The bond market’s memory is arguably short, but 1994 remains vivid as the last time that interest rates were raised in an aggressive, systemic fashion led by the US Federal Reserve. The effect was dramatic with a near doubling of 2 year Treasury yields to over 7.5%, with Fed Funds moving to 6% from 3%.
Here are some other facts from 1994 that still reverberate today.
1) Amazon was founded in 1994. Now with a market capitalisation of $700bn, it has had a huge impact. It has disrupted and undermined traditional market assumptions across a whole range of sectors from real estate to retailing. As a barely profitable organisation it has grabbed huge market share and decimated inflation.
2) Lehman Brothers was floated having been spun out of the Shearson Lehman Hutton combine. In under 15 years Lehman’s aggressively leveraged balance sheet collapsed with spectacular results, ensuring the rapid dismemberment of its $680bn balance sheet in a disorderly fashion.
3) NAFTA was signed in 1994. Even if it isn’t completely revoked it is viewed as helping Donald Trump to the White House. The politics of around a fifth of US cars in effect being produced outside the US lingers, despite a fourfold increase in overall trade and an ongoing cap on inflationary pressures in the US.
4) US Debt. The US Budget deficit in 1994 was 2 1/2% of GDP; and outstanding US Treasury bonds totalled a rather paltry (by 2018 standards) $4.6trillion. Fast forward to 2018 and the Federal Reserve alone has amassed almost that amount of bonds for its Quantitative Easing programme. The amount of outstanding Treasury bonds has quadrupled whilst GDP has only doubled, leaving debt to GDP double at 100%.
5) None of the above takes away from the dramatic market sell off in bonds during 1994. An index of the treasury market would have lost almost 3.5% in total with most of the damage being done in the first quarter of 1994.
Market participants rightly fear a return of such bear sentiment, but a rerun is not on the cards.