(Bloomberg) – Global bonds rebounded in November, adding a record market value of $2.8 trillion, as investors bet central banks are keeping inflation under control. But how long the party lasts is another matter.
Investment-grade government and corporate debt rose to a market value of $59.2 trillion from $56.4 trillion at the end of October, the largest monthly increase in a Bloomberg index dating back to 1990. The gauge – which fell into a bear market in September – rebounded after US inflation cooled more than expected and the Federal Reserve signaled a possible slowdown in aggressive rate hikes, boosting sentiment. .
“We are starting to see a number of economic indicators that indicate inflation has peaked or is peaking,” said Omar Slim, fixed income portfolio manager at PineBridge Investments in Singapore. While trading in US Treasuries is likely to be volatile amid economic data and Fed rhetoric, the bond market rally “has legs,” he said.
Expectations of a Fed pivot have risen since weaker inflation data earlier this month spurred a massive relief rally across all asset classes, reigniting a languid bond market in its worst rout since a generation. But with the threat of recession looming, a recovery will not be smooth.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. strategists expect U.S. and European corporate bond spreads – which have recently narrowed – to widen in the first quarter of 2023 as central banks continue to hike rates, before tightening again as a soft landing for the US economy becomes more clear. They see US investment grade corporate bond spreads peaking at 180 basis points and ending the year at 150 basis points.
For 2023, “we expect small but positive excess returns, while total returns will likely show a much more pronounced improvement in performance” following the historic plunge in bond prices this year, the bank’s strategists wrote, including Lotfi Karoui, in a note this week. .
In Europe, investors are also betting on a better year, with spreads falling sharply lately. Euro-denominated corporate bond yield premia have tightened for six straight weeks and are now flirting with their lowest level in six months on optimism that rate hikes will slow and amid a run investors to capture some of the highest returns in a decade.
Safer corporate debt in the common currency has become a major trading idea for next year, with strategists at UBS Group AG forecasting better returns from the asset class than from European stocks or US bonds. German state.
And in Asia, high-quality dollar credit spreads have widened less than their US counterparts this year. Some in the region – including PineBridge’s Slim – believe that the region’s higher-rated credits, such as sovereigns or quasi-sovereign entities like utilities, could be an opportunity in 2023, given their stable fundamentals. .
Stronger growth in Asia, lax central bank policy in China and Japan, and a sharp drop in dollar issuance in the region are all supportive of credit, although investors should be selective, he said.
But not all investors are convinced that the recent gains mark a lasting turnaround.
Nicholas Elfner, co-head of research at Breckinridge Capital Advisors, is less optimistic about the possibility of the United States avoiding a recession. He’s been keeping an eye on the shape of the yield curve and its inverted front end, which suggests investors are anticipating a significant slowdown and Fed policy is likely a bit too tight, he said.
High-quality credit spreads tend to historically peak around 175 to 200 basis points in a mild recession and between 200 and 250 basis points in a full-blown recession, Elfner said. While rate volatility may have peaked, credit spreads have not if the economic scenario suggested by the yield curve materializes, he said.
A crucial data point will come in mid-December, with the Fed’s final announcement of the year. Key data on payrolls and inflation will be watched in the meantime for clues on the central bank’s path forward and its implications for the bond market recovery.
“This bull cycle is going to last longer than expected,” said Steven Boothe, portfolio manager and head of the investment-grade fixed income team at T. Rowe Price Group Inc.
And as for the November rebound: “The market was a bit overhedged so it didn’t really take a lot of relatively good news to get that rebound,” Boothe said. “I wouldn’t expect it to persist.”
–With help from Lorretta Chen and Tasos Vossos.
©2022 Bloomberg LP