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The world's largest asset management firm sees a hazard emerging from today's rising interest rate environment — one which could create painful losses for investors.
Michael Fredericks, who manages the BlackRock Multi-Asset Income Fund, is telling investors to protect themselves against holding bonds, particularly shorter-term ones, because as rates increase their values generally decline.
"We're not running a lot of duration. We haven't been. We've been particularly concerned about positioning at the front end of the curve," said Fredericks recently on CNBC's "Futures Now."
He believes the market may have started to bake in a much higher trajectory than what was conveyed during the Federal Reserve's decision on rates last Wednesday. Fredericks also said Fed policy will likely have an out-sized impact on the front end of the curve.
To cope with the risk, Fredericks' is betting against Treasury futures at the two and five year point of the yield curve, while betting on longer-term instruments on the back end. He predicts bond prices, which trade inversely to their yield, will likely be held down by a slower rate of long-term GDP growth.
Currently, the two year Treasury is trading near its highest levels since August 2009, while the five-year treasury is sitting around six year highs. That dynamic spells higher returns for bond investors, but puts upward pressure on borrowing costs.
Fredericks' fund, which is up more than nine percent over the past year, is now betting more on bank loans and collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), citing the strength of recent economic data and investor demand.
BlackRock predicts there's a 50 percent chance that the Fed will raise interest rates again June. That would be the third time since last December.
Fredericks also questioned whether President Trump's election win and rhetoric is responsible for the stock market surge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has soared by more than 14 percent since then.
"It wouldn't have been my base case that in the middle of March that we wouldn't be talking about fiscal stimulus, we wouldn't be talking about impending tax cuts, but these have really kind of fallen off the radar," added Fredericks. "I'll assume they will come back to the front burner at some point. But, those really haven't been driving markets higher."
He noted the real culprit behind the rally has been the economic picture, which has been a bright spot.
"We're surprised ourselves on how strong the incoming economic data has been," said Fredericks. "Is this or is this not a Trump rally? I do wonder whether the market is not so focused on 2017 P/E multiples, but looking out a little bit further to 2018 or 2019."
Fredericks isn't just concentrating on the bond market. He also encouraged U.S. investors to look at equities overseas.
"We've come a long way really quickly. The valuations, we do think, are a bit of a headwind. At the margin, we've been taking money out of U.S. equities with a preference towards European stocks," he said.
One of the bond market's biggest players has a message for the Federal Reserve as it ponders its decision on interest rates.
Pimco's Tony Crescenzi said the Fed must not shy away from raising rates this year. If it does, it could mark the return of "bond market vigilantes."
That's the term given to investors who protest inflationary policies by selling bonds. This, in turn, pushes yields higher, and could create serious headwinds.
"What's very important to the Fed is to control the bond market vigilantes," Pimco's market strategist and portfolio manager said Tuesday on CNBC's "Futures Now." "Keep them from worrying about inflation."
The central bank announces its decision on interest rates at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.
The Fed, he says, can accomplish this by sounding hawkish, showing resolve against inflation and raising interest rates when the bond market and the stock market says it's OK to do so. Otherwise, Crescenzi believes the 2013 "taper tantrum" highs would be the next major stop for 10-year Treasury yields.
The 10-year yield hit an intraday high on Tuesday of 2.639 percent — the highest since the day after the last Fed meeting.
The futures market is forecasting a nearly 100 percent chance later Wednesday of a rate hike, according to the CME Group. The last 25-basis point hike, announced on Dec. 14, lifted the Fed funds target rate to 0.50 to 0.75 percent, a number that's still considered historically low.
Pimco's official projection calls for two to three hikes this year, and a similar amount next year.
"The market still thinks that the Fed in the year 2020 will have its policy rate somewhere around 2 percent or so," Crescenzi said.
Overall, he's optimistic on the strength of the economy. Yet he's "leery" of the White House's ability to permanently boost U.S. growth. Even if tax cuts become a reality under President Donald Trump, they may not last, and that could create an issue down the line, he said.
"Markets are in particular priced for tax reform," Crescenzi added. "But households have to feel confident about tax cuts staying permanent. This means then in a sense that the Republicans will stay in power for at least four years, and the tax cuts won't sunset too quickly."
A storm is brewing in U.S. markets, and one Wall Street expert says the safest umbrella is made of green.
Bulltick Capital Markets' Kathryn Rooney Vera warned CNBC this week that a showdown is looming between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan over budget cuts, and the fallout could shake markets.
According to the analyst, part of the problem is that investors appear to be operating as if corporate tax cuts are a done deal. This misconception, along with emerging divisions in reforming Obamacare and pulling off a border adjustment tax, could negatively impact U.S. markets.
That could also boost the U.S. dollar, she added.
"The dollar goes up 20 percent if we have a border adjustment tax," Vera told CNBC "Futures Now" this week, when asked if investors should seek safety. For several reasons, she argued a tax on imports—an idea that's polarized Democrats and Republicans alike—could be beneficial for the greenback.
"Economic principle says that a value added tax accompanied by, perhaps, a wage deduction is positive for the dollar," Vera said. "The fact is, we're the only country in the developed world that doesn't have a value added tax that's border-adjusted and that also has a corporate income tax structure."
Value added taxes (VAT) function as a levy on consumption rather than on savings and investment, and are widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. However, some economists argue the VAT disproportionately hits lower income consumers, and as a result the U.S. should be wary of implementing one of its own.
Vera contended that a border adjustment tax would be a major revenue generator for the U.S. economy as it turns, "a vice into a virtue. We have huge trade deficit. A border adjustment tax would allow us to tax that. Imports get taxed while exports get subsidized."
While Vera warned that a Trump administration policy logjam would be negative for markets and the dollar, she was relatively confident the GOP majority could achieve results.
"My contention is that tax reform is going to come alongside a debt ceiling increase," said Vera, speaking about the March 15 deadline for Washington to set a new statutory borrowing limit.
"A Republican-controlled Congress is going to require it," Vera said. "Increasing the debt ceiling without some off-setting measures would be politically complicated."
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