since escalating rates are co-dependent on an improving economy, a sunny thesis appears pretty solid.
Historically speaking, low rates like today’s are an aberration. Thus, at some point, it’s reasonable to assume they will return to normal. Or at least to higher than now, to a degree. A new normal that’s hardly towering.
Investors who sold GameStop short have lost $23.6 billion so far in 2021 through Wednesday, by the count of financial analytics firm S3 Partners. That includes $14.3 billion yesterday, as the retailer’s stock price shot up 135%.
In response to the controversy, Robinhood and Interactive Brokers Group curbed trading on GameStop, AMC, and several others Thursday morning. GameStop shares began to reverse direction. How long the restrictions would last was unclear. Frustrated amateur traders, of course, might just take their business to platforms that don’t limit them.
The pain is intense for these hedge funds. Citron Capital’s Andrew Left, often disparaged on Reddit, just said his firm folded a GameStop short bet, after losing 100% of its money spent on the transaction. Melvin Capital Management has slumped about 30% as the result of GameStop short sales, according to published reports. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen’s Point72 fund and Ken Griffin’s Citadel have stakes in Melvin.