For those who think bonds are a safe place to be, you might want to reconsider. In addition to rising sovereign risk (yes, for the US as well as other countries), there is interest rate risk. Interest rate risk is what you assume when you buy a bond and do not intend to hold it to maturity. If interest rates rise, then the value of your bond falls. Bonds can produce capital gains/losses, just like stocks.
What is the probability of interest rates rising. If history is a guide, the possibility is pretty good. Here is a graph of 10-year Treasury bond rates:
(H/T to Reader GC for sending chart)
The only comparable period in this 200 plus years to our current level of interest rates was the latter part of the Great Depression. During that period, deflationary pressures kept interest rates low.
Economists have a simple rule of thumb regarding interest rates:
- They have a hypothetical risk-free rate which they assume to be 3%. This rate cannot be seen, although is assumed to be the rate paid on short-term government securities (which used to be considered as having a zero percent chance of default).
- In a non-inflationary world, Treasuries would presumably pay 3%.
- In an inflationary world, Treasuries would presumably pay this 3% plus a premium equal to the expected inflation rate over the course of the bond. Thus, if you anticipated a 3% inflation rate, you would be willing to buy Treasuries that paid a return of 6%.
In the Great Depression, the inflation rate was negative (i.e., deflation). 3% minus some number explains why interest rates were so low then. There is no market rationale for interest rates being so low [now]. They are because of the Fed’s “operation twist” whereby they (last year) bought 61% of new Treasuries. That cannot go on much longer.
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There are two things to worry about:
- If you own 10-year Treasuries and interest rates rise to a more normal level, you will incur a capital loss if you dispose of the bonds prior to maturity.
- If interest rates rise, government interest expense will double or triple from the amounts being paid today. That potentially triggers a debt death spiral, where government has to borrow more than otherwise expected. It also raises the credit risk and could ratchet interest rates up again. Greece’s short-term interest rates approached 100%, months ago. Spain and Portugal ratcheted up into the twenties. The same thing can (and eventually will) happen here unless deficits are dramatically reduced.
The distortion in interest rates is only one of the distortions embedded in our economy. For years the Fed and government have been propping up the economy with low interest rates and fiscal policies designed to stimulate. As a result, the price distortions and capital misallocations are large. They are also unsustainable. All of this will eventually overwhelm the government’s attempt to pretend and extend and end up in another Great Depression.
Editor’s Note: The above article may have been edited ([ ]), abridged (…), and reformatted (including the title, some sub-titles and bold/italics emphases) for the sake of clarity and brevity to ensure a fast and easy read. The article’s views and conclusions are unaltered and no personal comments have been included to maintain the integrity of the original article.
Everyone who purchases a Treasury bond is purchasing a depreciating asset. Moreover, the capital risk of investing in Treasuries is very high. The low interest rate means that the price paid for the bond is very high. A rise in interest rates, which must come sooner or later, will collapse the price of the bonds and inflict capital losses on bond holders, both domestic and foreign. The question is: when is sooner or later? The purpose of this article is to examine that question. Words: 2600
The Federal Reserve is in quite a pickle. Mr. Market expects them to print money to support the economy…but if the economy continues down this path, we may have a deflationary depression on our hands…Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has said he will not allow this to happen under any circumstances. The Fed wants to keep interest rates low and create inflation so that it can pay off existing debt with cheaper dollars, avoiding insolvency. [The fact of the matter, however, is that] the Federal Reserve cannot stop printing money or the U.S. will experience the economic phenonmenon referred to as the Minsky Moment. [Let me explain just what the aforementioned all means.] Words: 1195
Why is it that the demand for gold moves inversely to interest rates – that the higher the rate of interest the lower the demand for gold, the lower the rate of interest the higher the demand for gold? [Let me explain why and what the future seems to hold.] Words: 1053
Michael Pento, president of Pento Portfolio Strategies, and Peter Tchir, founder of TF Market Advisors, talk about Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman’s recommendation that policy makers should consider allowing slightly higher inflation as a way to spur the U.S. economy.
While many investors want to believe that U.S. treasuries are a safe haven, I will use this article to debunk that myth with plain hard evidence…[to support my contention that] holding U.S. bonds is the worst investment going forward. Words: 500