Tax-driven TGA surge suggests the risk of larger bill pay downs.
Treasury’s cash balances (TGA) jumped to levels some $200-250bn above their target this week after the mid-April tax date saw historically large receipts for Treasury (likely owing at least in part to elevated capital gains tax payments).
The elevated TGA balance raises questions around the outlook for bill issuance, in particular, suggesting risks of a larger than usual drop in outstanding supply over the next month or so. In the pre-covid decade (we exclude the last two years due in part to the noise from broader trends in bill supply and cash balances at the time), bill pay downs averaged about $75-80bn over the month or so post-tax deadline, with most years seeing closer to $50bn or so (with further reductions in bill supply typical in June as well).
There hasn’t been a particularly reliable correlation between the size of the tax day-related cash balance swing and the magnitude of subsequent bill pay downs historically, though the extent of the cash balance surge outstrips any historical comparison. There are about $100bn in obligations to state and local governments related to the CARES act that should organically exhaust a portion of the cash surplus over the next month or two and attenuate some of the pressure on bill supply. Nonetheless, risks are still likely tilted towards larger than usual bill pay downs in the near term. While QT will eventually necessitate more bill supply over time, we have noted in the past that this only becomes more meaningful in late 2022 and into 2023 and shouldn’t be viewed as a near-term source of relief for tight front-end spreads.
Unlike Bunds (where inflation breakevens have been the driver), the recent surge in US yields has been driven largely by real yields, which have risen a 100bp since 7 March. On historical betas, a move of this magnitude would have seen a gold drop by 15-20%. Instead, it is down only by 3.7%. We see this as a significant break in correlation, very likely driven by the sanctioning of CBR reserves: since 25 February, gold is up 2.2%, and bitcoin is up 2.9%. Despite near-term risk from the Fed, we think gold will find increasing support in the medium term.
Gold prices are succumbing to a weakening yuan as China’s worsening Covid-19 outbreak saps the buying impulse from yet another pillar of demand for bullion. With little over a week remaining for the Fed to hike by 50bp and to begin quantitative tightening as we expect, demand for bullion from the investor community is likely to ease. While the yellow metal's prices have remained extremely resilient against an aggressively hawkish Fed, as a protracted war in Ukraine simultaneously raised both geopolitical uncertainty and inflation risks and thereby fueled demand for havens, we see few participants left with an appetite to buy gold. Shanghai's reinvigorated appetite for the yellow metal has helped to support prices, but a weakening yuan should translate into less demand from this cohort. Comex shorts have largely been wiped out, removing some fuel for price strength, while safe-haven flows have a historical tendency to dissipate.
ETF flows also have a historical relationship with macro forces which argue for easing inflows and for the potential for significant outflows if the Fed can indeed reach neutrality at a fast pace and slow inflation. With quantitative tightening only a few short weeks away, liquidity premia will continue to drive markets, but the threshold for significant CTA outflows remains elevated.