Tuesday, August 22, 2023

More Trouble Ahead From Bonds

I don't think most people realize the massive losses that have been suffered by bond investors in the last year and a half - take a look at the chart below.

                                                30-Year Treasury Bond Prices 

The US 30-year Treasury bond was at 156 points as recently as January 2022 (and as high as 180 in mid-2020);  today it has collapsed to 118.  Ignoring the 2020 COVID-induced high, bond investors are suffering a staggering mark to market loss of 25% in just 20 months.  This is not a loss normally associated with the presumed safety of Treasury bond investments.  Even worse, it has happened fast - it is the sharpest price drop since at least 1977.

So what, you may ask?  Bonds are the preferred investment for banks, insurance companies and pension funds.  They usually make up well over 70% of their portfolios, one way or another (eg home mortgages are regularly packaged into long term pass-through securities such as Ginnie Maes).  And while such investors may choose to place long bonds into their "investment/hold to maturity" portfolios, to shield them from having to recognize mark-to-market losses in their books, that's just an accounting trick.

Reality, however, can never be avoided for long.  Rating agencies are already downgrading US banks, for example.  Given the persistence of inflation, pension funds are coming under uncreased pressure to raise pensions, particularly government entities.  And insurance companies must be worried about more natural disaster claims as global climate change is occurring much faster than anyone thought.  All of that means that traditional bond investors may have to sell positions in order to meet liquidity demands.

And I haven't even touched on the subject of much higher borrowing and refinancing costs for governments and businesses.  In brief, the entire world had become grossly and unhealthily addicted on ultra-low interest rates for the past 10+ years.  It is now discovering that money is not free, or even cheap.


  1. I'm sure many players, including the Fed, are counting on the bond market to recover at some point. Otherwise, the massive transfer of wealth from mortgage holders - banks, pensions, Fed, insurance companies, to homeowners will be unprecedented and may collapse the economy.

    1. They may be counting on it... but good luck to them. Wishful thinking is terrible as a planning tool. As for wealth transfer... if interest rates continue high or go even higher, I expect home prices will suffer.