What’s Missing From Bond Markets Ahead of the CPI

Beware: Bond Arithmetic

If you have an aversion to the mathematics that go with the bond market, you’re not alone. It’s complicated and counter-intuitive, based in concepts that are hard to visualize. Like all markets, it ultimately responds to supply and demand, but the forces moving investors’ demand for bonds can stretch a long way beyond macroeconomic conditions. As we brace for another consumer price index announcement, here is a brief tour of the most contentious measures:

The Term Premium

The term premium is the amount of extra yield you will need in order to lend over a longer period rather than a shorter one, or to quote the New York Fed’s excellent home page on this, “The compensation that investors require for bearing the risk that interest rates may change over the life of the bond.” More things can go wrong in a longer period of time, so it’s natural to regard longer-term investing as risky, but exactly how much of a premium do investors get for buying bonds for the long term?

As with another elusive but important concept, the equity risk premium (the premium you get for taking the extra risk of investing in equities rather than some risk-free investment), the term premium can only be known with certainty in hindsight. Generally, the higher the premium that investors are demanding, the greater their uncertainty about the future of the economy. A low or even negative term premium implies great confidence about the direction of the economy.

That leads to a conundrum. Most of us can agree that the global economic outlook is more than usually uncertain. But sensible estimates of the term premium suggest that it’s historically low. This is the term premium as calculated by CrossBorder Capital Ltd.:

And this is the term premium as calculated by the New York Fed’s ACM model (short for Adrian, Crump and Moench, its inventors):