Even at These Yields, Bonds Still Work

As Russ explains, bonds may not be providing significant income, but still offer a hedge against equity risk.

The coronavirus poses a unique and difficult to quantify threat to health, the economy and financial markets. One manifestation of this has been how fast stocks and other risky assets have collapsed. But while the catalyst is without precedent, other aspects of investor behavior have conformed to well established patterns. As stocks cratered, traditional “safe-haven” assets rose (see Chart 1). Even today, despite record low yields, I would continue to advocate for Treasuries as a hedge, albeit with one caveat: Focus on the long end of the yield curve.

Back in February I last made the case for Treasuries as an equity hedge. At the time, I recommended Treasuries at what seemed at the time to be a ridiculously low yield, around 1.60%. Today, the yield on the U.S. 10-Year note stands at 0.75%.

At today’s levels bonds are no longer a source of meaningful income. That said, bonds continue to prove a risk mitigant, i.e. displaying a tendency to rise when equity markets fall. Although correlations briefly broke down during the worst of the panic selling, 90-day stock bond correlations remain at around -0.50, right in-line with the post-crisis average.

Surprising as it may seem, there is still demand for bonds. For investors outside the U.S., yields still appear attractive relative to the negative yields on offer in their domestic markets. Beyond foreign investors, Treasury owners now have the privilege of investing alongside the 800-pound gorilla of bond buyers: the U.S. Federal Reserve. With the Fed now embarked on the open-ended purchases of Treasuries, there is a limit to how much yields are likely to rise.