Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trade of the century--shorting the bond bubble

With no Olympics on TV, I feel like I have time to write. I had a recent conversation about bonds, and the words "trade of the century" came out. Eventually, being short U.S. bonds will be a huge winner (being long TBT is one way to be short bonds). The air already has come out in select European bond markets. For example, the Spanish ten-year bond went from 3% yield to 7% in about a year. I see the same eventually happening in the U.S.

Doing a search on "bond bubble 2012" turns up a lot of hits. A few interesting links:

brief thoughts from Peter Schiff link1

Jim Kochan quoted in Barrons link2

Allan Roth at CBS with alternatives link3

My thoughts are that the bears will eventually be right, but not quite yet. For investors and traders, technical analysis can be a useful tool. Stereotypical bubble markets have an exhaustion phase, that include a short sharp run up in prices before the bubble pops. This might be a 30% to 100% increase in a few months. Timing the exact top is near impossible, and a parabolic top, may or may not occur in bonds.

The Fed is a wildcard. QE1 and QE2 (quantitative easing) and the Twist have injected close to $3 Trillion USD into the bond market. Even in the gargantuan U.S. bond market, $3 trillion, makes a huge difference. The trickle down has spread to most other markets. Low interest rates affect option prices, CD yields, stock yields, real estate, gold.

When and if the U.S. bond bubble bursts there will likely be casualties in other markets. If the 10 year Treasury goes to 7% (which is about the average yield for the past 30 years), stock yields may well go to similar levels, carrying costs and opportunity costs for gold and real estate become that much higher, derivative decay for options and leveraged ETFs becomes that much steeper.

It seems like bond bears have been crying wolf for years now, and been wrong, wrong and wrong. Their time will come. One scenario is a war or economic crisis that is a catalyst for a parabolic rally before a crash. Again, in parabolic moves, trying to time the exact top tends to be a fools game.

For the short term, I remain positive on U.S. bonds until October. This seasonal bearish period is November until March. As always, seasonality is a weak indicator, and easily jumped (eg: if every "knows" that bonds turn in October, most will jump in September and start to ruin the indicator).

For the long term, I am looking for the parabolic phase. Because of the massive Fed intervention, we may or may not see a textbook bubble blow off top. If we don't, indicators such as the 200 day moving average on TLT might be useful tools.

Oldtimers remember the Internet bubble. Everyone and their brother knew that the stocks were over valued. However, many thought there was still time. Many traders that tried to short the high flying Internet stocks, lost money because as the irrational exuberance reached a fever pitch and the blow off top was much higher than most could imagine. Many bought the first steep drop in Internet stocks, thinking there was to be another rally, but got crushed. The U.S. bond market is many times bigger than the stock market, and if there is a bubble and a crash, the long term economic damage may be great.

For easier historical tracking:
TLT 125.49 SPY 140.77 BND 85.69 GLD 155.99 TBT 15.48

A footnote: I started a new blog for my piano playing, so the about me section now has that as the lead. I also took this time to revamp the layout and look.

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