The Financial Times reported this week that central banks around the world are in the process of repositioning their portfolios as they pare back their exposure to US treasuries. They are doing this ahead of the US Federal Reserve ending Quantitative Easing (QE) this fall. Their rationale is that without the US Fed acting as the biggest single buyer of US government debt, excess demand for US treasuries will not be absorbed by the market at elevated prices, and thus will lead to higher interest rates. This should insatiably create a demand for gold, and the demand is from those that need to hedge exposure to US currency and US debt.
And so continues the threat of financial instability for global markets. Contrary to this though, the theme on Wall Street for the last few weeks has been on the abnormally high reported levels of investor complacency. This is gauged by the VIX (commonly referred to as the fear index) touching its lowest level in seven years, which was right before the financial crises of 2007. And this is exemplified by the fact that the major US indices have not made a move one per cent or wider in either direction in a single trading session in the last two months. To some, this is unsettling and continues to prompt calls for that overdue correction in equities.
But looking longer term or perhaps examining the implications of what a diminishing appetite for government debt by the world’s largest money managers means is what is a greater concern verses a lull in the markets. Tighter monetary policy is prompting central bankers, pension funds, and large scale investors that traditionally steer towards fixed income to allocate more capital to riskier assets such as equities. This chase or reach for yield, that many of the world’s brightest thinkers have precaution of is taking place. Riskier assets, and at times less liquid assets will have trouble offering the consistency and performance that some of these funds, like pensions, seek to achieve.
The other caution though that stems from this is the potential of these large scale investors losing the flexibility of their liquidity. Arguably, this would more be a threat to the stability of global markets, but according to the IMF, as 62 percent of all central banks investments were held in dollar based assets last year, it was undoubtedly the utility of the greenback as the world’s reserve currency that offered this convenience. The uncertainty going forward is determining the effect of the end of the dominance or reign of the dollar.
And this is again where precious metals play a role. The greatest risk to financial markets is how the US treasury market preforms when its biggest buyer, the Federal Reserve, is no longer in its role as a never ending buyer of US debt. It in part served this role in order to support a market of suppressed long term rates. The belief is that the demand and rush for equities will keep their prices trading higher as all types of investors continue to raise their exposure to risk assets. Unfortunately, this continues to tell a story of the stark differences between the financial markets and the underlying economy.
One will have to budge.