The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC) told us in early February that it estimated that the US Treasury would pay down $358 billion in T-bills in the second quarter. That’s a lot of cash to stuff into the accounts of money market funds, banks, Primary Dealers, and other investors who use T-bills as a near-cash holding.
There’s nothing unusual about that. It’s an annual occurrence. The Treasury gets a tax windfall in March and April and uses the money to temporarily pay down outstanding T-bills. Those paydowns stuff cash into the accounts of those holding the expiring bills that are being redeemed. Then those former holders of the bills must find a place to reinvest that cash.
There are fewer T-bills in the market for them to roll into. When the Treasury pays them off, they’re gone. Poof. The Treasury will only start issuing new T-bill supply in a couple months when it needs to start borrowing short term again to fund government spending. Meanwhile, there’s a surfeit of cash in the accounts of money funds, banks, dealers, and investors.
Some recipients of the paydowns buy bills in the secondary market. That pushes the rate down. Some roll out a bit on the yield curve toward longer maturities. That normally pushes short term coupon paper, such as the two year note, prices upward, and yields lower. That buying ripples out through all maturities along the curve.
And a few at the margin decide to park the cash in stocks, which pushes stock prices up.
As a result of that process, we invariably saw rallies around the time of annual tax collections. Likewise, in the third week of every month, the Fed added to the cash tsunami with its regular settlement of its previous forward MBS purchases under QE. Because there’s a built in lag in that process, even though outright QE has ended, there was still a big Fed MBS settlement last week totaling $98 billion.
All told, there has been a helluva lot of cash pumped into the market in the past couple of weeks. But the markets have not rallied as I have expected them too.
Apparently, I missed something important. It’s obvious, but I underweighted the fact in my thinking. Here’s what it is, why it’s a huge deal, and what it tells us about how to trade and invest to protect, and even grow, our capital.
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