(Bloomberg) — Call it the Pretty Big Short.
Michael Burry, whose huge, wildly profitable bets against the housing bubble were made famous in “The Big Short,” is wagering that long-term U.S. Treasuries will fall.
His Scion Asset Management held $280 million of puts on the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF at the end of June, according to a regulatory filing released this week, an increase from $172 million three months earlier.
The options contracts would make money if TLT, as the exchange-traded fund is known, falls as Treasury yields go up — something that hasn’t happened lately as fear of the delta variant drives investors into Treasuries.
But ahead of the Federal Reserve’s annual Jackson Hole symposium, many still suspect the central bank will be able to start tapering bond purchases later this year, which could prove the bears right. Traders will be listening for hints from Chairman Jerome Powell on how much Covid’s resurgence is weighing on economic growth, and whether that sways when the Fed changes course.
“Every aspect of the economic data we look at, from the labor markets to inflation, are all tending to look pretty healthy,” which should cause yields to rise over coming months, said Guneet Dhingra, head of U.S. interest-rate strategy at Morgan Stanley. “And the delta-variant fears have been priced into the market and may have already peaked. We are watching as a potential market mover off Jackson Hole whether Fed Chair Powell has updated his view on delta, after so far seeming not particularly worried about it.”
Minutes from the Fed’s last meeting showed most officials saw reducing monthly debt purchases starting later this year. Markets see Fed rate increases beginning in the first quarter of 2023.
The iShares ETF, which tracks Treasuries maturing in more than 20 years, has gained 12% since bottoming in March while 30-year yields have fallen to 1.87% from 2.51%.
Morgan Stanley strategist Matthew Hornbach, known for bold calls that have frequently panned out, told his clients this month that he remains confident in his recommendation to bet against 10-year Treasuries despite a swoon in yields. The firm expects the yield to end the year at 1.8%, up from 1.26% currently, with the Fed announcing tapering in December.
It’s unknown whether Scion has shifted its positions since June. A call to Scion’s office in Saratoga, California, went unanswered Friday.
In a flurry of tweets in February, Burry warned that the economic reopening and economic stimulus would fan inflation, drawing a parallel between U.S. policies today and Germany’s during hyperinflation in the 1920s — the sort of situation that could prompt the Fed to jack up rates.
Burry’s bearish bond bet is largely in line with the calls of most Wall Street strategists. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey is for the 10-year yield end the year at 1.6%, with the most bullish and bearish estimates at 1% and 2%, respectively.
What to Watch
The economic calendarAug. 23: Chicago Fed national activity index; Markit manufacturing/services/composite; existing home salesAug. 24: Richmond Fed manufacturing index; new home salesAug. 25: MBA mortgage applications; durable goods orders; capital goods ordersAug. 26: Initial jobless claims; GDP; personal consumption; GDP price index; core PCE; Langer consumer comfort; Kansas City Fed manufacturing activityAug. 27: Advance goods trade balance; wholesale/retail inventories; personal income/spending; PCE deflator; University of Michigan sentimentThe Fed’s virtual Jackson Hole gathering will run Aug. 26-28Fed Chair Powell will deliver his remarks on Aug. 27The auction calendar:Aug. 23: 13-, 26-week billsAug. 24: 2-year notesAug. 25: 2-year floating-rate notes reopening; 5-year notesAug 26: 4-, 8-week bills; 7-year notes
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