NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. stock market has obviously been making new highs as bond yields have been making new lows.
The big catalyst behind these good times, it could be argued, has been the nonstop purchase of assets by the U.S. Federal Reserve and its zero-percent interest rate policy. All of this is having the effect of pushing investors into riskier assets to get a "normal" yield/total return.
This action by the Fed is unprecedented and is distorting market prices and fixed income yields. Barron's pointed out that for the first time ever, junk bond yields as measured by the iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG) went below 5%.
This past January was the first time junk bond yields went below 6%. For a little perspective, in the summer of 2006 two-year U.S. Treasurys could be bought with a 5% yield. That was certainly a different time but it speaks to the idea that investors are being squeezed to find yield.Junk bond yields below 5% is an indication the bonds are expensive and the market is not properly pricing the risk taken by investing in this part of the market. The PowerShares Fundamental High Yield Bond Portfolio (PHB) might be even more expensive than HYG, the information page at the PowerShares Web site for this fund shows the trailing 12-month yield at just 4.77%.
This circles back to proper diversification and not over-reaching for yield. A diversified bond portfolio includes some exposure to riskier bonds or bond funds but too much exposure to risky assets at the wrong time ultimately ends badly; tech stocks 13 years ago and bank stocks six years ago and riskier fixed income products will not be an exception. Many will argue that although bonds are overpriced, they are not likely to go down soon because the Fed is continuing to buy assets and will likely keep rates at zero percent until at least 2015. The flaw in this argument is the assumption that everyone will know when the bull market in bonds is ending and will all be able to exit calmly. Typical of bear markets, the end to the current bull market in bonds will come about in such a way as to not be reasonably forecasted by many people.
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