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Underappreciated factors behind fast-rising bond yields

Fri, Feb 23, 8:04 AM ET, by , BlackRock

The early February spike in equity market volatility came on the heels of fast-rising bond yields. What's behind the quickening pace? Our 2018 fixed income outlook -- Fuel for (over)heating -- offers one possible explanation: U.S. fiscal stimulus, confidence-inducing investment and a steady global expansion are reawakening investor inflation fears.

Markets do appear to have suddenly woken up to the prospect of an inflation comeback in the U.S., a key theme of our 2018 Global investment outlook. But we see others interrelated factors also behind the re-calibration of rate expectations, as we write in our new Global bond strategy Recalibration and repatriation.

Increasing Treasury supply

Supply of Treasury bonds is headed up, and demand is declining. We estimate net supply could increase by some $488 billion, just as an erstwhile reliable buyer, the Federal Reserve, is trimming re-investments. This upsets the supply/demand balance of Treasury bonds and portends higher rates.

The weakening U.S. dollar

A less obvious culprit behind rising rates in January was the weakening U.S. dollar. Low rates in the rest of the world anchor U.S. yields. That has been the story to explain low U.S. rates and a flattening yield curve. But fading confidence in dollar stability now could turn this causality on its head: A weakening dollar may push up rate differentials as non-U.S. investors repatriate assets.

A flow of unhedged U.S. bond investments is headed back to the domestic markets of non-U.S. investors. This repatriation trend is showing itself in decreased foreign purchases of U.S. bonds and increased flows into non-U.S. bond funds, as the chart below shows.


Rising hedging costs have reduced the attractiveness of U.S. rates to foreign investors, and small dollar declines can wipe out any perceived benefit from higher U.S. yields for foreign investors. Other reasons for the flows may be prospects for higher returns at home as well as expectations for rising domestic interest rates. Lastly, rising oil prices may have sparked fears over a further dollar slide. This sort of repatriation is helping to dim the dollar's prospects, lifting an anchor holding down yields on longer-dated U.S. rates.

icon-pointer.svg The Bid podcast: Jeff speaks about the role of fixed income in 2018.

The oil factor

Any further rise in oil prices could weigh on the dollar, making crude a contributor to the pullback from U.S. debt by unhedged foreign investors. How likely is this to happen? Supply discipline by traditional oil producers and strong global demand underpin high crude prices. Yet nimble U.S. shale production tends to kick in whenever prices are high, capping the upside. This potentially reduces the role of oil in any further dollar downdraft.

Bottom line

We see steadily steeper curves and higher rates improving the outlook for short versus long maturities. We particularly like two- to five-year bonds for their yield-duration ratios. Floating rate and inflation-linked instruments are attractive for their potential buffer against rising rates and inflation. We prefer an up-in-quality stance in credit, favoring investment grade over high yield. Read more market insights in our Global bond strategy.

Jeffrey Rosenberg, Managing Director, is BlackRock's Chief Investment Strategist for Fixed Income, and a regular contributor to The Blog.

Investing involves risks, including possible loss of principal. Fixed income risks include interest-rate and credit risk. Typically, when interest rates rise, there is a corresponding decline in bond values. Credit risk refers to the possibility that the bond issuer will not be able to make principal and interest payments. This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The opinions expressed are as of February 2018 and may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this post are derived from proprietary and nonproprietary sources deemed by BlackRock to be reliable, are not necessarily all-inclusive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. As such, no warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions (including responsibility to any person by reason of negligence) is accepted by BlackRock, its officers, employees or agents. This post may contain ''forward-looking'' information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections and forecasts. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this post is at the sole discretion of the reader. ©2018 BlackRock, Inc. All rights reserved. BLACKROCKis a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc., or its subsidiaries in the United States or elsewhere. All other marks are the property of their respective owners. 432735

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