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Trump’s First Export: Higher Interest Rates

By Linda McDonough on November 15, 2016

I won’t rehash the Brexit-style surprise Americans unleashed on the world last week. The S&P futures Wednesday plunged 5% to their overnight limit before recovering to slide across the finish line with a 2% gain on the day. Portfolios were juggled frantically as investors swapped out of technology and into healthcare and infrastructure stocks.

Yet the most dramatic move, and the one that likely has the most staying power, is the giant move in interest rates initiated by Mr. Trump’s win. The rate on the 10-year Treasury rose 38 basis points from 1.85% to 2.23% in the three trading days since the election (the bond market was closed on Veteran’s Day).

While this may not sound like a big move, it was the most extreme move in bonds over a three-day stretch in 27 years. Bonds are the tortoises of the stock market, typically moving slowly and carefully with orchestrated instructions from central bankers. The last time the bond market experienced such a dramatic decline in prices was stretched over a four-month period in the summer of 2013 when the Fed threatened to taper back its bond purchases post the 2008 financial meltdown.

Our new president elect’s first major export to the world is higher interest rates. Germany, Italy, the UK and Japan all saw their bond yields soar post Trump’s win. Germany, with a 10-year rate that had threatened to drop into negative territory in late October, saw a 164 basis point increase in its 10-year rate; and Japan, which hasn’t seen positive interest rates since last February, saw its 10-year yield bump up to almost zero with an increase from negative .067% to .016%.

Just when the pundits were trotting out NIRP (negative interest rate policy) and ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), the expectation that the world economies would bump along with subdued growth has been turned on its head. It would seem as if Trump declared “you’re fired” to the economists and central bankers penciling limp inflation and growth assumptions into their models.

The market is worried that the president elect’s plans to spend billions on infrastructure without a commensurate increase in taxes will result in massive borrowing by the government and an escalation in rates. The Fed has all but signed off on a December quarter point increase in rates but the recent jump in rates supports the notion that rates will go much higher.

It’s impossible to know what Trump’s policies will look like in final form, but with both houses of Congress Republican, it’s likely he’ll win approval for many of his spending plans. Trump has already unveiled his vision of a new tax code, which does not appear to increase tax revenues significantly. This means the additional spending will funded with more government debt. Until the market hears otherwise, bond prices will remain under pressure with the fear of a flood of new debt issuance. Declining bond prices result in higher yields or interest rates.

Higher interest rates will hurt any company holding significant amounts of debt tied to variable rates. In anticipation of the Fed’s December move there’s been a rush to refinance debt at lower rates. Anyone who hasn’t done so yet is either clueless or perhaps in such rocky financial shape that they could not find a willing party to refinance their debt.

I’ll be on the lookout for stocks in Profit Catalyst with rising interest expense. Higher interest on its own is not necessarily a bad thing, but if profits start to slow or drop, that rising expense can be a tightening noose around a company’s neck.

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