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The Fed isn't Killing Treasury Volatility, it's Amplifying it

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Contrary to what the Federal Reserve thinks, low US Treasury volatility is dangerously explosive says Althea Spinozzi, Fixed Income Specialist at Saxo Bank.

Following the Fed meeting last week, we have seen the MOVE Index falling to historic lows. Although low volatility is what the Fed is looking to achieve, we believe that it creates even higher market risk as we are approach the U.S. election.

I cannot say it enough: U.S. Treasuries are the biggest mouse trap of all time.

As we explained in an article we published last week, near-zero yields offer just a limited upside for investors while the downside remains large. On top of it, volatility in U.S. Treasuries has sunk to the lowest level seen in history, making them even less attractive.

ICE MOVE

The MOVE Index is a well-recognised measure of U.S. interest rate volatility that tracks the movement in U.S. Treasury yield volatility implied by current prices of one-month over-the-counter options on 2-year, 5-year, 10-year and 30-year Treasuries. More information here.

I am shocked to see a number of articles discussing how the U.S. yield curve steepened during Friday’s afternoon session as the stock market was sliding.

Is it worthwhile to pay attention to a one basis point movement in 30-year treasury yields amid a sell-off in the equity market? Maybe I am becoming too old for this game, but I cannot bear news channels discussing government bonds' movements when there is none.

At the moment, the yield curve is dead. We will not see it moving on the basis of monetary policy expectations because the market has received the Fed's message loud and clear.

What the Fed has failed to see, however, is that as the U.S. election approaches volatility in U.S. Treasuries is going to resume in any case. In this context, the attempt to eradicate market volatility might actually cause even higher uncertainty.

The anxiety surrounding the U.S. election is mounting.

Everybody knows that this will be an election like no other where we’ll most likely see a significant delay of the results amid postal ballots.

By keeping interest rates low for longer, the Fed is producing the unwanted side effect that whenever there is volatility, market reactions will be amplified. In the destabilising case of a sell-off, panicking investors will sell whatever is hot in their portfolio. At that point, the market will find out that risky assets have become riskier because of the Fed’s low-interest rate policies.

As a matter of fact, companies have been leveraging up their balance steadily as the Fed was cutting interest rates, contributing to a vulnerable system apt to sell-offs.

It’s a vicious circle, which will never stop. When the Fed perceives panic, it will implement Modern Monetary Theory policies.

Hence, companies start to take on more debt until volatility manifests itself and the Fed will need to act again. Only that volatility will always be higher than before.

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