Banks & Thrifts have tailwinds despite flat Treasury yield curve

The Fed is raising rates as fast as it can, and the Treasury yield curve is flat or inverted. Is this a bad scenario for US banks? Not right now, since the rates banks pay on deposits have risen much less than rates on Treasury bills or the fed funds rate, as is often the case. And wider credit spreads on corporate loans have also helped improve lending margins. Our stock rankings show higher readings for the Financials sector, helped by strong earnings estimate revisions, particularly in mid- and smaller-cap banks and thrifts. Readings above zero on the chart below indicate analysts raising estimates more in Banks than in the overall US market, and recent readings have been far above average.

Why are you not more bearish?

Client Question: There is a possible world war going on along with a seemingly never-ending pandemic, inflation is at multi-decade highs, the Fed and other central banks are tightening monetary policy, and the world may lose access to Russian oil and gas entirely soon – why aren’t you massively bearish on stocks, which everyone knows is the high-risk asset class?

Answer: While naturally reserving the right to get more cautious on stocks (we downgraded equities to neutral on Feb. 14th), there are a few reasons we are not more bearish on stocks or the broader economic outlook at the moment.

Rate policy diverging among global central banks

Central bank policy remains a key focus for investors as rates are set to rise in the US this year, with debate about the pace of the rate hikes and balance sheet adjustment ongoing. However, this is not true everywhere, as there have been growing divergences in expected rate policies among the major developed market central banks.

As shown in the chart below of two-year sovereign bond yields for the US, UK, Japan, and Germany (Eurozone), investors are pricing in multiple rate hikes over the next year or two from the US Fed and the Bank of England (BoE): US and UK two-year yields are at or near 1% now, up from around zero for most of the time since early 2020.

Growth rebound looks extended, as do long-term bonds

We have heard a number of client questions about the recent rebound in Growth stocks relative to Value (or Cyclical) stocks, so here we review some of the recent price action and one of the key cross-asset drivers.

The first chart below plots the relative performance of the S&P 500 Pure Growth versus Pure Value indices (top section) along with the 14-day RSI technical indicator (bottom section) as a measure of overbought/oversold conditions.

Bond market making some noise

The bond market has clearly awoken from what appeared to be a low-volatility Fed-induced slumber for much of last year. Longer-term bond yields in the US and elsewhere have jumped to their highest levels since just before the COVID crisis hit markets early last year (blue line in first chart below). Even after this rise, though, the 10-year Treasury yield remains below even the low points of previous cycles.