Donald J. Trump’s surprise election victory is a sea change, opening the way for substantial tax and regulatory reforms that should lead to reflation: improving growth, wage gains, and concomitant inflation.
- Post-election, the shorter end of the yield curve immediately steepened, suggesting bond investors see more growth in the near term. However, the long end of the yield curve has flattened, signaling that fiscal stimulus now may become a fiscal drag over the long term.
- We expect to see a modest rise in the 10-year Treasury from the current level of about 2.4 percent (watch 2.60 percent level).
The Yield curve "Tell"
First, let’s begin by defining a yield curve. A yield curve is a line that plots the interest rates, at a point in time, of bonds having equal credit quality but differing maturity dates. The most commonly reported yield curve compares the three-month, two-year, five-year, 10-year, and 30-year U.S. Treasury debt. [1}
Read more: Yield Curve Definition | Investopedia
The yield curve reflects the collective wisdom of millions of bond investors, and historically, it has been a strong predictor of economic booms and busts. The steepness or flatness of the yield curve is an indication of economic growth. The steeper the curve, the more investors expect inflation and interest rates to rise in the future. Conversely, when the yield curve flattens (or inverts -- shorter-term rates are higher than long-term rates), then investors expect a slowing economy. Also, our Federal Reserve Bank’s buying programs exert influence on the shape of our yield curve.
With the post-election spike in the 10-year Treasury, the bond market is telling us that Trump’s proposed policies are reflationary (see chart below). Over the short run, the bond market is signaling that moderately improving economic growth will lead to gradually rising interest rates. However, the long end of the yield curve has flattened, which means that Trump’s fiscal stimulus plans of lower tax rates and trillion-dollar infrastructure spending could become an economic drag later. And if Trump’s policies add to our $20 trillion in national debt, future costs of servicing our national debt due to higher interest rates could present a real drag on GDP.
The congressional budget office numbers
Each year in February, we review the CBO Budget and Economic Outlook report. According to this year’s report:
“As the slack in the economy continues to diminish, the Federal Reserve will continue to reduce its support of economic growth, in CBO’s view. Thus, the federal funds rate — the interest rate that financial institutions charge one another for overnight loans of their monetary reserves — is expected to rise gradually over the next few years, reaching 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 and 1.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, and 3.1 percent in the later part of the projection period. 
Our bond portfolio base case
- We advocate holding Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) in bond portfolios.
- We favor shortening interest rate exposure. (Floating rate bonds look pricey).
- We prefer financial paper, selective U.S. fixed rate bank preferreds, and investment-grade corporate bonds over Treasuries.
- President Trump's proposed tax reforms could reduce the attractiveness of municipal bonds and presents risks for investors.
- We recommend a simple laddered bond strategy.
Historically, the sweet spot in the yield curve during a rising rate environment has been the five-to-seven-year maturity range. While we expect rates to rise from current levels, they should remain low by historical standards for several reasons: slower growth in the labor force, diminishing productivity growth, and continued strong demand for U.S. Treasuries from the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan.
1. Investopedia: yield curve definition
2. Congressional Budget Office Report, "The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2017-2027," January 2017.
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