Category Archives: US Rates

14/6/17: Unwinding the Mess: Fed’s Road Map to QunE


As promised in the previous post, a quick update on Fed’s latest guidance regarding its plans to unwind the $4.5 trillion sized balance sheet, to the Quantitative un-Easing...

First, the size and the composition of the problem:



So, as noted in the post here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/06/13617-unwinding-mess-ecb-vs-fed.html, the Fed is aiming to gradually unwind the size of its assets exposures on both, the U.S. Treasuries and MBS (mortgage-backed securities). This is a tricky task, because simply dumping both asset classes into the markets (aka, selling them to investors) risks pushing yields on Government debt up and value of Government bonds down, as well as the value of MBS assets down. The problem with this is that all of these assets are systemically important to… err… systemically important financial institutions (banks, pension funds, investment funds and insurance companies).

Should yields on Government debt explode due to the Fed selling, the U.S. Government will simultaneously: 1) pay more on its debt; and 2) get less of rebates from the Fed (the returned payments on debt held by the Fed). This would be ugly. Uglier yet, the value of these bonds will fall, creating pressure on the assets valuations for assets held by banks, investment funds, insurance companies and pensions funds. In other words, these institutions will have to accumulate more assets to cover their capital cushions and/or sustain their funds valuations. Or they will have to reduce lending and provision of payouts.

Should MBS assets decline in value, there will be an assets write down for private sector financial institutions holding them. The result will be the same as above: less lending, more expensive credit and lower profit margins.

With this in mind, today’s Fed announcement is an interesting one. The FOMC “currently expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated,” according to today’s statement. And the FOMC provides some guidance to this normalization program:

Instead of dumping assets into the market, the Fed will try to gradually shrink the balance sheet by ‘rolling off’ a fixed amount of assets every month. At the start, the Fed will ‘roll off’ $10 billion a month, split between $6 billion from Treasuries and $4 billion from MBS. Three months later, the numbers will rise to $20 billion per month: $12 billion for Treasuries and $8 billion for MBS. Subsequently, ‘roll-offs’ will rise $10 billion per month ever three months ($6 billion for Treasuries and $4 billion for MBS). The ‘roll-off’ will be capped once it reaches $30 billion for Treasuries and $20 billion for MBS.

This modestly-paced plan suggests that the ‘roll off’ will concentrate on non-replacement of maturing instruments, rather than on direct sales of existent instruments.

What we do not know: 1) when the ‘roll off’ process will begin, and 2) when will it stop (in other words, what is the target level of both assets on Fed’s balance sheet in the long run. But the rest is pretty much consistent with my view presented here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/06/13617-unwinding-mess-ecb-vs-fed.html.




PS: A neat summary of Fed decisions and votes here: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/USA-FED/010030ZL253/

14/6/17: The Fed: Bravely Going Somewhere Amidst Rising Uncertainty


Predictably (in line with the median investors’ outlook) the Fed raised its base rate and provided more guidance on their plans to deleverage the Fed’s balance sheet (more on the latter in a subsequent post). The moves came against a revision of short term forecast for inflation (inflationary expectations moved down) and medium turn sustainable (or neutral) rate of unemployment (unemployment target moved down); both targets suggesting the Fed could have paused rate increase.

Rate hike was modest: the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) increased its benchmark target by a quarter point, so the new rate range will be 1 percent to 1.25 percent, against the previous 0.91 percent. This marks the third rate hike in 6 months and the Fed signalled that it is on track to hike rates again before the end of the year (with likely date for the next hike in September). The forecast for 2018 is for another 75 basis points rise in rates, unchanged on March forecast.

Interestingly, the Fed statement highlights that inflation (short term expectations) remains subdued. “Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to remain somewhat below 2 percent in the near term but to stabilize around the committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term,” the FOMC statement said. This changes the tack on previous months’ statements when the Fed described inflationary outlook as “broadly close” to target. Data released earlier today showed core consumer price inflation (ex-food and energy) slowed in May for the fourth straight month to 1.7 percent y-o-y. This is below the Fed target rate of 2 percent and suggests that monetary policy is currently running countercyclical to inflation. On expectations side, FOMC lowered its median forecast for inflation to 1.6 percent in 2017, from 1.9 percent forecast published in March. The FOMC left its forecasts for 2018 and 2019 unchanged at 2 percent.

The Fed, therefore, sees inflation slump to be temporary, which prompted U.S. 2 year yields to move sharply up:
Source: @Schuldensuehner

Which means that today’s hike was not about inflationary pressures, but rather unemployment, which dropped to a 16-year low at 4.3 percent in May.

As labour markets continue to overheat (we are now at 4.2 percent forecast 2017 unemployment and with over 1 million vacancies postings in excess of jobs seekers, suggesting a substantial and rising gap between the low quality of remaining skills on offer and the demand for higher skills), the Fed dropped its estimate of the neutral rate of unemployment (or, in common terms, the estimated minimum level of unemployment that can be sustained without a major uptick in wages inflation), from 4.7 percent in march to 4.6 percent today. At which point, it is worth noting the surreality of this number: the estimate has nothing to do with realistic balancing out of skills supply and demand, and is mechanically adjusted to match evolving balance between actual unemployment trends and inflation trends. In other words, the neutral rate of unemployment is Fed’s voodoo metric for justifying anything. How do I know this? Ok, consider the following forecasts & outlook figures from FOMC:

  • 2017 GDP growth at 2.2% compared to 2.1%, unemployment rate at 4.2% compared to 4.5% prior, and core inflation at 2.0%, same as prior. So growth outlook is, basically, stable, but unemployment is dropping and inflation not budging. 
  • 2018 GDP growth unchanged at 2.1%, inflation unchanged at 2.0%, and unemployment 4.2% vs 4.5% prior. So unemployment drops significantly, but GDP drops too and inflation stays put.
  • 2019 GDP 1.9% vs 1.9% prior, unemployment 4.2% vs 4.5% prior and inflation 2.0% vs 2.0% prior. Same story as in 2018. 

In other words, it no longer matters what the Fed forecasts for growth and unemployment, inflation stays put; and it doesn’t matter what it forecast for growth and inflation, unemployment drops, and you can stop worrying about joint forecast for inflation and unemployment, growth remains remarkably stable. It’s the New Normal of Alan Greenspan Redux.


The FOMC next meets in six weeks, on July 25-26. Here is the dots chart of Fed’s expectations on benchmark rate compared to previous:


Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/fomc-dot-plot/

The key takeaway from all of this is that the Fed is currently at a crossroads: the uncertainty about key economic indicators remains elevated, as the Fed is compressing 2017-2018 guidance on rates. In other words, more certainty signalled by the Fed runs against more uncertainty signalled by the economy. Go figure…

30/12/15: Blink by 25bps, chew through billions: U.S. rates ‘normalization’


In a post yesterday, I mentioned USD3 trillion hole in global bonds markets looming on the horizon as the U.S. Fed embarks on its cautious tightening cycle. Now, couple more victims of that fabled 'normalization' that few in the markets expected.

First up, U.S. own bonds:

Source: @Schuldensuehner 

As noted, US 2-year yields are now at 1.09%, their highest level since April 2010 and roughly double January 2015 average. Now, estimated interest on U.S. federal debt in 2015 stood at around USD251 billion for publicly held debt of USD13,124 billion. Now, suppose we slap on another 0.55%-odd on that. That pushes interest payments on publicly held portion of U.S. debt pile to over USD323 billion. Not exactly chop change...

And another casualty of 'normalization' - global profit margins per BCA Research:
"Over the past two decades, the G7 yield curve has been an excellent leading indicator of global margins. Currently, not only are short-term borrowing costs becoming prohibitive, at the margin, but the incentive to raise debt and retire equity to boost EPS is diminishing. This suggests that profit margins have likely peaked for the cycle."

Here's a chart showing both:
Source: BCA Research

Now, absence of margins = absence of capex. And absence of margins = profits growth on scale alone. Both of which mean things are a not likely to be getting easier for global growth.

Now, take BCA conclusion: "Finally, global junk bonds are pointing to a drop in equities in the coming months, if the historical correlation holds. Indeed, we are heeding the bond market’s message, and are concerned about margin trouble and the potential for an EM non-financial corporate sector accident: remain defensively positioned."

In other words, given the leverage take on since the crisis, and given the prospects for organic growth, as well as the simple fact that advanced economies' corporates have been reliant for a good part of decade and a half on emerging markets to find growth opportunities, all this rates 'normalizing' ain't hitting the EMs alone but is bound to under the skin of the U.S. and European corporates too.

Good luck trading on current equity markets valuations for long...