Falling Treasury yields could lure investors back to US stock markets

Amid signs the Fed is nearing the end of its rate rise cycle, other asset classes are starting to find their footing

Traders are seen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Bullish investor sentiment received another boost on Friday from US employment data, suggesting that the labour market is cooling and bolstering the case for the Fed to further hold off on raising interest rates. AFP
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Hopes that a rout in Treasuries has run its course are tempting some investors back into the US stock market after a months-long sell-off.

The relationship between stocks and bonds has been a tight one in recent months, with equities falling as Treasury yields climbed to 16-year highs. Higher yields offer investment competition to stocks while also raising the cost of capital for companies and households.

For much of the last week, however, that dynamic has reversed, following news of smaller-than-expected US government borrowing and signs that the Federal Reserve is nearing the end of its rate rise cycle.

Yields on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury, which move inversely to bond prices, are down about 35 basis points from 16-year highs hit in October. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 surged 5.9 per cent in the past week, its biggest gain since November 2022. The index is off about 5 per cent from its July peak, although up nearly 14 per cent year-to-date.

“The stability in rates is helping other asset classes find a footing,” said Jason Draho, head of asset allocation Americas at UBS Global Wealth Management. “If equities move higher you may find investors starting to feel as if they need to chase performance through the end of the year.”

Mr Draho expects the S&P 500 to trade between 4,200 and 4,600 until investors determine whether the economy will be able to avoid a recession. The index was recently around 4,365.

Other factors may also be working in stocks’ favour. Exposure to equities among active money managers stands to close its lowest level since October 2022, according to an index compiled by the National Association of Active Investment Managers – a compelling sign for contrarian investors who seek to buy when pessimism rises.

Aggregate equity positioning tracked by Deutsche Bank fell to a five-month low earlier in the week, the firm's strategists said in a note on Friday, helping to fuel a powerful bounce when investors rushed back into the market.

At the same time, the last two months of the year have tended to be a strong stretch for stocks, with the S&P 500 rising an average of 3 per cent, according to data from CFRA Research. The best two weeks of the year for the index, during which it has risen an average of 2.2 per cent – kicked off on October 22, according to data from Carson Investment Research.

“We had an extremely oversold market in the midst of a strong economy, and the Fed coming out a little more dovish was the kindling we needed for a rally,” said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at Carson Investment Research, who believes the current rebound in stocks will take them past their July high.

Bullish sentiment received another boost on Friday from US employment data, which showed a slight gain in the unemployment rate and smallest wage increase in two-and-a-half years, suggesting that the labour market is cooling, bolstering the case for the Fed to stay its hand. The S&P 500 closed up 0.9 per cent on the day.

Of course, plenty of investors remain hesitant to return to stocks just yet. Technology bellwether Apple on Thursday was the latest of the market's technology and growth stocks to offer an underwhelming outlook.

The iPhone maker gave a holiday sales forecast that was below Wall Street estimates. At least 14 analysts cut their price targets for the stock, according to LSEG data.

Interest rates explained

Interest rates explained

Still, analysts expect earnings growth of 5.7 per cent for S&P 500 companies in the third quarter, with more than 81 per cent of the 403 companies in the benchmark index that have reported profits so far having beaten estimates, according to LSEG data.

At the same time, betting on reversals in Treasuries has been a losing proposition for most of the year, during which rebounds in the US government bond market have been followed by deeper sell-offs. The 10-year Treasury yield is up about 125 basis points from its low for the year.

Some investors also worry that the so-called Goldilocks economy suggested by Friday's jobs report may not last. Greg Wilensky, head of US fixed income at Janus Henderson Investors, believes that while signs of softer than expected growth are boosting stocks and bonds for now, they may eventually stir recession worries.

“Eventually 'good' moderation may turn into a debate of whether the economy and labour markets are weakening too much,” he said.

Updated: November 05, 2023, 4:00 AM