Friday, December 19, 2008

Interest Rates are Coming Down!

For some time I have indicated that I did not believe a strong market upturn could happen until corporate bond interest rates came down from their high. When interest rates go down the value of bonds rises! I wanted to see the value of our bonds rise! Back in November of 2007, the corporate interest rate on core bonds was about 4.75%. In March, rates had risen to about 6%, which I thought was a good buy. From March until mid-June, interest rates declined to about 5.5%, but then we heard about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and their problems. In a matter of days, the interest rates shot up to almost 9.5% on core corporate bonds as many investors left corporate bonds and turned to the safety of short-term U.S. government bonds. Fear was running the markets! It has been my belief that we needed to see the core corporate interest rates decrease to below 7% before we would see relief from the fear that has driven this market all year long. Interest rates last month did finally get down to a range of 7.5% to 7.65% and stalled at that point . . . until this week! I mentioned to some clients that we might see the core corporate interest rates, when they did decrease, look something like the drop in the price of oil, with a rapid drop in rates and a corresponding increase in the value of bonds. Well, it happened! On Monday the interest rates on these bonds dropped to 7.35%. On Tuesday the rate dropped to 7.22%, still higher than my target of under 7% but looking better than we have seen in a long time. On Wednesday they went to 6.91% and I wondered: is this for real? Thursday confirmed the trend with the rate dropping to 6.71%. This is a major change in a very short period of time. Until yesterday there had been no real drop in the interest rates on high yield bonds that had risen from about 11% in March to 23%. Yesterday we saw the first meaningful drop as the rates went down to about 21.65%. The drop in interest rates seems to be the first signal since last June that the fear that has swept the market seems to be receding. I believe this is a good trend and I am optimistic about where we might go from here. Ed Mallon

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holiday, Followed by Turkey

Last week seemed to be an optimistic prelude to the Thanksgiving holiday. The stock market managed four successful up days followed by a fifth on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, on Monday, the market was a “turkey” and gave back about half of what it had gained during those five up days. Some of this is profit-taking after such a run up, but part of it is that the economic news is still not very good. It has been my belief, and still is, that in order for the economy to move forward, we need to see the interest rates on corporate bonds decrease to a level that makes some sense. This has not happened. Interest rates rose in October and were followed by additional increases in November. If it takes lower interest rates to move the economy, then the stock market cannot do much until lower interest rates occur. Corporate bonds, in some cases, are linked to commercial real estate, and as the economy worsens, the question becomes “what is the value of the real estate that supports the bonds”? There seem to be many questions at present but few answers. The old administration in Washington is wrapping up their loose ends and likely will do little between now and the time that the new administration enters. I had a list of what I would do if I were the President-Elect and I must say that Obama is doing all of the things on my list. He will need to hit the ground running, and to this end he appears to have assembled a competent group to help him launch meaningful economic reform. I wish him well! Ed Mallon