Over the previous six years, the stock market is not the only thing that has gone up. Total U.S. debt has catapulted from roughly $10.5 trillion – give or take $100 billion – to $18.0 trillion. That’s a 70% increase in the country’s outstanding obligations since the start of 2009.
Perhaps ironically, I have spent the better part of 13 months explaining why our unsustainable debt burden, at least from an investor perspective, does not matter. (At least not in the near-term.) Foreign nations as well as foreign peoples are snatching up U.S. treasuries. American citizens are gobbling up government debt. Heck, the Federal Reserve snagged nearly $4 trillion worth of bonds via electronic currency creation, putting a big fat dent in supply. It follows that as long as there is a perception that the U.S. government is one of the safest places for investment dollars, then euros, dollars, yen and yuan will find their way into the long end of the yield curve.
Most of my readers know, Vanguard Extended Duration (EDV) has been one of my top holdings for clients since December 2013. Yet there are a variety of venerable vehicles for the ongoing uptrend in long-term government obligations, including iShares 10-20 Year Treasury (TLH), Vanguard Long Term Government (VGLT) as well as PIMCO 25+Year Zero Coupon (ZROZ).
Recognizing that stimulus in Japan, China as well as Europe results in additional demand for U.S. treasuries is not a bearish call on U.S. stocks. It is simply an acknowledgement that a 10-year German bund at 0.5% and a 10-year Japanese government bond at 0.3% makes the U.S 10-year at 2.0% look like a steal.
Certainly, the reasons for stock market giddiness are not entirely without merit. Consumer sentiment is at a 7-year high due in large part to rapidly declining gasoline prices as well as an upswing in employment opportunities. Both the service sector and the manufacturing segment of the U.S. economy show expansion, albeit at a slower pace than analysts had anticipated. And while some stimulus dollars from abroad continue piling into U.S. treasuries, a great big chunk also blazes a trail into U.S. equities.
The issue I grapple with most, however, is the misplaced notion that bad stuff cannot happen anymore. In essence, if an economy gets better, then one should invest in corporate debt and company stock. If an economy does not improve, a central bank will step in to stimulate the ailing economy with ultra-low rates. And what should you do then? Invest in corporate debt and company stock. Buy, buy, buy… no matter what. Three years without a single 10% correction – six yeas without a 20%-plus bear – has sent the very notion of “being bearish” into tenacious hibernation.
The chart below is something that I have posted before. Nevertheless, the magnitude and the slope of the decline in bearishness is worthy of a second look. Is it any wonder that a few days of fear over oil price deflation or Greece exiting the euro-zone is quickly dismissed by yet another V-shaped buying binge?