Tuesday, November 15, 2016 – 8:40:00 AM MST
Donald Trump’s victory sparked a tremendous sell-off in the Treasury market from an expectation of fiscal stimulus, but more broadly, from an expectation that a unified-party government can enact business-friendly policies (protectionism, deregulation, tax cuts) which will be inflationary and economically positive. It doesn’t take too much digging to show that the reality is different. The deluge of commentaries suggesting ‘big-reflation’ are short-sighted. Just as before last Tuesday we thought the 10yr UST yield would get below 1%, we still think this now.
No matter the President, this economic expansion is seven and a half years old (since 6/2009), and is pushing against a difficult history. It is already the 4th longest expansion in the US back to the 1700’s. As Larry Summers has pointed out, after 5 years of recovery, you add roughly 20% of a recession’s probability each year thereafter. Using this, there is around a 60% chance of recession now.
History also doesn’t bode well for new Republican administrations. Certainly, the circumstances were varied, but of the five new Republican administrations replacing Democrats in the 19th and 20th centuries, four of them (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush) faced new recessions in their first year. The fifth, Warren Harding, started his administration within a recession.
Fiscal stimulus through infrastructure projects and tax cuts is now expected, but the Federal Reserve has been begging for more fiscal help since the financial crisis and it has been politically infeasible. The desire has not created the act. A unified-party government doesn’t make it any easier when that unified party is Republican; the party of fiscal conservatism. Many newer House of Representatives members have been elected almost wholly on platforms to reduce the Federal debt. Congress has gone to the wire several times with resistance to new budgets and debt ceilings. After all, the United States still carries a AA debt rating from S&P as a memento from this. Getting a bill through congress with a direct intention to increase debt will not be easy. As we often say, the political will to do fiscal stimulus only comes about after a big enough decrease in the stock market to get policy makers scared.
Also, fiscal stimulus doesn’t seem to generate inflation, probably because it is only used as a mitigation against recessions. After the U.S. 2009 Fiscal stimulus bill, the YoY CPI fell from 1.7% to 1% two years later. Japan has now injected 26 doses of fiscal stimulus into its economy since 1990 and the country has a 0.0% YoY core CPI, and a 10yr Government bond at 0.0%.
Rate sensitive world economy
A hallmark of this economic recovery has been its reliance on debt to fuel it. The more debt outstanding, the more interest rates influence the economy’s performance. Not only does the Trump administration need low rates to try to sell fiscal stimulus to the nation, but the private sector needs it to survive. The household, business, and public sectors are all heavily reliant on the price of credit. So far, interest rates rising by 0.5% in the last two months is a drag on growth.
Global policies favoring low rates continue to be extended, and there isn’t any economic reason to abandon them. Just about every developed economy (US, Central Europe, Japan, UK, Scandinavia) has policies in place to encourage interest rates to be lower. To the extent that the rest of the world has lower rates than in the US, this continues to exert a downward force on Treasury yields.
As Japan knows and we are just getting into, aging demographics is an unmovable force against consumption, solved only with time. The percent of the population 65 and over in the United States is in the midst of its steepest climb. As older people spend less, paired with slowing immigration from the new administration, consumer demand slackens and puts downward pressure on prices.
We haven’t seen such a rush to judgement of boundless higher rates that we can remember. Its noise-level is correlated with its desire, not its likelihood. While we cannot call the absolute top of this movement in interest rates, it is limited by these enduring factors and thus, we think it is close to an end. In a sentence, not only will the Trump-administration policies not be enacted as imagined, but even if they were, they won’t have the net-positive effect that is hoped for. We think that a 3.0% 30yr UST is a rare opportunity buy.