Out of Treasuries, Into Stocks?
“Obama Warns Trillion-Dollar Deficit Potential”
—The New York Times (Jan. 7, 2009)
“Suddenly, a Markets Turnaround”
—The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 7, 2009)
The stock market is famously forward-looking, so it’s certainly possible that the rally the last month or so — up 10% to 20% from its lows, depending on the index — reflects investors’ optimism that the economy is due to start improving (or, as NYT columnist Floyd Norris puts it, that “things are getting worse at a slightly slower rate”).
It’s also true that tax-loss selling peaks near the end of the year, and that once it subsides stocks frequently rise (called the “January effect,” which often as not now occurs in December).
However, it’s at least a fair guess that some of the market’s rise is due to investors taking President-elect Obama at his word, and exiting suddenly not-so-safe Treasuries. Where does that money go? Stocks, bonds, gold, commodities — you name it, all these asset categories have rallied recently.
High Risk, No Reward?
For the uninitiated, literally trillions of dollars have flooded into U.S. government debt (T-bill’s and bonds) seeking refuge from the stock and credit market crack-up’s the last 18 months ago. The stampede has been so great that the yield on short-term debt has effectively been driven to zero — less when you take account of fees.
Now, with the prospect of trillion dollar U.S. deficits as far as the eye can see, would-be Treasury buyers are faced with the double whammy of minuscule yield and debased currency (in truth, the latter has been a concern for some time, but the magnitude of the risk is clearly rising along with the deficit projections).
Such a combo recalls the Cal Tech football team’s slogan: ‘we may be small, but we’re slow.’ Not surprisingly, investors are taking the hint and deploying their money elsewhere.