Is the bond bull market over?

Government bonds may be overpriced, but there's life in the bubble yet.


"We can all be caught up in the mood of the moment," says Capital Economics. "But talk of a rout' in the global bond markets is, at best, premature." The recent jump in ten-year UK, US and German bond yields reflecting falling prices looks "dramatic". The German ten-year bund yield soared from 0.07% in mid-April to a high of 0.8%; this week it has fallen to around 0.6%. But the moves were smaller than 2013's jump in yields the so-called taper tantrum.And that was ultimately reversed.

It's certainly too early to call the end of the bond bull market that began with the defeat of inflation in the early 1980s, agrees John Authers in the Financial Times. German yields are still lower than ever seen before December 2014. And the rise in yields may not continue.

The European Central Bank (ECB) may have convinced markets that it has done enough to avert deflation. But that's not the same as convincing them that the recovery is entrenched, which would imply higher yields (and so lower bond prices). Bund yields "still signal deep negativity" about Europe, says Authers. And the ECB is still hoovering up bonds with printed money.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

What could change the outlook? The US ultimately sets the tone for bonds. If it raises interest rates sooner than expected, or seems to be behind the inflation curve, yields could surge. But how long, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wonders inThe Daily Telegraph, could the world economy cope with a spike in yields before it "sets off a chain of nasty consequences, and ultimately defeats itself"?

Overall debt has hit a record 175% of GDP in emerging markets and 275% in developed ones. Emerging markets have racked up $4.5trn in dollar debt. That makes economies vulnerable to dearer US money. "There comes a point when [the interest-rate rise] is too fast and too vicious, and starts to hit earnings. That is when we could get an equity sell-off," says Andrew Roberts of RBS.

Corporate debt looks just as overpriced and as precarious as equities, whose boom "is already long in the tooth and reliant on record margin debt", says Evans-Pritchard. Turbulence would send investors back to bonds, and may even mean more quantitative easing. Yields would fall again. So while it's perfectly possible that we've seen the absolute peak of the multi-decade bond bull market, "don't bank on it".

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.