When investors are frustrated and confused about where the markets are heading, they do what comes naturally—they buy bonds.
Janet Yellen’s decision Thursday to keep short term interest rates at zero– where it has stood since 2006–found traders reaching out for temporary relief in the form of investments that offered low risk, albeit small returns i.e. short-to-medium U.S. Treasuries and investment-grade corporate bonds.
Investors have been turning to bonds for months as global turmoil began and uncertainty about the Fed’s approach caused insecurity in U.S. markets. The slowdown in China may have started the ball rolling as well as the division amongst analysts as to the true strength of the U.S. economy. Bonds remain one of the few instruments left that offer liquidity and income in an economic state of restrained inflation, measured global growth and continued speculation on the Fed’s next tightening campaign.
According to Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock (BLK.N), the world’s biggest asset manager with $4.7 trillion in assets under management, “even European bonds are worth a look.”
In fact, European Central Bank Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said Friday that the bank has flexibility to extend bond buying beyond September 2016 if called for. This statement caused a broad rally in free debt in Europe and provided an additional boost for Treasuries.
Lower bond yields in Europe make higher-yielding U.S. Treasury debt more attractive for buyers. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note was 2.155%, down from 2.215% Thursday. Yields work in the opposite direction of prices so that when bond yields fall, prices rise.
Many bond firms, anticipating (correctly) that the Fed would leave rates in tack, bought up U.S. Treasuries in various maturities to the tune of $1.1 billion in the week ending September 16th. Pimco Total Return Fund, one of the world’s largest bond funds, posted gains of 0.26 for the week while Barclays’ U.S. Aggregate bond index, the most widely followed U.S. bond market benchmark, ended the day up 0.49 percent on Thursday, its biggest one-day upsurge since the beginning of July.