10-year TIPS auctions with a yield of 0.315%

The Treasury just announced that its auction of CUSIP 912828H45 – a new 10-year Treasury Inflation-Protected Security – resulted in a yield to maturity of 0.315% and a coupon rate of 0.250%.

Buyers at the auction got a much better yield than looked likely earlier Thursday, when a similar TIPS was trading on the secondary market with a yield of just 0.18%. Later in the morning, however, TIPS yields began climbing. As the auction was closing at 1 p.m., Bloomberg’s survey of dealers predicted a yield of 0.346%.

Because the Treasury sets the coupon rate one notch below the yield, buyers at today’s auction are getting this TIPS at a slight discount to par, about $99.02 per $100 of value.

Inflation breakeven rate. With the 10-year nominal Treasury currently trading at 1.89%, this TIPS is getting a breakeven rate of 1.57%, which is very low by historic standards. This indicates the markets are pricing in very low inflation over the next 10 years. Generally, a breakeven rate below 2% indicates that a 10-year TIPS is ‘cheap’ against a nominal Treasury of the same term. This rate is among the lowest seen in the last five years:

breakevenReaction to the auction.  TIPS yields were fluctuating Thursday, first dropping and then rising.  After the auction, the TIP market is reacting well. This chart shows the day’s activity in the TIP ETF, which holds a broad range of maturities. It started the day up (with yields down) and then moved negative as yields rose. After the auction, the trend was back up, which usually indicates a positive reaction:

Tips ETF

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Checking in on today’s 10-year TIPS auction

The Treasury today will create a new 10-year Treasury Inflation-Protected Security – CUSIP 912828H45, with the coupon rate to be determined at  auction. Non-competitive bids, like those placed at Treasury Direct, must be made by noon; competitive bids need to be placed before the auction’s close at 1 p.m.

Here is how the auction is shaping up this morning, as of 9:35 a.m.:

  • Bloomberg’s Current Yields page shows a 9-year, 6-month TIPS currently trading with a yield to maturity of 0.18%.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s TIPS Closing Prices page shows that same TIPS closed yesterday with a yield of 0.213%.
  • The Treasury’s Real Yields Curve page estimated yesterday that a full-term 10-year TIPS would yield 0.260%.
  • The TIP ETF – which holds the full range of maturities – is trading at $113.95 this morning, up 0.22%. This indicates that TIPS yields are declining.

There is another TIPS that will share a maturity date with CUSIP 912828H45. It is CUSIP 912810FR4, a 20-year, 6-month TIPS that was first issued July 15, 2004. For what it’s worth, it closed yesterday at 0.287%, but it has lofty accrued inflation and a very high coupon rate of 2.375%. Is it comparable to today’s issue? Who knows? The Treasury hasn’t ever had two TIPS maturing on the same day (at least that I know of). This will be a first.

Adding it up. Both Bloomberg’s Current Yields and the TIP ETF are signaling lower yields this morning. A full-term 10-year TIPS should yield slightly higher than the 9-year, 6-month TIPS Bloomberg is following. Also, watch for volatility today as the European Central Bank unveils its quantitative easing plan, which will strengthen the dollar.

So let’s guess today’s auction will result in a yield to maturity of around 0.2% and a coupon rate of 0.125%, the lowest the Treasury allows. This will be lower than every 9- to 10-year TIPS auction of 2014 – there were six auctions with yields ranging from 0.249% to 0.661%.

It looks like a disappointing auction for buyers. Remember that this TIPS will be reopened in March and May, and could offer a higher yield then.

I’ll be posting the auction results soon after the close at 1 p.m.

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Deflation and TIPS: How the numbers bring the ‘pain’

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities are often cited as being reasonably safe against deflation, because when held to maturity they will return the original ‘par’ value, even if deflation strikes with vengeance. In other words, the value can never go below ‘par’ – the original purchase allocation.

But TIPS do lose value when deflation strikes, because deflation eats away at the accrued principal each TIPS carries. If you buy a TIPS at a reopening auction or on the secondary market, you are paying for that accrued principal. When deflation strikes, you lose it, because it isn’t ‘par value,’ it’s an inflation adjustment that goes up with inflation, but will go down with deflation.

An example. To make this simple, I am going to talk about one TIPS – CUSIP 912828C99 – which I bought at a reopening auction on Dec. 18. This was a 4-year, 4-month TIPS with a coupon rate of 0.125%. It auctioned with a yield to maturity of 0.395%.

If you look at the auction results announcement, down at the bottom in tiny type you can see that this TIPS had an inflation index of 1.01337 on Dec. 31, the settlement date. Here it is, a little enlarged:

Index RatioI bought $10,000 of this TIPS, and on Dec. 31 Treasury Direct withdrew $10,020.14 from my bank account. The par value was $10,000 and the inflation-adjusted value was $10,133.70, as of Dec. 31. I got it at a discount because the auctioned yield was higher than the coupon rate.

(In this article I am using ‘value’ to mean the current held-to-maturity value, not the value on the secondary market.)

CPI and the TIPS inflation index. The Treasury adjusts the value of TIPS based on the non-seasonally adjusted Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. Each month’s CPI inflation index number establishes the TIPS inflation index two months into the future. So the Dec. 31 number was based on non-seasonally adjusted inflation in October, which was -0.25%.

The January inflation index was set by non-seasonally adjusted inflation in November, which was -0.54%. Because of that deflated number, on Jan. 31 the inflation index for this TIPS will drop to 1.00799 and the inflation-adjusted value of my TIPS will be $10,079.90.

The February inflation index was set by non-seasonally adjusted inflation in December, which was -0.57%. Because of that deflated number, on Feb. 28 the inflation index for this TIPS will drop to 1.00231 and the inflation-adjusted value of my TIPS will be $10,023.10.

So, in summary, here is what I received for my $10,020.14 purchase, one month after the auction: $10,023.10 and a 0.125% coupon rate.

Future deflation would continue to drop that inflation-adjusted number, but my value can never drop below $10,000. However, the inflation index can drop below 1.000, and would require future inflation to bring it back above that level. There is one TIPS – CUSIP 912828WU0 – currently trading with an index of 0.997 and that will drop to 0.989 on Feb. 28. This TIPS originated in July 2014, just before the current deflationary swoon.

You can track these inflation index numbers on the Treasury Direct site. Here are the numbers for CUSIP 912828C99.

I Bonds do have an advantage. I Bonds pay a fixed rate for the 30-year life of the holding – currently 0.0% – and an inflation-adjusted rate that changes each May and November – currently 1.48% annualized. The principal of an I Bond grows with each interest payment and can never go down. Deflation could mean six months of zero interest payments, which looks likely beginning May 1. But even at a time of severe deflation, the value of I Bonds will never go down. It’s an advantage they hold over TIPS.

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Deflation continues: US prices fell another 0.4% in December

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.4%  in December on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 0.8%.

From August until the end of 2014, US prices fell 0.7%. December’s sharp decline was primarily caused by a massive 9.4% drop in the price of gasoline, which is down 21% in the last 12 months. Fuel oil was down 7.4%. Food prices, however, rose 0.3%. The shelter index rose 0.2%, and the index for medical care commodities was up a sharp 1.0%.

What this means for TIPS and I Bonds. Today’s inflation report isn’t welcome news for holders of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and I Bonds. Non-seasonally adjusted CPI-U – which fell 0.57% in December – is used to adjust the principal balance of TIPS and set future interest rates for I Bonds. The December inflation index was set at 234.812, below where it stood in March 2014 (236.293). In just three months, from September to December 2014, non-seasonally adjusted CPI has dropped 1.36%.

I have updated my Tracking Inflation and I Bonds page to reflect these new numbers.

This is setting up a problem for I Bonds in 2015. I Bonds purchased through April 30 pay a fixed rate of 0.0% and an inflation-adjusted rate of 1.48% annualized. The next adjustment for the inflation -adjusted rate – on May 1 – will be determined by inflation from September 2014 to March 2015. Three months in, that’s running -1.36%, so it looks highly likely that I Bonds will get an inflation-adjusted rate of 0.0% on May 1, to go along with a fixed rate that may hold at 0.0%. In other words, zero + zero = zero.

What this means: Do not plan on buying your 2015 allocation of I Bonds ($10,000 per person per calendar year) until late in the year, after the Nov. 1 adjustment.

Core inflation. Even when you strip out food and energy, US inflation was unchanged in December and rose 1.6% over the last 12 months. This is well below the Federal Reserve’s target of 2.0% annual inflation, and should allow the Fed to continue holding the line on near-zero short-term interest rates.

Year in review. CPI-U rose 0.8% in 2014 after a 1.5% increase in 2013. This is the second-smallest December-December increase in the last 50 years, trailing only the 0.1%  increase in 2008. The BLS noted it is considerably lower than the 2.1% average annual increase over the last ten years. This chart shows the deflationary trend as gasoline prices fell sharply in the second half of the year:

2014 inflation

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Up next: New 10-year TIPS will auction Jan. 22, 2015

The Treasury just announced next week’s TIPS auction: CUSIP
912828H45, a new issue with the coupon rate to be determined at  auction.

This auction will come amid a lot of turmoil in financial markets, with Treasury yields plummeting while the stock market shows a lot of volatility. Our current trend of very low inflation (and even deflation) is also reducing demand for Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, an investment that hedges against unexpected future inflation.

So this isn’t shaping up to be an attractive auction for buyers. Here’s what we know today:

  • Bloomberg’s Current Yields page shows a 9-year, 6-month TIPS currently trading with a yield to maturity of 0.23%.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s TIPS Closing Prices page shows that same TIPS closed yesterday with a yield of 0.24%.
  • The Treasury’s Real Yields Curve page estimates that a full-term 10-year TIPS would yield 0.29%.

So at this point, with the auction a week away, it appears this new TIPS issue will get a coupon rate of 0.250% and a real yield (after inflation) a bit higher than that. A year ago, a 10-year TIPS went off with a yield of 0.661% – about 37 basis points higher. In fact, only one auction of a 9- to 10-year TIPS in the last nine went off with a yield below 0.30% – on July 24, 2014, with a yield of 0.249%.

Interesting side note. Next Thursday’s auction will create two TIPS maturing on Jan. 15, 2025, and I believe it will be the first time ever the Treasury had two TIPS maturing on the same day. It looks like this in the Wall Street Journal’s chart:

Jan 15, 2025This is CUSIP 912810FR4, a 20-year, 6-month TIPS that was first issued July 15, 2004. If you bought that 10 years ago (I didn’t, unfortunately) you are loving that 2.375% coupon, which you earn in addition to inflation. I’ll just note that a 30-year nominal Treasury is yielding about 2.47% this week. This TIPS might yield slightly higher than the new one coming next Thursday, but it comes at a lofty cost: About $120 per $100 of value plus 25% in inflation appreciation. Ouch. And I wouldn’t want to be buying inflation appreciation at a time when we face several months of deflation, which will reduce the accrued principal.

Inflation breakeven rate. With the 10-year nominal Treasury currently yielding 1.87%, a TIPS yield of 0.29% would create a 10-year inflation breakeven rate of 1.58% – which puts this TIPS solidly into the ‘cheap’ zone versus a 10-year Treasury. If inflation averages higher than 1.58% over the next 10 years, it will outperform the nominal Treasury. As you can see from this chart, breakevens are approaching their lowest levels of the last five years. And you can also see they don’t stay this low for long:

fred

SOURCE: Federal Reserve of St. Louis

But ‘cheap’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘attractive.’ A yield of 0.29%, plus inflation, on a 10-year TIPS isn’t very attractive. In fact, just two months ago, a 4-year, 4-month TIPS went off with a yield of 0.395%, 10 basis points higher.

It will be interesting to see how demand develops for this auction. Here is a chart of recent 9- to 10-year TIPS auctions to study until then:

10s

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TIPS investors: Why the inflation breakeven rate is your friend

As the stock market tumbles a bit from all-time highs, the Treasury market is soaring, with yields dropping to 1.96% yesterday on the 10-year nominal Treasury. It is hard to believe that the US is seeing: 1) better-than-average economic growth, 2) the stock market near all-time highs, 3) ultra-low inflation, and 4) Treasury yields on the decline.

And the market is pricing in very low inflation well into the future. You can see that by calculating the ‘inflation breakeven rate’ – a measure of future inflation expectations –  using this simple formula:

10-year Treasury yield – 10-year TIPS yield = 10-year breakeven rate

Here is where inflation breakevens stand today:

  • 5 year. 1.47% – 0.31% = 1.16%
  • 10 year. 1.96% – 0.39% = 1.57%
  • 30 year. 2.52% – 0.68% = 1.84%

While writing about Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities over the last three years, I have devised a simple formula: When the 10-year breakeven rate falls below 2%, TIPS are cheap, when it rises above 2.5%, TIPS are expensive. Here is the breakeven trend for each of the maturities for the last five years:

5 year inflation breakeven10 year breakeven30 year breakevenIt’s rare to see inflation breakeven rates this low, and so either the world has permanently changed and inflation will permanently be extremely low, or … TIPS are a bargain right now when compared to nominal Treasurys.

I’d argue that inflation expectations are way too low, especially for the longer maturities. Take a look at this chart of the history of inflation from 1961 to today. Over five-year periods, inflation has never averaged lower than 1.3%; for 10 years, 2.3%, and for 30 years, 2.8%. The chart also shows the US has been in a multi-decade trend of declining inflation. At some point – possibly in the next 10 years and definitely in the next 30 – that trend could change toward gradually rising inflation. Or possibly, sharply rising inflation.

A margin of safety. TIPS investors can take comfort in these extremely low inflation breakeven rates. Why? They provide a margin of safety against rising interest rates. Let’s say the 10-year Treasury rises over the next year to 2.75%, an increase of 79 basis points. At the same time, the inflation breakeven rate rises to 2.2%, a fairly routine number. The 10-year TIPS would then be yielding 0.55%, a rise of only 16 basis points.

When the inflation breakeven trend reverses to ‘more normal’ levels, TIPS are going to outperform traditional Treasurys and probably the overall bond market.

That hasn’t been the case over the last 6 months, as shown in this chart, which is a perfect depiction of the effect of a declining inflation breakeven rate on TIPS:

6 month

The TIP ETF has underperformed the Treasury market (shown by IEI, intermediate Treasurys) and AGG (total bond market) over the last six months. SOURCE: Yahoo Finance.

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Recapping 2014: The year in TIPS

After suffering through a miserable 2013, holders of mutual funds based on Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities enjoyed a rather pleasant 2014. The TIP ETF – a big fund that is diversified through maturity dates – started the year on Jan. 2  at $110.26  and closed Dec. 31 at $112.01. That’s a capital gain of about 1.6% – on top of any interest distributions. (Morningstar reports TIP’s total return as 3.59% for 2014.)

Nevertheless, the TIP ETF underperformed the overall bond market, as shown in this graph comparing the one-year performance of TIP, IEI (intermediate-term Treasurys) and AGG (the overall bond market):

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance / Click on image for larger version

For buy-and-hold investors of TIPS, this year’s auctions included several unique buying opportunities, even though yields on mid- to longer-term TIPS slid throughout the year. Here’s a recap of each of the issues and reopenings:

10-year TIPS, CUSIP 912828B25

  • First auctioned: Jan. 23, with a coupon rate of 0.625% and a yield to maturity of 0.661%, plus inflation. This was the highest yield for any 9- or 10-year TIPS at auction since May 2011 and ended up being the highest yield of any of the six auctions for this term in 2014.
  • Reopened: March 20, with a yield of 0.659%, just under the initial auction.
  • Reopened: May 22, with a yield of 0.339%, a big drop from the initial auction, resulting in an adjusted price of about $103.96 per $100 of value.

b2530-year TIPS, CUSIP 912810RF7

  • First auctioned: Feb. 20, with a coupon rate of 1.375% and a yield to maturity of 1.495%, plus inflation.  This ended up being the highest yield of the year for this term. This auction set a 30-year inflation breakeven rate of 2.23%.
  • Reopened: June 19, with a yield to maturity of 1.116%. Buyers paid an adjusted price of $108.34 for $100 of value – showing the volatility of 30-year issues.
  • Reopened: Oct. 23, with a yield to maturity of 0.985% and an adjusted price of $112.17 per $100 of value. The 30-year inflation breakeven rate fell to 2.065% — and has continued falling to 1.92% on Dec. 31.

305-year TIPS, CUSIP 912828C99

  • First auctioned: April 17, with a coupon rate of 0.125% and a yield to maturity of -0.213%, plus inflation. The negative yield resulted in an adjusted price of $101.87 for $100 of value. The 5-year inflation breakeven rate was set at 1.91%.
  • Reopened: Aug. 21, with a yield of -0.281%.
  • Reopened: Dec. 18, with a yield to maturity of 0.395%. This was the highest yield – and first positive yield – for any 4- to 5-year TIPS since April 2010. The 5-year inflation breakeven rate fell to a remarkable 1.26%. I was a buyer at this auction.

510-year TIPS, CUSIP 912828WU0

  • First auctioned: July 24, with a coupon rate of 0.125% and a yield to maturity of 0.249%, plus inflation. This was the lowest yield of any 9- to 10-year TIPS auction since May 2013. The 10-year inflation breakeven rate was set at 2.26%.
  • Reopened: Sept. 18, with a yield to maturity of 0.610%, a big jump over the initial auction. That dropped the adjusted price to $95.72 per $100 of value and set the inflation breakeven rate down to 2.02%. I was a buyer at this auction.
  • Reopened: Nov. 20, with a yield to maturity of 0.497% and an adjusted price of $96.73 per $100 of value. The inflation breakeven rate fell to 1.853% – it closed on Dec. 31 at 1.68%.

10

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