Global Investing

Asian bonds may suffer most if QE on ice

Bonds issued in emerging market currencies have been red-hot favourites with investors this year, garnering returns of 8.3 percent so far in 2012. But for some the happy days are drawing to a close — U.S. Treasury yields are nudging higher as the U.S. recovery gains a foothold and the Fed holds back from more money printing for now at least. That could spell trouble for emerging markets across the board (here’s something I wrote on this subject recently) but, according to JP Morgan, it is Asian bond markets that may bear the brunt.

Their graphic details weekly flows to local bond funds as measured by EPFR Global (in million US$). As on cue, these flows have tended to spike whenever central banks have pumped in cash. (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Over the past several years,  inflows have driven local curves to very flat levels, but current levels of flatness are not sustainable if/when inflows begin to slow, let alone reverse.As there is a clear correlation between the Fed’s “QE periods” and large inflows into Asian markets, we think the next few months will be difficult for Asian bonds markets (JPM writes)

JP Morgan says risks are greatest for Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand because that’s where foreign ownership ratios are largest – in Indonesia for instance foreigners hold a third of local debt. Deficits in these three countries are also rising meaning debt issuance is rising faster than elsewhere, the bank warned. It advises clients to be underweight Asian local debt (countered by overweights in Latin  America and emerging Europe)

Asian currencies face risks too –from China. The yuan is up 30 percent since mid-2005 but ended March with its first quarterly loss since 2009 and many reckon China, fearful of an exports slowdown will not permit any more big rises for now. Asian governments will have to fall into step if they want their own exports to compete. And that, JPM says, is robbing the region’s currencies of a major support anchor.

Yield-hungry tilt to equity from credit

For income-focused investors, the choice between stocks and corporate bonds has been a no-brainer in recent years. In a volatile world, corporate debt tends to be less sensitive to market gyrations and also has offered better yields – last year non-financial European corporate bonds provided a yield pickup of  73 basis points above stocks, Morgan Stanley calculates.

But, long a fan of credit over equity, MS reckons the picture may now be changing and points out that European equities are offering better yields than credit for the first time in over a decade. (The graphic below compares dividend yields on non-financial euro STOXX index with the IBOXX European non-financial corporate bond index. The former narrowly wins.)

The extra yield available on equities, coupled with perceptions of a more stable macro backdrop, may encourage income-oriented investors back into stocks.

Three snapshots for Thursday

The VIX volatility index has fallen below the average level seen during the 2003-2008 pre-crisis period.

The low level of the VIX is also being matched by moves down in other ‘safe haven’ assets. The dollar is near an 11-month high against the yen, and a rise in U.S. Treasury yields is pushing up the spread between U.S. and Japanese bond yields.

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the possibility of releasing emergency oil reserves during a meeting on Wednesday, two sources familiar with the talks said.

Euro periphery: Lehman-type shock still on cards

The passing of Greek austerity measures is fuelling a rally in peripheral debt today with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese yields falling across the curve.

However, one should not forget that peripheral economies are still under considerable risk of becoming the next Greece — rising debt and weak economic growth pushing the country to seek a bailout — as a result of tighter financial conditions.

Take this warning from JP Morgan:

Financial conditions have deteriorated far more in peripheral Europe than in the core. The drag from this on peripheral GDP is akin to that seen following the Lehman crisis.

Calculating euro breakup shocks

Euro breakup risks, although subsiding, are still high on investor minds.

Almost one in two fund managers surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch last month said they expect a euro zone country to leave the monetary union.

Technology services company SunGard, which has modelled different euro breakup scenarios, says the departure of Greece and Portugal will lead to a 15 percent rise in the euro against the dollar, a 20 percent fall in euro zone yields, a 15 percent fall in euro zone equities and a 20 percent increase in credit spreads.

Below are other findings:

    If all PIIGS left the euro, the single currency would rise 25% and regional equities would fall 20%. U.S. stocks would drop 15 percent. European banking stocks would fall by 25% and ITRAXX Financials credit spreads would increase by 100%, which would imply losses of up to 20% in high-grade corporate debt. VIX would be over 50. A total collapse scenario would see European equities down 40%, U.S. and global equities down 30%, euro yields down 75% and ITRAXX Europe and ITRAXX Financials credit spreads up 150% and 200%respectively. Oil would fall across the scenarios, ranging from 5% from a Greece departure through to a 50% decline from a complete breakup. Sterling would strengthen against the Euro by between 5-25% across the scenarios.

The results seek to model the impact of each scenario over three months, looking eight weeks before and six weeks after the shock to form a balanced picture.

from MacroScope:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

BOND YIELDS 
- Nominal bond yields have risen across the curve, while term premiums and fixed income volatility are higher in an environment of uncertainty about how central banks will exit from quantitative easing policies once recovery takes hold. Bonds have turned into the worst-performing asset class this year according to Citi and none of the factors which markets have blamed for this are about to disappear. Curve steepening seen in April/May has started to reverse and whether it continues is being viewed as a more open question than whether yields head higher still.

RATTLING EQUITIES? 
- World stocks' are struggling to extend the near-50 percent gains seen since March 9 but they have yet to succumb to gravity despite a back up in government bond yields. Citigroup analysts reckon global equity markets can rally as long as Treasury yields stay below 5-6 percent but it might be the speed of yield moves that determines whether equities get rattled or keep looking past higher borrowing costs to the recovery story. 

INFLATION EXPECTATIONS 
-  Increases in the prices of oil and other commodities have seen the CRB index rise about 30 percent in less than four months and sustained gains will risk filtering through to prices and price expectations. Inflation reports are due out on both sides of the Atlantic next week but markets are looking further out and starting to price in the risks of a pick up in price pressures. Breakevens have turned positive all along the U.S. yield curve for the first time since autumn and euro zone breakevens have risen. Also, a Bank of England survey indicates public price expectations are up. Bid/cover ratios and tails at inflation-linked bond auctions will tell their own story on extent of demand for inflation hedges.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

VOLATILITY
- World stocks’ near-50 percent gain since early March may be levelling off — investors have factored in much of the output recovery that is in the pipeline and fresh impetus could be needed from further improvements in economic indicators or the corporate outlook. With many fund managers yet to wade in with the cash piles on which they have been sitting, a bout of volatility looks more likely than a dramatic pullback.

GROUP OF 8
- Talk of green shoots of economic recovery has removed some of the threat of global economic meltdown and therefore reduced the pressure to come up with coordinated international policy response. The Lecce finance ministers’ meeting will test G8 nations’ commitment to putting up extra money for the IMF and an SDR allocation increase. The risk is that cracks appear on these and other issues (eg QE, fiscal stimulus, etc). Given expanded IMF resourcing was one of the planks on which the equity market/emerging market rebound was built, any signs of pullback could fuel volatility and throw up risks for the assets which have benefited most from that rally.

DOLLAR STANCE
- Asian reserve managers’ reassurance on Treasuries holdings came in the same week as rumblings of discomfort from some emerging market countries (eg South Africa, Israel) on the dollar’s slide and its fallout. Soothing noises from Asia about their dollar-denominated holdings and its FX impact risk being cancelled out by the chatter about international reserve currencies building in the run-up to the first BRIC summit later in June.