Why Volatility Matters (Last of a Series)

With the passing of Yogi Berra, the position of sports legend/philosopher is now vacant. While no obvious candidates have stepped forward, we offer to nominate Cam Newton, star quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. Second-guessed on a play call by a reporter at a press conference last October, he replied with a shrug, “Hindsight is always 50/50.”

This notion resonated with us given the challenge of anticipating buyer behavior in today’s credit markets. With the Fed’s stance on raising rates oscillating between “not now” and “maybe tomorrow,” managers wonder if their next move will be decided by a coin toss. Are we headed for a downturn, or for an era of improved yields and growth?

Retail cash, meanwhile is still headed for the exits. Though floating rate assets are likely beneficiaries of a Fed move, the nine-week string of cash outflows from mutual funds (see Chart of the Week) is likely to be extended. That totals about $8.2 billion year-to-date (per Lipper); high-yield outflows ($2.8 billion) are comparatively more modest.

One friend on a money-center trading desk, exasperated at the contrariness of these buyers, echoed the Zen of Cam: “Don’t these investors remember how well-behaved loans were through the credit crisis? Don’t they understand the relative value?”