The extreme volatility this week warrants some serious discussion, and Ian is joined by Craig Bell for this episode. The duo begin discussing the rapid series of events that culminated in one of the most volatile days for interest rates since the 1980s. Craig provides his view on what this all means for monetary policy, while Ian introduces two potential shoes left to drop that suggest the coast is not entirely clear yet. The co-hosts spend some time discussing how Canadian interest rate derivatives are handing the benchmark transition towards CORRA, and finish the episode discussing their favorite trades in the weeks ahead.
Craig Bell: The bank needs to talk about how they’re viewing the currency a little bit more because trying to piece it together from these little snippets of speeches is not a good way forward. And I think we know the bank’s focusing on it because they keep mentioning it. So they need to be more transparent about what they’re focusing on.
Ian Pollick: It is Wednesday. And thank goodness for that. Hey, everybody. It’s Ian Pollick and I am joined by the one and the only, Mr. Craig Bell. Craig, how are you?
Craig Bell: I’m great.
Ian Pollick: I’m glad you’re here.
Craig Bell: Hey everybody. Good to be here.
Ian Pollick: What’s going on?
Craig Bell: Oh, not much. Nice quiet markets. Quiet professional trading for the spring.
Ian Pollick: Yeah, I think so, too.
Craig Bell: I was watching the Oscars this week. I don’t know if you saw it, but it ties in with your Monday piece or your Sunday evening piece about everything, everywhere all at once. Very on topic for the Oscars. I just wanted to point out something that we were discussing earlier. And for those of you that watched the Oscar broadcast, this won’t be news. But Brendan Fraser won an acting award. Ke Huy Quan won an acting award. Both of those were stars in Encino Man, a movie that came out when we were both in high school.
Ian Pollick: (laughs) I mean, I don’t think I was in high school, but I definitely did watch it when I was in high school. That’s really funny.
Craig Bell: Pauly Shore must be wondering-
Ian Pollick: Pauly Shore is kicking himself. Even the other guy made it to Lord of the Rings.
Craig Bell: Sean Astin, yeah.
Ian Pollick: Sean Astin. He was also Rudy.
Craig Bell: Yeah, exactly.
Ian Pollick: So I think what you’re saying is there’s an odd man out here. Okay, let’s extend that odd man out. This is a great segue. It has been a week. Obviously, we’ve gone through, you know, three trading sessions with extreme volatility. What just happened? Like, talk to me in your view, we have a bit more clarity. What just happened?
Craig Bell: Well, that’s not fair. The last time I was on one of these podcasts, I think it was the previous host, but it was right in early 2020 when he was asking me about this COVID thing. What’s going to happen? It’s kind of a tough spot to be in because almost by definition, I’m going to be wrong about some part of it within hours or days. I mean, a bank run, a good old fashioned bank run. What else is there? What does it look like to you?
Ian Pollick: Listen, I think obviously none of us appreciated some of the nuances of smaller regional banks in the US and some of the regulatory treatment that had allowed things to get as bad as they did. And so it did manifest itself as a bank run. But I think under the hood there is something deeper there and I think this is one of the first non-linearities of a high rate environment and one that saw rates rise very rapidly. And so we take a step back and I think, you know, to the title of that piece, everything, everywhere, all at once, you had almost every short on the planet Earth stopped out within 48 hours. You had an illiquid environment trying to absorb all of that flow. And I think what you’re left with was much more noise than signal. You know, you saw the direction of curves, the direction of duration and how it swung the delta day over day. And so I think there’s a lot of scarring in this market. And so if you take a snapshot right now from your perspective, what do you see that looks incredibly strange?
Craig Bell: Well, first, I just want to pick up on the signal to noise comment that you just made. Yeah, it’s not just day over day. It’s within days and within minutes. I mean, we’re having multiple basis point moves, you know, within seconds. And it’s two way risk, which is sort of a novel experience for the last three years for the market where you had a, you know, an obvious easing cycle through 2020 and 2021 through an obvious hiking cycle last year. Now there’s some two way risk. It’s a little bit less clear. I mean, there’s an old saying that I’ve been using a lot the last couple of months, the Fed hikes until something breaks, you know, and I think that’s a bit of the case here. Ultimately, it was the steepness of the climb in overnight rates is ultimately what led to this problem. You know, so history repeats itself in banking crises. You know, it’s an access to funding problem. It’s an asset liability mix problem. So far, it doesn’t look like there’s any malfeasance. Maybe some poor decisions at best, but that’s it. From here, where do we go and what does it mean for the market? I mean, short term, you know, it’s definitely going to be restrictive. There’s definitely going to be a chill. Even if rates go lower, you know, access to capital is going to be different than it was. The Fed did a reasonably good job in solving the plumbing problem because that’s the first and immediate problem, you know, in these types of situations.
Ian Pollick: That was a fast response, right? You safeguard uninsured deposits. It seemed very quick. FDIC is behind it. The federal home loan banks issued a ton of paper the day before. The system is liquid, right? Like, I think that’s one of the really important differences between now and, let’s say, 2008 or even March 2020. It’s the speed by which policy and, regardless if you think moral hazard or not, was backstopping the system. That’s critically important.
Craig Bell: Correct. It obviates some of the idiosyncratic risk around this particular bank, or it appears to be around this particular bank so far, as much as we know the story. It did a good job of, you know, removing some of the bigger systemic questions, at least in the short term. Longer term, there’s obviously also going to be a chill. There’ll be a regulatory you’ve already heard, the Biden administration talking about banking regulation, and I’m sure there’ll be some outcomes there that will not necessarily reduce friction in the banking system. So that will be a longer term chill. And the medium term, it’s less clear. You know, it’s not likely to be the opposite of the short term and long term outcomes, but it might not be as much damage to the medium term as we think.
Ian Pollick: I mean, I think, you know, this is one of those things. It came on so suddenly, it was so violent. And now a couple of days later, you get a decent CPI report, which actually kind of looked pretty hot under the surface. You know, OAS reprices, yields are higher, we’re all feeling pretty good about the world. But these are the type of things where you don’t actually see the real damage for quite a long time. And what I worry about is everyone’s kind of celebrating and high fiving, but I cannot get behind any sustainable rebuild in yields, a sustainable tightening of credit spreads or rally in equities, until I know unequivocally that things are okay. And, you know, one of the things I worry about is you look at where all of these, for example, facilities are priced relative to where deposits are being raised, and that’s a big spread. If you really need this liquidity, you’re paying up for it. And so that pushes this negative net interest margin into the banking system again, and that can restrict lending and that slows an economy very, very quickly.
Craig Bell: 100%. I mean, that is an obvious outcome is interest paid on deposits will have to go up to attract deposits and increase their stickiness. When that happens, any time you incent saving over consumption, the net result is going to be a decrease in consumption. And so that’s going to continue that trend and something the Fed’s been working on for the last year.
Ian Pollick: So in a perverse way, doesn’t this actually complement what the Fed is trying to achieve, even though the means were a bit a bit offside?
Craig Bell: (laughs) I don’t know that I’ve considered it in exactly that way.
Ian Pollick: You can raise unemployment, lower inflation, restrict consumption, lower velocity. Now it came about in a very strange fashion, but this is not inconsistent with the Fed’s goals.
Craig Bell: Okay. On a very, very micro, short term basis, that might be true, but financial instability writ large does not serve that-
Ian Pollick: I agree. But so talk to me, though, you know, specifically when I look at the curve. Okay, you know, you have kind of 30 basis points of cuts priced for the bank by the summer. In an environment where Canadian bank deposits are moving in the opposite direction as the US, i.e., they’re growing, we have a much more resilient financial system, a smaller banking system. What do you think? Why do you think that’s still there? Why has that not been removed immediately from the profile?
Craig Bell: Sorry, the increasing deposits or?
Ian Pollick: No, no. Just the fact that we have the cuts priced so soon.
Craig Bell: Oh, the cuts priced in. That’s a good question. To me, that doesn’t make sense. I mean, listen, in the case of the Fed, it reduces maybe the top side of the, you know, the peak of rates. It maybe slows down certainly in the near term, what their hiking agenda is going to be. With the Bank of Canada, it’s not clear that, A, there’s any direct impact. Well, there’s not a direct impact, but you can’t say there’s completely no impact because one way to look at it is a higher terminal for the Fed, reduces the need for the bank to reach a similar type peak. And so the bank can let the Fed do the heavy lifting for them. To the extent that the Fed might not be in a position to do that heavy lifting, that the market was so keen on 4 or 5 days ago, you know, that does change things for the bank and the bank’s terminal might actually be higher now, in a strange way. Now I think the spill-overs from this and the chill that’s going to going to happen, you know, will offset that. But at the end of the day, less hiking out of the Fed to me means more hiking out of the Bank of Canada.
Ian Pollick: But it doesn’t mean cuts from the Bank of Canada.
Craig Bell: No, no, no. More hikes from the Bank of Canada. I don’t believe the cutting scenario.
Ian Pollick: Like I look at like M3. It is implying CDOR falls like a basis point a day for the next like 80 days. Like these things are not realized.
Craig Bell: It seems almost impossible that that would be the case now. I mean, we are going to have, you’re better with the forecast than I am, but we are going to have base effects dropping CPI. We are going to have things that make it look like the bank doesn’t need to continue hiking or that looser monetary conditions might be required. But we’re still a ways away from that and certainly not by the summer. Yeah, you could have certainly extreme outcomes that would make that happen, but it’s very unlikely from where I sit based on this crisis.
Ian Pollick: Well, it’s hard to price the tails, right? So far in advance. And like, yes, we just went through a tail event, but it feels a bit isolated. Now again, I think the fallout is less sensational and less hyperbole, but it probably does something to lending in the US that slows consumption, like you said. Let’s talk about some of the market moves as well, like Canada outperforming on the way up, on the way down to me seems a bit ludicrous. And so talk to me, why do you think that is? Like, is there a mechanical reason why you know CAN to US tens, CAN to US thirties now at extremes, particularly in the long end?
Craig Bell: Well I mean listen in the front end we did underperform. It was a curve change,
Ian Pollick: Sure, but the back end we massively outperformed. Was that just because we didn’t steepen as much as the US?
Craig Bell: I mean, you can take a really high level view, the 40,000 foot view and says well if overnight needed to get to five and one half, 6% in the US, it’s not going to go that high. There’s an inflation concern that would impact 30 years more. 30 years is more of a two way market in the US, I would say, than in Canada as well. So there’s a lot more flex there. The people that are receiving the long end of Canada, they’re probably going to keep doing that. And it’s a much smaller market with less diversified flows. So it’s going to have an outside impact. Now, in this case, I wouldn’t actually say that that’s the case, at least that we’ve seen. I was surprised on the rally, how much pain we saw out of the corporate side, whether it was rate locking, fixing, floating rate or whatnot.
Ian Pollick: That’s interesting. And I guess that speaks to rates were high, I missed my chance. Rates are now rallied 100 basis points in two days. Maybe I have a good view or a gut feeling this isn’t going to be something that’s 2008, like I’m going to start paying again.
Craig Bell: Correct, yeah.
Ian Pollick: So maybe that’s why 30 year spreads look so high. So what does this all mean for the Fed, right? We had a big inflation report yesterday. You look at the super core metrics, whichever one is your favourite, choose, but they all accelerated on that three month annualized basis. So what do you expect from the Fed next week?
Craig Bell: I mean, it’ll be interesting to see where we are in terms of this crisis next week. You know, my view of the Fed is they’re still so far from home, at least in their CPI readings, that they’re going to continue to hike. Now, maybe this truncates the tail risk of a 50 or whether that’s tail risk or whether that’s mainstream, I don’t know. For sure, I can see them taking a more cautious view of that. But at the end of the day, they’re still going to be quite comfortable with the fact that rates need to go higher. Just maybe this takes out the people that thought 7% was where they should be or 6.5% and makes them go, well, maybe five and one half is fine.
Ian Pollick: Yeah. I mean, look, I think the right hand side of the inflation distribution has been reduced, but these underlying metrics are inconsistent with the 2% inflation goal. And, you know, the Fed’s never stopped with a negative real policy rate and you’re not there.
Craig Bell: Well, that’s exactly, they’re still hiking. There’s still an obvious need in the US for short term rates to go higher. You know, there’s no two ways about that.
Ian Pollick: I just wanted to put it out there that, you know, yesterday everyone was focusing on CPI. People missed manufacturing sales in Canada. Good old manufacturing sales was actually pretty strong. And so I think it validates this idea that, you know, Q1 growth in Canada, it’s going to look pretty good. And what’s interesting to me is that, you know, you rewind a month ago, Deputy Governor Beaudry spoke two sides of the currency. If it’s weak, cool, if it’s strong, cool. Exports or imports, we can deal with either. But after the decision in January and in March, March, I mean, you ended up hearing Senior Deputy Governor Rogers only talk about the import side of the equation. And it was an inflationary discussion around what a cheaper Canadian dollar does, which is less two sided and kind of freaks me out a little bit in terms of our call that the bank’s not raising rates again. How do you think about that?
Craig Bell: Absolutely. Listen, anytime, I’ve been doing this a little while, anytime the bank’s general policy is not to talk about the currency or currency movements, the fact that the last two deputy governor speeches, they both talked about the currency, I think is important. I would like to see in an MPR a special dialogue box in terms of, listen, they need to be more transparent about how they’re approaching it. It’s not good in both ways or, you know, it can’t necessarily be good in both ways. And especially when you have Rogers and Beaudry seeming to disagree on the exports or imports or what the focus is here. The bank needs to talk about how they’re viewing the currency a little bit more because trying to piece it together from these little snippets of speeches is not a good way forward. And I think we know the bank’s focusing on it because they keep mentioning it. So they need to be more transparent about what they’re focusing on.
Ian Pollick: Now, one of the things that I think is interesting that not a lot of people talk about, I think a lot of people focus on this idea, yes, if the Canadian dollar were to go to 150 or 145, obviously that introduces inflation to the system. But people forget or haven’t talked about, Dollar CAD was at 120 9 months ago. And so the move from that one 120 121 level to 137, that move is right now adding to inflation. And so our research actually shows that you could get to 142 comfortably and not add a single sliver of inflation given what’s happened over the past year. You’d actually have to go materially above that because the move has been so big already. And so I think that’s lost on a lot of people. And so we have a report coming out, so I want everyone to take a look at that. It’s pretty interesting stuff. But let’s switch gears here a little bit. You know, you run interest rate derivatives for us and generally oversee the risk for all Canada trading. Talk to me about swap spreads for a second because we’ve seen a very violent move in front end spreads, obviously with the move in futures that’s hitting implied. But, you know, yesterday, for example, two year spreads collapsed and the rest of the curve almost did nothing except for the back end. So let’s localize on twos. What’s going on?
Craig Bell: There it’s a cash story. You’re coming, I mean, you had huge dislocations, obviously, on Monday. So coming into yesterday, you know, you had cash definitely on the back foot, particularly in the morning. It sort of regained its footing as the day went on. But that has just a mechanical implication on two year spreads. Front end spreads in general. You know, and so that was a real problem. The other thing to mention is flows. Flows dominate ahead of fundamentals. I know that that bothers you as a strategist sometimes, but flows really are the thing that’s going to dictate, especially in the short term, where things go. And there had been a tremendous amount of momentum in the market, momentum type accounts. And guess what? Rates went higher steadily all of last year. So those were some pretty decent sized pay positions out there that, you know, that as the sell off turned and became a rally coming out of the weekend, there was a lot of receiving to do and continues to be a lot of receiving to do, which is going to keep spreads in general low in those sectors, twos in particular. And I think that was a big driver.
Ian Pollick: Let’s talk about the belly. You know, I took a pretty deep dive look at a lot of the bank earnings a couple of weeks ago. You know, there’s some evidence that the need for bank treasuries to continue receiving has been reduced, but not completely gone away. We’re entering the mortgage season. You know, traditionally as snow is melting a little bit. We’re entering the spring. What’s your view on five year spreads?
Craig Bell: Agnostic on fives. I think if you do have a mortgage season and this could be a good year for the mortgage season to reassert itself because as real estate or residential real estate, you know, trading became sort of an obsession across the country. People would buy houses outside of their normal periods. The spring is a good time to buy houses because, you know, if you’ve got kids in school, they’re finishing their school year, then you’re moving over the summer, starting a new year.
Ian Pollick: How about you can view a house with no snow? That’s a pretty big reason. (laughs)
Craig Bell: Well, sure. So we might actually see mortgage season, as it was known in the spring, reassert itself. I don’t know that that’s necessarily going to be the case. But, you know, there’s a good case for that to happen. I’m thinking back to an article in the Globe and Mail, I think it was last week or the week before about how bidding wars are back in Toronto and anecdotally that sort of thing. If that’s the case, A, I don’t think the bank’s done hiking, but, B, you know, we could be in for a little boom, which would be supportive of spreads. But I see that honestly as being less of a five year story and more of a shorter term story.
Ian Pollick: Because the idea may be the reaction function of households is you’re at the end of the hiking cycle, maybe rates will fall. I’m locking myself in for a shorter period of time. Is that kind of what you’re thinking?
Craig Bell: Well, the one thing you know, if you’ve been borrowing money over the last 15 years is every time rates get to a certain point, they reset to zero because that’s what everybody’s been conditioned to do. So I think there’s a little bit of inertia in that. And so people are less likely to pick five year fixed. And even the market had gone a long way away from that over the last five years into different maturities and variable rate and so on and so forth. But I think you’ll see, I don’t think people will be as quick to, now that rates are relatively high compared to where they were two years ago, necessarily migrate back into fives and they might sit back and hope for rates to go back to zero, like I say. And then they term out then.
Ian Pollick: Okay, we kind of already talked about 30 year spreads, CAN to US differentials, same thing apply to tens in your view?
Craig Bell: I mean, tens is sort of a more active, a more two way, you know, part of the curve. I think now that we have opportunities for different stories, cross market stories to develop, you know, some banks are going to stop hiking, some banks are going to keep hiking, so on and so forth. As you go through these different macro stories, now that not everybody’s got the same macro story, I think you’re going to see a little more return to cross market trading. And I think that would impact particularly the ten year point, more than certainly the long days.
Ian Pollick: Days where Canada outperforms, underperforms, you get the vice versa move in spreads, yeah?
Craig Bell: Correct. Yeah.
Ian Pollick: Okay. Let’s take a step back and talk about the type of spreads people are trading. You know, we’re about six weeks into the CORRA transition.
Craig Bell: Oh, we’re further than that.
Ian Pollick: Are we further than further that?
Craig Bell: Well, I was working with CORRA years ago. (laughs)
Ian Pollick: I’m talking about interbank, everything’s switching. I guess for everyone listening, you know, the few questions I get all the time are number one is, talk to us about the proportion of flows that have now switched. Are you seeing it still costly for people to switch out old legacy CDOR trades into CORRA trades? And is it going as you planned?
Craig Bell: Okay. Well, the interbank market, first of all, I think what you were talking about was CORRA first back in January. It was January, they had a milestone and it was the interbank trading should migrate towards CORRA. I would say about 90% of the interbank volume is now CORRA. On the client side, we’re still call it well, it’s probably more towards CORRA, but it’s not overwhelmingly, but call it 60, maybe 70% of client trades are CORRA based.
Ian Pollick: Is that across spot, spreads, forward starting stuff?
Craig Bell: In forward space, it matters a lot less, particularly if you pass the transition region, to be honest with you. And a lot of the fast money levered fly type stuff is traded that way. And they’ve been sort of early adopters. I think there was a sense that it would be slower to adopt than it was. And I would say, if anything, in terms of the transition, I’m surprised with how well it’s gone and how quickly it’s gone, especially on the client side. I thought the March IMM, which was this week, the expiry of the March future, we’d see some more trading out of the June IMM but over OIS, over CORRA resets instead of CDOR that hasn’t materialized to the extent I thought. But I’m sure by the time we get to June the market will be 80 to 90 percent CORRA based. I shouldn’t say sure, but I have a good feeling.
Ian Pollick: You heard it. You heard it here first.
Craig Bell: The tipping point will be when those front futures-
Ian Pollick: I was going to ask. I mean, they haven’t really done much. And it’s somewhat similar to SOFR futures initially. And they didn’t really reach that open interest that was critical until closer to the permanent cessation date. But it looks like we’re even lagging those initial dates in SOFR. And so what is it in your mind? Is it just time? Do we just have to wait till June 24th before these things are relevant?
Craig Bell: I think it is time. The two things I’m watching are the post cessation, so the post June 24th contracts and seeing if volume migrates out of the CDOR based contracts and into the CORRA base contracts, because that’ll be telling. I think this week, given the special circumstances, I’d reserve judgement on the volume. But yeah, the volumes, particularly in the front end, has been slower. But again, that’s most of that year, 15 months away from cessation. So I would expect 15 months, the front, 15 months of the curve to be dominated by CDOR trades anyways. So too early to tell. Ask me again in three months and I’ll have a different answer.
Ian Pollick: I’ll have you back on. And so listen, let’s just wrap things up, but let’s talk about how we monetize all of our views. Give me your favourite trades right now.
Craig Bell: I mean, this week or since Friday has been obviously a big rethink. You touched on one of them. I don’t like the front end here at current valuations, you know, and at the very least, you know, a big short the front end in general to me makes sense. Outright risk is a little bit tough, particularly on a market to market basis these days. You know, the second thing is in the higher for longer environment, which I think we’re in, which is it really truncates the Fed’s response to this potential problem as well. Normally you’d cut rates, I don’t think in an inflationary backdrop environment that that’s possible. It also makes me like playing twos fives tens here because while I hate twos, I think fives are what can give it up.
Ian Pollick: But you like that in rate not cash.
Craig Bell: I prefer it in, yeah, OIS space in particular.
Ian Pollick: But I would say initially I mean, I love twos fives tens in the opposite direction and you know we talked a lot about it. And I think where we differ is maybe our timing. To me, I think that you can be in an environment where as you push these cuts that are priced into the curve out, it’s unequivocally twos fives flatter because your terminal rate reprices, but your neutral rate may not actually move all that much. And so that keeps fives relatively pinned to the front. It’s probably twos tens, which is why I love fives tens bonds. I mean, that is my favourite trade right now because, even though tens on an outright duration basis look expensive, CAN to US thirties are ridiculous. I think people are picking up on that and so I like that fives tens box CAN to US. It speaks to the relative curve divergence too. You know, in our market tens bonds is the first to steepen. In the US, it’s five tens. And so if you do all this repricing too, tens will outperform fives in that world.
Craig Bell: Twos tens flatter, we cancel each other out at fives.
Ian Pollick: I think, I think it’s twos tens. This curve is not ready to steepen yet.
Craig Bell: (laughs) With the pain in the long end.
Ian Pollick: With a little, little twist. A little twist. What else? Is there anything in some of the levered forwards that we should be looking at?
Craig Bell: No, I mean, particularly now, it’s a very, you know, liquidity in those trades is difficult when you have I mean, when you have your benchmark bullets moving, you know, ridiculous amounts, minute to minute, any time you introduce some leverage into that, it’s a little bit tougher. And we did see a lot of people trying to really get cute with carry efficient twos, fives, tens trades in particular. And you know, in a period like this, you’re stuck in that risk unless you do a twos fives tens macro hedge over it and then try to unwind the whole package later, which, you know, in a market like this could be a lot of bit offer. Not necessarily the most efficient way to skin that cat.
Ian Pollick: Okay. And finally, just given that we’re heading to the spring, if I made you a marker on the Jays, I’m curious how you would deal, let’s say 75 to 95, which way are you going?
Craig Bell: (laughs) What kind of market is that? 75, 95. Jeez. Okay, that’s too wide. 84, 7. What do you do?
Ian Pollick: Mine.
Craig Bell: Okay.
Ian Pollick: All right. You heard it here. We’ll figure out what the prize is. But listen, we hope you enjoyed the podcast. And remember, there are no bonds harmed in the making of this podcast.
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