Political risk is back with a vengeance in Italy. As the third largest global issuer of government bonds after the US and Japan, the country is too big to be allowed to fail without severe contagion to the global financial system. However, it is also too big to bail out comfortably using tried and tested mechanisms.
The US yield curve has consistently flattened since the Federal Reserve began tightening monetary policy several years ago. History strongly suggests that this is an entirely normal market reaction to a rate hiking cycle. If short-term interest rates continue to rise at the pace we expect, we could well be looking at an inverted curve by the middle of 2019.
The Bank of Japan is trying to convince the market that there is “nothing to see here” despite a sharp drop in its asset purchase flow from ¥80 trillion to ¥60 trillion per annum. Add this to the list of reasons to worry about potential yen appreciation, but don’t think of it as a leading concern for global rates or risk assets.
It turns out, quite a lot. The ability of real assets to retain their inflation-adjusted value over time is hugely valuable. Relatively small differentials in annual returns can compound up into huge differences in outcomes over long periods of time. However, knowing whether an asset is in a bubble comes down to a debate about appropriate discount rates.