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Money Is Flooding Back Into One of Wall Street's Most Popular 2016 Trades

The return of inflation.

The upturn in U.S. core inflation and rise in oil prices are causing money to pour into a trade that was one of Wall Street's favorites heading into 2016, according to Société Générale SA.

Late in 2015, strategists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Morgan Stanley—to name a few—were pounding the table on Treasury inflation-protected securities, based on the belief that market-based measures of price pressures over the medium term were far too subdued.

Breakeven inflation rates, however, continued to slide early in the year amid renewed weakness in oil and financial market turmoil. Goldman Sachs ended up abandoning its call on inflation-linked sovereign debt, along with four more of its top six trade recommendations for 2016, while the new year was just six weeks young.

But conditions have since changed materially. U.S. core PCE inflation—the Federal Reserve's preferred gauge of price increases—rose 1.7 percent year over year in January to reach its highest level in almost three years. Higher oil prices are also buoying the outlook for inflation, with front-month West Texas Intermediate futures contracts up nearly 50 percent off their lows.

A chart from SocGen shows that in the four weeks ended Mar. 2, flows into inflation-protected U.S. bond funds picked up steam:

Societe Generale

While the upward arrow in the chart might be an ambitious extrapolation, it doesn't leave any doubt about whether SocGen thinks these inflows will continue.

"In a context where deflation fears were too strong and are now gradually normalising, these inflows into inflation-protected bond funds clearly make sense, both in the U.S. and in Europe," wrote Alain Bokobza, the bank's head of global asset allocation.

The strategist recently pointed out that global deflationary fears, as implied by SocGen's newsflow indicator, had spiked to an all-time high.

Fading deflationary fears have also supported flows into high-yield debt, a segment in which prolonged commodity price softness prompted a severe widening in spreads, SocGen observed.

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