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Blinded By The Bonds

Apr. 04, 2019 9:18 AM ETIEF, TTE, AGG2 Comments
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SL Advisors


  • Bond investors have become trapped by inflexible thinking into self-destructive actions on a vast scale.
  • There’s too much money in bonds struggling to find an adequate return.
  • Today, only $15 in the S&P 500 would equal $100 invested in Ten year treasuries at 2.4%.
  • When returns are certain to leave you poorer, it’s time for some fundamental questions about the purpose of investing.

German 30 year bunds yield 0.6%. Investors are inured to insultingly low yields, but somehow this still shocks. The ECB defines price stability as inflation "…below, but close to, 2% over the medium term." Assuming it averages 1.5%, investors are accepting a negative real return virtually in perpetuity.

French energy company Total (TOT) issued perpetual bonds at 1.75%, to buyers who are apparently satisfied with never earning a real return on a corporate credit.

Germany's ten year yields are -0.05%. Could their 30 year bonds one day join them in negative territory? Japan's ten year yield is -0.08%. U.S. ten year Treasury yields of 2.4% are profligate by global standards.

There is some logic to accepting negative returns over the short term. You can only stuff so much currency under the mattress. But the point of investing is to preserve purchasing power. Somehow, bond investors have become trapped by inflexible thinking into self-destructive actions on a vast scale.

Asset allocations that rely on a split between equities and fixed income persist in maintaining some bond exposure even while loss of purchasing power is guaranteed. Clearly, tens of billions of dollars in assets has accepted this. The stewards of this capital retain a rigid adherence to portfolio diversification. Since falling yields have supported positive returns on bonds through capital appreciation, maintaining bond exposure hasn't caused visible losses, for now.

Perhaps there's a principal-agent problem here. The certain knowledge that an investment will lose money should cause an investor to change her selection. Self-evidently, if the purpose of saving is to consume tomorrow, when you know your purchasing power will be lower, perhaps you should consume more today and not save as much. If your career is buying bonds for clients, you're unlikely to promote radical thinking.

The Equity Risk Premium favors

This article was written by

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Following 23 years with JPMorgan, in 2009 Simon Lack founded SL Advisors, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. SL Advisors manages investments in energy infrastructure, including the Catalyst MLP & Infrastructure Fund (MLXIX), the American Energy Independence Fund (USAI), and separately managed accounts. Prior to this, much of Simon Lack’s 23-year career with JPMorgan was spent in North American Fixed Income Derivatives and Forward FX trading, a business that he ran successfully through several bank mergers ultimately overseeing 50 professionals and $300 million in annual revenues. Simon Lack sat on JPMorgan’s investment committee allocating over $1 billion to hedge fund managers and founded the JPMorgan Incubator Funds, two private equity vehicles that took economic stakes in emerging hedge fund managers. Simon chairs the Memorial Endowment Trust Investment Committee of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Westfield, NJ. He is the author of The Hedge Fund Mirage: The Illusion of Big Money and Why It’s Too Good to Be True, published in 2012 to widespread praise from mainstream financial press including The Economist, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, and Bonds Are Not Forever: The Crisis Facing Fixed Income Investors (September 2013). Simon is a CFA Charterholder and a member of the New York Society of Security Analysts’ Market Integrity Committee, and makes regular media appearances discussing energy infrastructure. Simon is also a contributor to Forbes.com.

Analyst’s Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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