Thursday, June 9, 2011

No One Believes it Could Happen…

One of things the investment team sometimes talks about is what’s consensus versus what’s non-consensus with respect to investor preferences. The reason we talk about it is that we typically think of the consensus as a herd going one way. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, since the consensus can be correct at times. But if you think of the market as a mechanism that seems to take pleasure in making the most people look bad, than being part of the “consensus” is scary. And at the turns in the market when emotions are typically too euphoric or pessimistic, then you want to steer clear of the consensus.

One of the most non-consensus trades I can think of right now is that Treasury bond yields will melt down into the low 2% range, or dare I say below it. Inflation and higher yields continue to be the herd’s mantra despite being in a broken financial system, having a banking system that continues to hide losses (evidenced by the suspension of mark-to-market accounting), and a Federal Reserve that has been forced to turn to quantitative easing as a last resort to avoid an all out debt deflation.

It seems like no one believes, or no one wants to believe, that there is even a chance that yields could actually fall below the levels reached at the apex of the 2008 financial crisis. I’m not saying I would lay great odds on it either, but take a look at the chart attached, which shows Japanese 10 year bonds yields. Those yields have been locked under 2% for more than decade. Isn’t there some chance that we could follow suit?

Yes, I know there are differences between Japan and the U.S. There are differences in demographics, and in the way they handled their own crisis from a monetary, fiscal, and currency perspective, and we have Ben Bernanke as our Fed Chairman who just happened to write a paper called “Deflation: Making Sure ‘it’ Doesn’t Happen Here.” I get those arguments, I just don’t get why folks seem so programmed to not look at the similarities between the Japanese bust and the U.S. Great Recession. Too much debt, a housing problem, a busted equity market, and an attempt to cover up bad debts all seem to be a recipe for a prolonged period of subpar economic activity. Below 2% on the 10-year Treasury, nobody believes it could happen, which is precisely why investors should be open to the idea that it could.