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Treasury Market About Face- Just a Blip or Sign of Things To Come?

I mentioned in my last free report that the bulge in withholding tax collections which may have been a tipoff to the better than expected payrolls data, had subsided. I took another look at the data today, and there’s been no rebound since I posted that report.

Real Annual Per Cent Change in Withholding- Click to Enlarge
Real Annual Per Cent Change in Withholding- Click to Enlarge

On top of that, yesterday the Treasury announced that today’s 4 week bill auction would total $37 billion, which was not only the first time in 7 weeks that it was more than $30 billion, it was a billion more than the new TBAC (Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee) estimate for this quarter, on which the ink is barely dry.

The TBAC is a body comprised of a handful of the biggest of the Fed’s Primary Dealers, which is officially tasked with estimating the Treasury’s quarterly borrowing needs and forecasting a weekly auction schedule, including types of securities and amounts expected for each. The TBAC issues a report every 3 months which I scrutinize closely and use as a benchmark for evaluating how things are unfolding week to week in terms of the reality versus the Federal Government’s “spin.”

Spin, by the way, is what the media pundits like to call it, but let’s be real. “Spin,” when applied to government pronouncements, is just a euphemism for wishful thinking and outright lying, in other words, propaganda.

Over the past 3 weeks, total Treasury issuance was actually $37 billion below the TBAC forecast, thanks to the windfall withholding taxes that came along between the last week in December through the latter part of January. It’s a very rare event indeed when the government actually does better than expected. It’s usually a result of some kind of ham handed manipulation. The fact that this week the 4 week bill size jumped by $7 billion and was more than the TBAC estimate is clear evidence that the benefits of the tax windfall, whatever its cause, have ended. In the end, the government’s borrowing this week will be $4 billion more than the TBAC estimate, with a billion above forecast tacked on to each of the 4 bill auctions this week from the 4 week bill up to the 52 week bill.

Now we can get back to the normal state in recent years where the government has been borrowing more than was expected every week, due to overly optimistic economic assumptions used by the government and the TBAC in making their forecasts.

I wrote about this in last Thursday’s Wall Street Examiner Professional Edition Treasury update for subscribers. The summary excerpt below is from last week’s first part of a two part series each week in which I examine the major forces impacting overall market liquidity as they affect both stocks and bonds.

The Treasury market panic continued this week, with yields heading for new lows, thanks partly to a return of central banks to the table at a modest level, but mostly due to a ratcheting up of public buying. Bond fund inflows hit a record last week. It’s sheer panic. Bedlam.

The panic atmosphere has been helped along by reduced supply. Once last Tuesday’s big settlement (but less than originally forecast) was out of the way, the market just idled as the paper was digested. Supply settling next week will be extremely low, in fact, there should be a minor paydown. Then the mid month settlement will be well below the norm for note and bond settlements. Considering that the Fed usually settles a big wad of its forward MBS purchases at mid month, the skids will be greased and supply will be reduced. There will be more than enough cash to go around.

That will be a recipe for more buying of those “fortress balance sheet equities” (cough, cough), so the slow motion meltup will be spurred on, probably for most of February.

But something went wrong this week with that big surge of withholding tax collections we have been witnessing with awe. It disappeared. In fact, the year to year comparisons went negative again last week. The mystery money is gone, for now at least.

The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, as is its wont, looked at the strong economic numbers of the past month or so and extrapolated them indefinitely into the future, forecasting big reductions in Treasury supply going forward. They even went so far as to suggest the Treasury allow negative interest rates on the bill auctions. Let the dealers and the big banks (of whom the TBAC guys are the kingpins) pay a kind of tax to the government for holding their money and keeping it “safe.” I mean, these clowns are the biggest buyers of this paper. It’s as if they want to kick themselves, or each other, in the ass. Of course, it will be grandma and grandpa saver who are hurt the most. But they don’t count.

Plus, the Gummit and TBAC guys are apparently so confident that rates will stay down for the long run, they’re talking about doing floating rate notes. They’re now looking at a better than best case scenario. I suspect that things won’t play out quite that way, especially if this sudden collapse in withholding taxes persists. Another week of disappearing taxes, and I’d take it seriously. So we’ll watch out for that.

Remember, these are the same financial rocket scientist geniuses who built the credit bubble and collapsed the financial system. Since they paid no penalty for that, they will do it again, probably soon, is my guess. The only issue is timing.

While we’re waiting for the verdict on that though, there’s enough momentum in the trends now at work to keep the bulls in clover for a few more weeks.

The forces that had spurred last week’s Treasury rally receded this week, with not only an increase in supply due to weaker than expected government revenues, but evidence in this week’s auctions so far that investor demand, which had been running red hot, may be waning. The indirect bid, which is a measure of that demand both from investors and foreign central banks, has been down at each of this week’s 5 auctions so far. Three of the data series that we will want to look at closely this week are the Fed’s weekly update on foreign central bank buying, the data from the ICI on bond fund inflows, and the Fed’s weekly data on commercial bank buying of Treasuries and Agencies. Those have all been positive in recent weeks. Any sign that any of them are on the wane could be the canary in the coal mine for a turn not only in the Treasury market, but also the stock market.

I’ll post a complete update on these items, the tax collection data, technical chart updates of the Treasury market and the US dollar, and a complete review of the Fed’s balance sheet in the Professional Edition on Thursday evening and Saturday.

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