It paid off to be a contrarian bond investor heading into 2014. Hedge funds have taken note.
So, as mutual-fund managers show confidence in the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise benchmark rates next year, hedge funds are taking the opposite position. They’re poised to win in a more pessimistic scenario, where a weak economy causes central bankers to maintain their easy-money policies for longer, according to data compiled by Citigroup Inc.
“Going against consensus this year has been the right thing to do,” said Marvin Loh, senior fixed-income strategist at BNY Mellon Global Markets. The consensus right now “does presume that the Fed is going to start its normalization process at some point in 2015.”
A Bloomberg Global Poll conducted last week underscored how much investors dislike bonds. Given the chance to speculate on declines in only one asset class, 45 percent of investors, traders and analysts in the quarterly survey picked debt securities of some type as their top choice, more than three times anything else.
Hedge funds, the contrarians, are positioning themselves to benefit from the view that plunging oil prices and slowing global growth may ease pressure on the Fed to tighten monetary policy.
They’re speculating short-maturity notes will gain and have turned net bearish on debt that’ll take the longest to come due, according to data in a Citigroup report dated Monday analyzing exchange-traded futures contracts.
If the Fed keeps borrowing costs at record lows for longer, that may ignite inflation concerns and cause long-term bonds to suffer most. That’s not the market’s consensus view on consumer prices, given five-year inflation expectations have fallen to 1.54 percent from 2.1 percent in June, as measured by the break-even rate for Treasury Inflation Protected Securities.
Mutual-fund managers have put on the exact opposite trade. They’re increasing their allocations to longer-maturity debt while wagering against near-term securities, Citigroup data show.
Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg predict yields on two-year Treasuries will rise to 1.57 percent by the end of 2015 from 0.51 percent now. They expect yields on 10-year U.S. notes to increase to 3.23 percent from 2.34 percent.
At this time last year, it seemed obvious that bond returns would suffer as the Fed curtailed its asset purchases, and yet 10-year Treasury yields have fallen from 3 percent at the end of December.
Hedge funds are betting 2015 will be another year to go against the crowd.
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