We get to the Treasury’s X-date and no compromise has been made on raising the US debt limit, or in other words the anarchists get their way. The most direct impact would be felt in the bond market as investors would be in a bit of a panic, rushing to move money out of fixed income. In this type of environment, cash and liquidity will be at a premium and risk will be sold across the board to cover losses on bonds and other credit instruments. Falling bond prices will push up market interest rates, which will in turn put downward pressure on stocks. An unlikely scenario worth considering is the historically inverse relationship between stocks and bonds that underpin the 60/40 portfolio model holding through the market disruption, whereby a sharp sell-off in the fixed income space results in a rally in stocks as a function of portfolios being pre-priced and re-balanced. More likely, the run-up in both stock and bond yields from falling prices could also mean precious metals become less attractive as they do not have a carry yield, and investors do not get paid to wait. There’s also a reduction in demand from an inflation hedging standpoint as rising rates signal less credit creation, which means less upward pressure on inflation from consumption and investment spending.
The implications for commodity markets would be similar to those of other risky asset classes. If US demand for fuel is seen as waning, the price of oil will have justification to accelerate its slide lower, which probably incites more production cuts from OPEC+. The asset class whose forecast is the most opaque is crypto, as the market reaction in the space will largely depend on how volatile the moves are among the other risky assets. For example, if the broader market sell-off is orderly the crypto space could indeed act as a safe-haven for alternative liquidity. If, however, the market sell-off is violent and abrupt, the crypto space will experience the proverbial baby being thrown out with the bath water, as investors flock to liquidity in the form of fiat currency. Most likely candidates will be the Swiss Franc, Japanese Yen, and the US Dollar which all typically hold the haven status in times of great market uncertainty.
The run-up to the ‘X-date’ will be filled with market volatility with a bias to the downside. With the level of uncertainty surrounding the risk of the US government not making debt payments, investors will rightfully shift holdings away from market risk and toward liquidity. As the adage goes, “America always does the right thing, after doing everything else.” If history informs expectations, then the failure to pass the TARP legislation on the first vote comes to mind. Political lines were drawn, and the interest of the American public became an afterthought. It wasn’t until financial markets responded with a massive sell-off that Congress saw the light and voted to authorize the bailouts. With this as prologue, it’s easy to see why investors are shifting to overweight cash. The expectation is that an adverse market reaction to Congress making wrong decision at first, would present opportunities to acquire premium assets at discount prices, shortly before the right decision is subsequently made and assets again reprice to reflect the new reality.