Bill Gross: Is the economy experiencing irrational exuberance?

Now at this point, I suppose readers expect yours truly to jump all over the Governor’s speech/premise and to advance my own more learned thesis. Not really. With previously expressed reservations about the prescience of the Fed (or any of us!) I applaud his attempt to answer the initial 1996 question. I think Governor Stein’s speech was a little uni-dimensional, and a little too supply and model driven as opposed to behaviorally influenced, but I liked it, and PIMCO agrees with its conclusion. Corporate credit and high yield bonds are somewhat exuberantly and irrationally priced. Spreads are tight, corporate profit margins are at record peaks with room to fall, and the economy is still fragile. Still that doesn’t mean you should vacate your portfolio of them. It just implies that recent double-digit returns are unlikely to be replicated and that when today’s 5-6% high yield interest rates are adjusted for future defaults and recovery values, that 3-4% realized returns are the likely outcome. Just this past week the Financial Times reported that global corporate default rates are inching higher just as companies with fragile balance sheets sell large amounts of debt. Don’t say Governor Stein didn’t warn you.

But I would step now into the forbidden territory of equity pricing by presenting additional historical correlations compiled by Jim Bianco of Bianco Research — admittedly not a thickly populated academically staffed organization like the Fed, but a well-regarded one nonetheless. He points out in a recent daily release that high yield and corporate bonds are really just low beta equivalents of stocks. It appears that they are. The following charts show a rather commonsensical negative correlation of high yield spreads (and therefore future high yield returns) to stock prices.

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