Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid:

One of the more interesting stories of yesterday was a €1bn 50 year private placement bond issued by the Spanish Government with a 4% coupon. It’s a measure of how far things have come in a couple of years that such a deal could be launched. It was also a day when 2 year French yields traded below zero for the first time ever. We still live in remarkable financial times. Back to the Spanish deal, although current low levels of inflation make this deal look optically attractive on a real yield basis we thought we’d look at the rolling average 50 year level of inflation in Spain to highlight what real returns might potentially be over the lifetime of the bond. I hope I survive to see it mature but I hope I won’t be writing about it then. Anyway the average annual inflation over the last 50 years in Spain is 7.0% and as the graph in today’s pdf shows the last time the 50-year rolling average was below 4% was in 1956. Clearly prior to this the average rate of inflation was constantly below this level as inflation has been a modern day (last 100 years) phenomenon tied to the evolution of central banks (the Fed started in 1913) and the gradual demise of precious metal currency systems. So it’s a measure of how buoyant fixed income markets are that investors are prepared to ignore that last half century’s inflation record and the current fiat currency world when pricing long-term bonds. This is not a Spain-specific issue but on a slow news day the story stood out. The same would be true for most countries issuing similar long-dated debt today. Indeed yields elsewhere would likely be even lower.

Herein lies our dilemma with bonds. We’ve been a member of the lower yields for longer camp for a number of years now due to our near-term growth and inflation outlook and our belief that financial repression is rife. However we also think that debt restructuring or inflation will eventually be the only way of successfully reducing debt burdens for many countries with the latter route the most likely. As such whilst bonds are a near-term safe haven they are also likely to be very poor real investments longer term. Timing the big switch in view on this will be one of the defining investment moments of the next few years. Let’s hope we’re lucky.

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