Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey: Get ready for Trump thump

It has been called the "Bondcano" and the "Trumpocalypse of the bond markets" to impress upon regular savers and borrowers just how important the events of the last fortnight have been.

Since November 4 the US 10-year Treasury bond yield has risen from 1.77 per cent to almost a one-year high of 2.26 per cent.

That doesn't sound dramatic, but it represents the fastest increase in the most important interest rate in the world in more than 7 and a half years.

It means investors holding US Government debt and other bonds priced off this benchmark just lost more than US$1 trillion.

It means all sorts of longer-term interest rates have risen sharply since the election of Donald Trump as US President as investors start to worry the host of The Apprentice would cut taxes, increase the cost of imports and spend money willy nilly in a way that will push up inflation globally.

New Zealanders can't ignore these events, either.

Close observers of mortgage rates can see how it has already started to roll through into our own housing markets.

In recent days ASB, BNZ and Kiwibank have all increased their longer-term fixed mortgage rates by 10-30 basis points.

More importantly the sharp jump in US bond yields has unnerved investors with over US$150t in bonds and loans to Governments and companies globally who had assumed interest rates would stay low and a 30-year trend of ever-falling interest rates would keep on going.

They're now asking themselves if they should all try to get out the exit door at the same time.

The rout is threatening to turn into a stampede that could destabilise global financial markets, particularly in Europe where banks are seen as vulnerable and economies can't easily handle higher interest rates.

Some are describing this jump in bond yields as the "Trump Thump" and it is a shock that will reverberate well beyond his wall and the shores of America.

Emerging economies such as China and Latin America have become dependent on borrowing in US dollars at US interest rates.

If Trump reduces imports from China and Latin America, these economies face the double and triple whammy of slowing export revenues just as their borrowing costs rise sharply, and having to service their debts in US dollars.

Expectations Trump could unleash a spending and tax-cutting spree has made the US dollar more attractive and pushed it up four per cent since the election.

The rise in US interest rates and expectations Trump could unleash a spending and tax-cutting spree has made the US dollar more attractive and pushed it up four per cent since his election.

That has crystallised at least two legs of the triple whammy.

This pressure has also forced the Chinese yuan to a six-year low and into the territory where Trump could accuse the Chinese Government of artificially weakening the currency in a way that hurts US workers and triggers the 35 per cent tariff he has threatened.

All bets are off on China remaining the engine room of growth for the New Zealand and Australian economies if this triple hit of the bondcano, a currency crisis and a trade war eventuate.

Meanwhile, the rise in market interest rates added pressure to a New Zealand housing market that has come off the boil since the Reserve Bank announced new restrictions on lending to rental property investors in July in tandem with banks such as ANZ and Westpac starting to tighten their lending policies for landlords and apartment developers.

The rise in interest rates will also make life slightly more expensive for the Government, which faces billions in extra borrowing over the next couple of years to rebuild the main trunk route through Kaikoura.

New Zealand's 10-year Government bond yield has risen from 2.8 per cent to 3.2 per cent since Trump's election and is up from a record-low 2.13 per cent in August.

To be fair, longer-term interest rates have been bottoming out since August and short-term interest rates have also risen for different reasons.

US regulators forced fund managers to sell their bank debt to buy Government debt, which pushed up short-term money market rates, and many expect the US Federal Reserve to hike next month.

Trump has barely started to select his cabinet Apprentice-style, and he has already delivered a multi-billion dollar thump to bond and property values globally and here.

As much as we'd like his wall to block off the Trump-effect from the rest of the world, no one is immune in the still globalised world of free-floating interest rates and exchange rates.

- Herald on Sunday

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Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News, a Wellington-based political and economic subscription news email service. He also writes for Interest.co.nz and appears regularly on Radio New Zealand, Radio Live, TVNZ and TV3. He has been a financial journalist for 25 years, having worked for Reuters, the Financial Times Group and Fairfax Media.

Read more by Bernard Hickey

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