Blog

Yield Curves Flatten as Investors Rethink Outlook for Monetary Policy

The volatility that has roiled short-term bonds signals a shift in expectations for central bank policy in developed markets.

Yields on short-dated notes have moved sharply higher in recent weeks, while those on longer-dated bonds have fallen modestly in many countries. This flattening of yield curves has come in response to worries about inflationary risks potentially being more persistent in the near term and lasting longer than previously anticipated.

The speed and magnitude of this repricing suggest investors expect central banks in developed countries such as the U.K., U.S., Australia, and Canada to start tightening monetary conditions sooner and at a swifter pace than previously thought. Many investors are left wondering what to expect from the next stage of monetary policy.

Despite the recent volatility, market pricing still indicates a belief that central banks will act in a credible manner to keep inflation expectations well-anchored. Long-term inflationary expectations have also remained relatively stable.

Flattening forces emerge

Flattening of yield curves typically occurs relatively later in an economic cycle as investors expect central banks to raise short-term policy rates, which pushes up short-dated yields relative to longer-term ones. Yield curve behavior can thus foreshadow changes in monetary policy and the economic outlook.

Much of the recent change in market thinking relates to questions about the persistence of supply chain disruptions and supply-demand mismatches in various sectors as the global economy emerges from the COVID-19-driven slowdown. With some inflation metrics remaining elevated, market participants are envisioning a more imminent reduction in quantitative easing, with interest rate hikes on the horizon.

The recent moves in the front end of interest rate curves have led to a deleveraging of many traditional fixed income relative value and carry-focused strategies globally. This includes hedge funds reducing risk exposure after losses caused by the rise in front-end rates, including buying back their short positions in the long end, furthering the flattening effects.

With the rise in volatility and transaction costs, traditional intermediaries and existing market structure have made it difficult for true liquidity providers to support the market and ease these dislocations. Indeed, the extent of dislocation across yield curves is the greatest since March 2020.

On one hand, broader curve flattening and shorter economic cycles are consistent with our secular view that economic cycles are likely to become shorter and of greater amplitude than in the past, and may involve a comparatively early withdrawal of monetary accommodation. Yet in our view, the extent of the recent flattening suggests markets may have shifted too abruptly.

Policy predicaments

Like the markets, many central bank officials have also seemed to change their tune on inflation. For much of this year, they suggested the accelerating inflation showing up in economic data was transitory. Now, central bankers are questioning this thesis, and concerns have arisen that the higher realized inflation may start filtering into longer-term inflation expectations.

For example, in the U.K., recent market pricing anticipates more than one 25-basis-point (bp) rate hike before the end of this year, and that the Bank of England’s (BOE) policy rate will be in the range of 1.25%–1.5% by the end of 2022. A year ago, 90-day sterling futures were priced for the BOE to lower its policy rate below 0% by the end of 2022.

Sentiment shift may be too rapid

Although we agree with the basic direction of the recent shift in sentiment, we think market expectations might be moving too quickly, for several reasons.

First, forward inflation expectations as embedded in inflation-linked securities see inflation beyond our cyclical horizon – roughly the next year – broadly consistent with central banks’ mandates.

Second, though central bankers will likely act to preserve inflation expectations, they are acutely aware that monetary policy is not the best tool to address upward price pressures emanating from a shock or disruption to the supply side of the economy.

Third, tail risks – or the possibility of unforeseen outcomes – from COVID-19 have diminished but haven’t gone away, and employment in most economies is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Though a well-calibrated withdrawal of monetary stimulus will be necessary, central banks are eager to continue supporting recovery in labor markets, and thus will not be keen to tighten too rapidly.

Change can create opportunities

The risk premium associated with the outlook for rate hikes may be more long-lasting at this point, meaning that the market’s anticipated path for monetary policy may continually overestimate the actual path because of recent yield curve moves and concerns about inflation expectations.

The rapid repricing of expectations has often resulted in good return-generating opportunities, as excessive risk premium becomes embedded in the front end of yield curves. Active investment management can help weigh risk/reward characteristics, as well as seek to take advantage of opportunities emanating from this curve repricing and the evolving central bank pivot from extraordinarily accommodative policy to potentially late-cycle dynamics.

For PIMCO’s latest Secular Outlook, please read,Age of Transformation.”

Sachin Gupta is a portfolio manager and head of the global desk. Rick Chan is a portfolio manager focusing on global macro strategies and relative value trading in interest rates.

The Author

Sachin Gupta

Head of Global Portfolio Management Desk

Rick Chan

Portfolio Manager, Global Macro Hedge Fund Strategies

Related

Disclosures

London
PIMCO Europe Ltd
11 Baker Street
London W1U 3AH, England
+44 (0) 20 3640 1000

Dublin
PIMCO Europe GmbH Irish Branch,
PIMCO Global Advisors (Ireland)
Limited
3rd Floor, Harcourt Building 57B Harcourt Street
Dublin D02 F721, Ireland
+353 (0) 1592 2000

Munich
PIMCO Europe GmbH
Seidlstraße 24-24a
80335 Munich, Germany
+49 (0) 89 26209 6000

Milan
PIMCO Europe GmbH - Italy
Corso Matteotti 8
20121 Milan, Italy
+39 02 9475 5400

Zurich
PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH
Brandschenkestrasse 41
8002 Zurich, Switzerland
Tel: + 41 44 512 49 10

PIMCO Europe Ltd (Company No. 2604517) is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (12 Endeavour Square, London E20 1JN) in the UK. The services provided by PIMCO Europe Ltd are not available to retail investors, who should not rely on this communication but contact their financial adviser. PIMCO Europe GmbH (Company No. 192083, Seidlstr. 24-24a, 80335 Munich, Germany), PIMCO Europe GmbH Italian Branch (Company No. 10005170963), PIMCO Europe GmbH Irish Branch (Company No. 909462), PIMCO Europe GmbH UK Branch (Company No. BR022803) and PIMCO Europe GmbH Spanish Branch (N.I.F. W2765338E) are authorised and regulated by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) (Marie- Curie-Str. 24-28, 60439 Frankfurt am Main) in Germany in accordance with Section 15 of the Securities Institutions Act (WplG). The Italian Branch, Irish Branch, UK Branch and Spanish Branch are additionally supervised by: (1) Italian Branch: the Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (CONSOB) in accordance with Article 27 of the Italian Consolidated Financial Act; (2) Irish Branch: the Central Bank of Ireland in accordance with Regulation 43 of the European Union (Markets in Financial Instruments) Regulations 2017, as amended; (3) UK Branch: the Financial Conduct Authority; and (4) Spanish Branch: the Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores (CNMV) in accordance with obligations stipulated in articles 168 and 203 to 224, as well as obligations contained in Tile V, Section I of the Law on the Securities Market (LSM) and in articles 111, 114 and 117 of Royal Decree 217/2008, respectively. The services provided by PIMCO Europe GmbH are available only to professional clients as defined in Section 67 para. 2 German Securities Trading Act (WpHG). They are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication.| PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH (registered in Switzerland, Company No. CH-020.4.038.582-2) . The services provided by PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH are not available to retail investors, who should not rely on this communication but contact their financial adviser.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and low interest rate environments increase this risk. Reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Equities may decline in value due to both real and perceived general market, economic and industry conditions. Management risk is the risk that the investment techniques and risk analyses applied by an investment manager will not produce the desired results, and that certain policies or developments may affect the investment techniques available to the manager in connection with managing the strategy.

Statements concerning financial market trends or portfolio strategies are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are appropriate for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest for the long term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Outlook and strategies are subject to change without notice. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision.

PIMCO as a general matter provides services to qualified institutions, financial intermediaries and institutional investors. Individual investors should contact their own financial professional to determine the most appropriate investment options for their financial situation. This material contains the opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission. PIMCO is a trademark of Allianz Asset Management of America L.P. in the United States and throughout the world. ©2021, PIMCO.

Inflation Risks Put the Fed in an Uncomfortable Place
XDismiss Next Article