The bond vigilantes are being zombified, but the currency vigilantes are rampant

We have written extensively on this blog in the last year about what we’ve termed ‘central bank regime change’ (eg see Jim’s article here from a year ago), where we have argued that in the years ahead, central banks would care less about inflation and more about growth and unemployment. We have since seen a number of examples of this playing out – the Federal Reserve has started targeting the unemployment rate, the Bank of Japan is trying to generate inflation, and the ECB has said it will do “whatever it takes to preserve the euro”.

More recently we’ve seen the Bank of England join the party, where 3 of the 9 members of the MPC voted for additional asset purchases despite forecasting that inflation is likely to remain above the 2% target for the next two years. And then last week we had the bombshell in the Financial Times that conversations are being had about changing the BoE’s remit, which looks suspiciously like a leak (again today it was reported that Carney has met with the Treasury to discuss remit change).

Richard wrote about the ‘currency vigilantes’ in 2010 (see here), where he discussed how QE was taming the bond vigilantes, how in the new topsy turvy world the highest inflation economies could have the lowest bond yields, and how the currency vigilantes will take the bond vigilantes’ place to enforce discipline. If you look at FX performance year to date then the currency vigilantes are clearly on the hunt – the world’s worst performing major currency at the time of writing is the Japanese Yen (-9.7% vs USD) and the second worst is the British Pound (-8.5% vs USD).

Meanwhile, QE has successfully turned the bond vigilantes into bond zombies. Market participants no longer appear to be forcing up profligate countries’ nominal government bond yields; they are instead buying up these countries’ inflation linked bonds. So in another topsy turvy development, it is becoming cheaper rather than more expensive for these governments to borrow. Cynics would argue that was the whole idea.

The result is that as real yields fall versus nominal bond yields, market implied inflation expectations are by definition increasing. One measure of market implied inflation expectations is the 10 year breakeven inflation rate, which is the gap between the 10 year real yields and 10 year nominal yields. US 10 year inflation expectations are at the highs of the range of the last 15 years. Today the UK 10 year breakeven inflation rate hit 3.36%, the highest since September 2008. If you consider that the UK breakeven inflation rate is priced off RPI, and RPI is likely to be around 1% higher than CPI over the long term, then the UK bond market is still only pricing in a 10 year CPI average of just over the current 2% target. We think this still has a lot further to go – and we still hate sterling.

The value of investments will fluctuate, which will cause prices to fall as well as rise and you may not get back the original amount you invested. Past performance is not a guide to future performance.

Mike Riddell

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