Treasuries Gain as Confidence Falls More Than Forecast

Treasuries gained, pushing 10-year note yields to the lowest level in five days, as a gauge of consumer confidence fell more than forecast this month, fueling demand for the safety of U.S. government debt.

The U.S. auction of $32 billion in two-year debt, the first of four note sales this week, drew the highest demand in eight months from a category of investors including foreign central banks. Ten-year note yields fell from almost the 100-day moving average as another report showed home prices in the U.S. rose at a slower pace in the year through December. Stocks fell from yesterday’s record intraday high as risk appetite ebbed.

“Data of late have been on the weaker end of expectations,” said Dan Mulholland, head of Treasury trading at BNY Mellon Capital Markets in New York. “Equities are at the all-time highs -- maybe people are taking chips off the table and putting some cash in Treasuries.”

Ten-year yields dropped four basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 2.7 percent at 5 p.m. New York time, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. It was the lowest level since Feb. 20. Yields earlier approached the 100-day moving average at 2.75 percent. The price of the 2.75 percent security due in February 2024 increased 10/32, or $3.13 per $1,000 face amount, to 100 13/32.

Yields on current two-year notes were little changed at 0.31 percent.

Treasury trading volume at ICAP Plc, the largest inter-dealer broker of U.S. government debt, increased 28.7 percent to $291 billion. It touched $367 billion on Feb. 20, the highest level since Feb. 7. The average this year is $322 billion.

Volatility Falls

Volatility in U.S. government securities as measured by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch MOVE Index fell to 56.8, approaching a nine-month low of 55.99 it reached on Feb. 18. It was 67.26 on Feb. 5, the highest since Jan. 9. The average this year is 63.71.

Treasuries have lost 0.3 percent this month, compared to a gain of 1.8 percent in January, according to the Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Bond Index. They have returned 1.5 percent this year, versus a 3.4 percent drop in 2013, the index shows.

Treasuries were boosted today by fixed-income funds that manage portfolios against benchmark indexes and typically purchase longer-maturity Treasuries at month-end to align their holdings’ interest-rate sensitivity with the indexes. Barclays Plc said via e-mail its U.S. Aggregate Index will extend its duration, the measure of rate sensitivity, by 0.10 year on March 1, compared with 0.09 year on Feb. 1.

Note Auction

At today’s auction, the securities drew a yield of 0.34 percent, the lowest since November. The bid-to-cover ratio, which gauges demand by comparing total bids with the amount of securities offered, was 3.6, the highest since December, versus an average of 3.3 at the past 10 sales.

Indirect bidders, the category that includes foreign central banks, purchased 34.3 percent of the notes, the most since the June two-year auction, compared with an average of 25.4 percent for the past 10 sales.

Direct bidders, non-primary-dealer investors that place their bids directly with the Treasury, bought 19.3 percent, versus an average of 22.3 percent for the past 10 auctions.

“For the two-year, there’s just money to be put to work there; there always is,” Thomas Roth, senior Treasury trader in New York at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities USA Inc., said before the auction.

More Sales

The U.S. plans auctions tomorrow of $13 billion in two-year floating-rate notes and $35 billion in five-year debt, and a sale on Feb. 27 of $29 billion of seven-year securities.

When added to a $9 billion sale of 30-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities on Feb. 20, the auctions total $118 billion. They will raise $49.1 billion of new cash, as maturing securities held by the public total $68.9 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury.

Yields fell today as the Conference Board’s index of U.S. consumer confidence decreased to 78.1 from a revised 79.4 in January that was weaker than initially estimated, the New York-based private research group reported today. Economists in a Bloomberg survey forecast a reading of 80.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of equities ended the day at 1,845.12, down 0.1 percent, after falling earlier as much as 0.4 percent. It touched a record 1,858.71 yesterday.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities rose 13.4 percent from December 2012 after increasing 13.7 percent in the year ended in November, the group said today in New York. It was the first deceleration since June. The gain matched the forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

‘It’s Unclear’

“It’s unrealistic to make long-term judgments off current data, because it’s unclear,” said Tom Tucci, managing director and head of Treasury trading in New York at CIBC World Markets Corp. “We won’t know for the next one to two months. People have correlated it to weather conditions.”

Treasuries also gained as investors sought to cover short positions, or bets that the securities would decline in value, as this week’s auctions loomed.

“The street was caught short for supply,” said Charles Comiskey, head of Treasury trading at Bank of Nova Scotia in New York, one of 22 primary dealers that trade with the Fed. “We’re grinding higher” in prices.

Investors in Treasuries increased short positions in the week ended yesterday, a survey by JPMorgan Chase & Co. showed.

The proportion of net shorts was six percentage points, according to JPMorgan. The figure compares with a net long position of four percentage points in the week ending Feb. 17. The proportion of outright shorts, or bets the securities will drop in value, increased to 25 percent, from 17 percent the previous week. The proportion of outright longs dropped to 19 percent, from 21 percent.

Neutral Bets

Investors cut neutral bets to 56 percent, the lowest level since the week ending Nov. 18, the survey reported.

The Fed bought $2.66 billion of Treasuries today due from February 2023 to November 2023 under its quantitative-easing stimulus strategy to hold down borrowing costs and fuel economic growth.

The central bank has cut monthly bond-buying under the program by $10 billion a month in January and again in February, citing improvement in the U.S. economy. It now purchases $65 billion a month.

The Fed has maintained its target interest rate for overnight loans between banks in a range of zero to 0.25 percent since 2008 to support the economy.

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