There is a record $16.3 trillion of US debt and a good portion of that debt is sitting in baby boomers' portfolios "like a ticking time bomb ready to explode." With Bernanke's debt paper floating though the market and the Fed chief vowing to keep rates low, some bond managers are hoping to get out before the bubble bursts.
By JONATHON TRUGMAN
Last Updated: 12:18 PM, November 25, 2012
There goes the nest egg.
There’s a record $16.3 trillion of US debt and a good portion of that is sitting in baby boomers’ portfolios like a ticking time bomb ready to explode, and most investors know little about it.
“It’s my worst nightmare,” says a long-only bond fund manager. “There’s nothing I can do — the checks come in [from clients] every day, and I have to invest it.”
With Ben Bernanke’s debt paper floating through the market and the Fed chief vowing to keep rates low until 2015, some bond managers are hoping to get out before the bubble bursts and Armageddon hits.
And rates would not have to go through the roof to take out billions in principal for investors, most of whom are in bonds because they are nearing retirement.
“If the 10-year [bond] goes up 100 basis points, that could mean more than $35 billion is lost,” says one bond trader.
One hundred basis points is just a 1 percent increase, which would put the 10-year at about 2.6 percent. The average rate of return over the last decade is roughly 4 percent, which, if we return to that yield, could put principal losses close to $500 billion, says a bond manager.
Bond prices (your principal) and interest rates (yield) move in opposite directions. When rates rise, bond prices fall. The inverse is, of course, true as well. When rates fall, the price (your principal) of the bond rises.
The problem today is that short-term Federal Reserve funds rates are pegged at zero percent. In addition, the Fed’s irresponsible bond-buying spree, dubbed QE, has driven even long-term rates insanely low, to 1.5 or 1.6 percent on the 10-year Treasury.
Without rewriting arithmetic, rates have nowhere to go but up — and, eventually, up quite a bit. And the principal invested in bonds will fall substantially.
Most older Americans have done their part, putting away a little bit each month towards their retirement, cutting back on household budgets and selling their riskier equity investments in favor of “safer” US Treasury bonds.
Well, that’s where they may have gone wrong. While most financial advisers still steer their near-retirement clients into bond funds, these are extraordinary times where the latest bubble — bonds — is about to explode, just like the two previous bubbles.
The Fed’s bizarre move “forward” into a massive multitrillion-dollar bond-buying binge has left all investors more vulnerable today than they were in 2000 after the Internet bubble, or the housing-bubble bust in 2008.
Investors implicitly understood that there were certain levels of risk inherent in Internet/technology stocks in the beginning of the dot-com economy, where an idea and a sock puppet could garner a $100 million market cap. The same applied a few years later, when investors saw the price of their homes double over three years on nothing more than easy credit and lax regulator supervision.
But sadly, few Americans understand just how risky bonds are at this very moment. For generations, investors have looked to US bonds/Treasuries as “low-risk” savings instruments, almost like a bank CD. Bond losses were always something that happened in other countries like Argentina, Greece or Portugal, not America.
It is not as complicated as some would pretend, but it is extremely important for all to understand — especially those planning on retiring soon. Pension plans, 401(k)s, annuities, IRAs — retirement vehicles have never been more at risk than they are now.
Most Americans don’t spend their time trying to comprehend the likes of quantitative easing or yield curves. That’s what the bureaucrats get paid for.
However, everyone recognizes that they earn next to nothing on their money today, either in the bank or in other interest-rate-based products like bonds and money-market funds.
They also know that “something” is clearly not right. That intuitive “something,” that recognition, is all-telling. The Fed has forced the bond market into unchartered and very unsafe waters.
With Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all on the chopping block because Washington overspent and mismanaged itself, retirement savings are even more important.
So after manipulating the bond market to bubbly levels that even Dom Perignon would be proud of, we have virtually no economic benefit to show for it.
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