Market Review

As the public health and economic fallout from Covid-19 continued, U.S. Treasury yields traded in a reasonably tight range during May. Ten-year yields stayed within a 12-basis point (bp) band, while 30-year yields kept to a 20 bp range. Twenty-year notes were issued by the federal government for the first time in many years, and the market gave the new paper a warm reception.  Ultimately, the 2- to 30-year yield curve slope steepened by 16 bps, as the short-end of the curve remained firmly anchored.

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Federal Reserve Chair Powell indicated that they would use whatever tools available to support the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concurrently, Congress and the administration continued to add to their dramatic fiscal response.

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As of this writing, there have been no new fiscal programs enacted since the Phase 3 CARES Act on March 27. Congress spent a portion of last week debating an expansion of the CARES Act. The Senate finished the week at an impasse, attempting to add $250 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Democrats sought more money for hospitals and state and local governments in exchange for passing a Republican proposal for more small-business loan funding.

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In these quarterly pieces, we typically review the events - primarily economic events - of the past three months, their impact on the fixed income markets, and how our portfolios have been positioned. Today, we want to begin by expressing our fervent wish that you, our clients, friends and your families, are healthy and safe. The first three months of 2020 have been like no other.

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Over the past month, there has been a flood of monetary and fiscal programs enacted and proposed globally. The focus has been on mitigating the damage to individuals and businesses (and supporting a faster recovery once economic factors and markets stabilize), while trying to facilitate some form of functioning capital markets. 

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There has been significant turmoil year-to-date in the financial markets as fear rises over the spreading COVID-19 and its uncertain impact on global economic growth. Equities have fallen at an unprecedented rate, erasing $20 trillion in global wealth over the past three weeks, while U.S. Treasuries have rallied dramatically. Ten-year yields have fallen to record lows (at one point this month hitting 0.32% intraday). Within the bond market, all “risk” has sold off, including corporates, securitized product, and high yield bonds. Until last week, bond market trading remained orderly with only pockets of illiquidity. That changed last Thursday as trading costs of even the current and off-the-run (older issues) U.S. Treasuries rose and have continued to rise at the start of this week.

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