In two months we will be in fiscal 2019 for the US government, and the OMB projects +$1 trillion/year deficits until 2021. Ten year Treasuries nosed over 3% today on news of some small but unexpected issuance, so where will rates go once deficits kick into high gear? And how will stocks discount higher rates, regardless of reason? Our answers below.
If the 10 Year Treasury were 4.0% at the end of 2019, would you expect US equities to be higher or lower then? It is easy enough to tell a story either way:
Bullish for stocks. Rising inflation caused by economic growth lifts both bond yields and corporate earnings. Companies push for greater efficiency to offset labor/materials costs, limiting margin erosion and (finally) increasing workforce productivity. PE multiples contract, but earnings growth more than offsets the decline and stocks rise.
Bearish for stocks. Rising inflation caused by escalating trade frictions lifts interest rates, but has a chilling effect on the economy and corporate earnings. The Federal Reserve likely avoids going full Volcker, and simply keeps rates constant in 2019 knowing an inflation-induced recession will take inflation lower without their having to become a political pariah. Multiples contract due to higher rates, but earnings are down 10% rather than the current forecast of +10%. The combination pushes US stocks lower.
Capital markets currently see the bull case as much more likely, and the other end of the yield curve – 2 Year Treasuries – supports that interpretation. It sits at 2.68% today, just 1 basis point off its post-Financial Crisis high, and has been moving upward all year. This is entirely consistent with the view that the Federal Reserve will respond to a strengthening US economy with higher rates through 2019. A trade war recession isn’t priced in at all.
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