Bond investors are taking bigger risks than ever before.
Yields on $7.8 trillion of government bonds have been driven below zero by worries over global growth, meaning money managers looking for income are pouring into debt with maturities of as long as 100 years. Central banks' policy is exacerbating matters, as the unprecedented debt purchases to spur their economies have soaked up supply and left would-be buyers with few options.
While demand has shown few signs of abating, investors are setting themselves up for damaging losses if average yields rise even a little from their rock-bottom levels. Based on a metric called duration, a half-percentage point increase would result in a loss of about $1.6 trillion in the global bond market, according to calculations based on data compiled by Bank of America Corp. This year alone, the danger of owning debt has surged by the most since 2010, raising concerns from heavyweights such as Bill Gross.
“It takes a fairly small move out in rates on the long-end to wipe out your annual return,” said Thomas Wacker, the head of credit of the Chief Investment Office at UBS Wealth Management, which oversees $2 trillion in assets. Longer-maturity debt is “not something we are particularly keen on,” he said.
Investors continuing to buy bonds even when they pay next to nothing suggests deep concern over the state of the global economy. This month, the International Monetary Fund warned the threat of worldwide stagnation was rising because economic expansion has been so tepid for so long. It also chopped its 2016 growth forecast to 3.2% from 3.4% in January.