Christopher Caparelli, CFA
Viewed by many on Wall Street as the “smart money,” the bond market often serves as a leading indicator for the stock market in search of future direction. In 2007, it was the bond market that was first to flash warning signs of a looming crisis as stocks continued their steady upward march. Investment grade corporate spreads reached their tightest point of 82 basis points in late February 2007. By the time the S&P 500 peaked later that year in October, corporate spreads had widened out to nearly 140 basis points. As the crisis bottomed in early 2009, it was again the bond market that was first to reverse course. Corporate spreads reached their widest point in early December 2008 and it wasn’t until March 2009 that the stock market found a bottom.
As equities have once again approached their all time highs, the bond market may serve as a useful reference for investors looking to the future. Corporate spreads tightened to the mid 130’s at the beginning of January 2013 and have remained there while stocks continue to rise. Although there is room for spreads to tighten further before reaching the lows set during previous peaks in the equity markets, any dramatic reversal in equity prices will likely be preceded by their bond counterparts.
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