Week of April 30th, 2018
A meeting of the minds.
The Federal Reserve and the U.S. bond market appear to be in agreement about the direction of interest rates. For more years than anyone cares to count, investment professionals have been predicting the end of the bull market in bonds. Bond guru Bill Gross called the end of the bond bull in 2011 – and called it again in 2013. He wasn’t alone. Strategists who participated in Barron’s Outlooks anticipated rising interest rates in 2014 and 2015, too.
The Federal Reserve began encouraging interest rates higher in December 2015 when it increased the Fed funds rate for the first time in a decade. However, the yield on 10-year Treasuries remained stubbornly low. In fact, it fell below 2 percent following the rate hike and stayed there until November 2016.
Since 2015, the Fed has raised rates six times. The latest increase, along with signs of higher inflation, helped push bond rates higher. Higher interest rates could shift investors’ preferences in some significant ways, according to sources cited by Barron’s:
“Two years ago, dividend stocks provided investors a one-percentage point advantage over risk-free rates…Now those places have been swapped…this ability to get a “safe yield” for the first time in a decade, with no risk from falling stock or bond prices, represents a ‘seminal shift and a huge source of competition for the dividend allure of the stock market.’”
We may be at a turning point.
We’ll need a new kind of umbrella for this. In February, a new research paper disclosed a finding no one wants to hear about: Viruses are falling from the sky. Literally. Science Daily summarized a report from the University of British Columbia. The report said:
“An astonishing number of viruses are circulating around the Earth's atmosphere – and falling from it – according to new research…‘Roughly 20 years ago we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe,’ says [University of British Columbia virologist Curtis Suttle.] ‘This preponderance of long-residence viruses travelling the atmosphere likely explains why – it's quite conceivable to have a virus swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another.’”
The New York Times reported the researchers journeyed to Spain and used buckets on mountaintops to catch whatever might fall from the sky. The scientists weren’t surprised to find viruses, but they were surprised by the quantity of viruses captured. Best estimates suggest 800 million viruses shower every square meter of the Earth every day.
Don’t panic! Viruses are responsible for a lot more than diseases. Scientists theorize viruses and humans may have a symbiotic relationship. According to Popular Science:
“Each of us has a unique collection of viruses although there are some species common to us all…endogenous viruses make up some 8 percent of our genetic material. Originally, they were thought to be nothing more than junk pieces of evolutionary history. But we now know they have a variety of functions. One of the most studied topics…focuses on reproduction. A particular protein encoded by one particular virus…appears to be imperative for proper formation of the placenta.”
Good or bad, the question remains: where do atmospheric viruses originate? No one knows for sure. There are a variety of theories. One theory is viruses are swept from the planet into the atmosphere. Another is viruses originate in the atmosphere. A third is viruses arrive from outer space.
The truth is out there!
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.”
--Johannes Kepler, German scientist