The End of Interest Rate Risk

Larry Hirshik is both a good friend of mine and our talented trader at SL Advisors. We’ve been friends for over 25 years. Larry and I both spent many years trading interest rate derivatives – eurodollar futures, interest rate swaps and government securities. Interest rate risk has been a topic that consumed much of our intellectual energy for close to three decades. Analyzing economic data, extrapolating growth prospects and assessing the likely path of the Federal Funds rate and interest rates in general was an important part of what we did.

So my friend Larry, who often possesses market insight, noted that there is no longer interest rate risk. Every fixed income analyst is really a credit analyst. As I considered this slap at orthodoxy, I realized Larry was on to something. The Fed has promised zero interest rates through at least 2013, and keeps coming up with new, innovative ways to lower bond yields. Almost every developed country has a policy designed to keep bond yields low enough to shoo away all but the least discriminating investor. The dominant issue affecting the cost of credit for almost the entire world is now its own creditworthiness. European sovereign debt yields are approaching or have already crossed high yield. And so it comes to this – 10 year Italian government bond yields, over 6%, are now competing with si,ilarly yielding leveraged loans. Given the choice between a portfolio of senior debt from non-investment grade corporations, or government debt from an issuer whose yields are now so far above nominal GDP growth as to ensure its debt load is unsustainable, investing in the former seems a wholly more sensible idea. Add this to the “Strange World” list.