Commentary

February 7, 2018

 

The U.S. Treasury market is off to its worst start of the year since 2009 as renewed fears of inflation have pushed yields higher.  The 10-year Treasury yield has increased by 67 basis points since September 7th, ending January at 2.71% (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1 – U.S. Treasury Yield Curve

 Source: Bloomberg

 

The combination of a favorable business environment driven by tax reform and financial deregulation, coupled with a declining dollar, is causing an increase in money velocity and higher commodity prices.  This, in turn, has resulted in increased inflation expectations.  The two year inflation breakeven rate has increased by almost 50 basis points since early December to 1.84% at the end of January.  The five and ten year breakeven inflation rates have also risen to 2.04% and 2.14%, respectively (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2 – Inflation Break Even Rates

    Source: Bloomberg

 

At its latest meeting (Janet Yellen’s last with the Fed) Federal Reserve policymakers opted to hold the fed funds rate steady while promising three rate hikes in 2018.  They also reiterated their previously announced gradual pace of balance sheet reduction.  Consistent with the recent rise of inflation pressures, the market is currently forecasting roughly three fed funds rate increases in 2018 (Figure 3), up from two a month ago.  The possibility exists that incoming Fed chair Jerome Powell (believed by many to be more hawkish than Janet Yellen) tightens monetary policy faster than what investors are currently expecting.  In the very days of Powell’s tenure, however, he has promoted continuity of policy, seeking to allay such concerns.

 

Figure 3 – Fed Funds Rate Implied Probabilities

             Source: Bloomberg

 

Over the last four months we have been relatively defensive in our fixed income portfolios, but have begun to incrementally increase durations with the rise in rates.  We view the sharp rise in rates since September as an opportunity to increase durations and thereby “lock-in” the higher yields now available.  We are therefore extending duration in our intermediate and variable duration portfolios by acquiring longer duration securities.

 

Justin Packard

 

 

 


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