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Yields surge triggers market drama

26 February 2021

The surge in Treasury yields sent shockwaves across broader markets on Thursday, with 10-year yields briefly breaching the 1.60 mark to hit a new one-year high before moderating. At the time of writing, 10-year yields remain some 40 basis points higher on a month-to-date basis.

The steep ascent in yields is prompting investors to cast serious doubt over their exposure to equities, especially for tech stocks. The Nasdaq Composite index has seen its February gains whittled down to 0.37%, with US equity futures pointing to further declines at the Friday open.

Asian benchmark indices are ending the month on a downer, while the rising yields are giving reason for the dollar index (DXY) to keep its head above the 90 psychological level for the time being. The VIX index, also known as Wall Street’s fear gauge also shot above the 30 mark shortly before the US session ended.

Markets paying little heed to the Fed’s narrative

Investors clearly have a hard time buying into the Fed speak insisting that its too early to talk about tapering. Despite repeated attempts this week by Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other Fed presidents to reframe the narrative, saying that the rising yields are indicative of a rosier economic outlook, investors are instead interpreting the economic data through the US monetary policy lens.

While cognizant of the Fed’s desire to avoid the same policy missteps following the global financial crisis over a decade ago, markets however are of the opinion that improving US economic conditions will cajole the central bank into tightening their policy settings sooner than expected. Fed funds futures are already pointing to an interest rate hike that’s brought forward to end-2022.

The better-than-expected economic prints released this week, including the weekly initial jobless claims, January durable goods orders, and February consumer confidence, are only adding fuel to expectations that the Fed will have to bring its tapering plans forward, despite policymakers’ insistence otherwise. And with President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus programme still in the pipeline, investors are ramping up the chances of an overheating US economy that’s accompanied by the desired inflation overshoot, which in turn shortens the runway till the Fed’s eventual pullback.

With such a debate raging in the markets, we can expect to see more volatile days ahead until markets can reach a greater consensus and a firmer understanding over the Fed’s next policy steps, which should in turn offer a new equilibrium for Treasury yields.

Gold set to post second straight monthly decline

Spot gold is on course to register its 6th monthly loss from the past seven, with rising Treasury yields dealing a blow to the non-yielding precious metal. Bullions year-to-date losses stand at 6.7% at the time of writing.

Despite the threat of rising inflation, investors are clearly willing to ditch gold in favour of other assets that can better ride on the economic recovery’s coattails, as well as the subsequent inflation overshoot. Gold ETFs have shed their holdings by more than 2 million ounces so far this year.

Gold bulls will have all to do in attempting to break the precious metal out of its current downtrend, barring any Fed intervention in quelling the yields surge.



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