The promise of something for nothing is always an enticing proposition. Who doesn't want roses without thorns, rainbows without rain, and salvation without repentance? So, too, who doesn't want a few extra basis points of yield above the 10-year Treasury note at no added risk?
The yield-chasing hamster wheel… [PT]
Thus, smart fellows go after it; pursuing financial innovation with unyielding devotion. The underlying philosophy, as we understand it, is that if risk is spread thin enough it magically disappears. In other words, the solution to pollution is dilution.
With this objective, new financial products are fabricated into existence. The risk free rewards of several extra basis points are then packaged up into debt instruments and sold off to pension funds and institutional investors. The search for yield demands it.
Yet as an economic expansion progresses, especially one that has been extended and distorted with the Fed's cheap credit, these derived financial securities are polluted with more and more toxic waste. Spreading the risk ultimately pollutes the entire pool of liquidity.
At this moment in the business cycle, after a lengthy bull market in stocks and bonds, countless manifestations of the greater fool theory have bubbled up to the surface. Bonds with negative yields epitomize this. Buyers accept a guaranteed coupon loss with the hopes of scoring capital appreciation as yields fall. But when yields rise, it is game over.