Good for Japan, Bad for US (Bonds)?

In the late 1980’s, Japan seemed destined to “rule the financial world”.  But when it comes to the financial markets – things don’t always pan out as they appear destined to.  The Nikkei Index topped out in late 1989, didn’t bottom out until February 2009 and has yet to return to its 1989 peak.

But it sure is trying.  This past week the Nikkei reached its highest level 1991.  So, hooray for the Japanese.  Back here in the US of A there may be a slightly different take.  For as we will discuss in a moment, what is good for Japanese stocks is (apparently) bad for US bonds.

Ticker EWJ

As our proxy for Japanese stocks we will use ticker EWJ (iShares Japan).  In Figure 1 you can the monthly action since the ETF started trading in 1996.

Figure 1- Ticker EWJ monthly (Courtesy TradingExpert)

Since 1996 EWJ has broken in the $60 a share range on 5 previous occasions, only to be rebuffed.  You can see the latest upward thrust at the far right.  Will this be the time it breaks through?  It beats me and in fact that is not really the focus of this article.  The real question posed here is “what about U.S. treasury bonds?”  Huh?  Consider Figure 2.

The top clip of Figure 2 displays a weekly chart of EWJ with a 5-week and 30-week moving average drawn.  The bottom clip displays a weekly chart of ticker TLT – the iShares ETF that tracks the long-term U.S. treasury bond.

Note that – using highly technical terms – when one “zigs”, the other “zags.”

Figure 2 – EWJ vs. TLT (Courtesy TradingExpert)

The thing to note is the inverse correlation between the two – i.e., when Japanese stocks advance, US treasuries tend to decline and vice versa.  For the record (and for you fellow numbers geeks out there) the correlation coefficient in the last 2 years is -0.45 (1 means they trade exactly the same, -1 means they trade exactly inversely).

For my purposes:

*EWJ 5-week MA < EWJ 3-week MA = BULLISH for US treasuries

*EWJ 5-week MA > EWJ 3-week MA = BEARISH for US treasuries

Any real merit to this?

*The blue line in Figure 3 displays the cumulative $ +(-) achieved by holding a long position in t-bond futures ($1,000 a point) when the EWJ indicator is BULLISH (for U.S. bonds)

*The orange line in Figure 3 displays the cumulative $ +(-) achieved by holding a long position in t-bond futures ($1,000 a point) when the EWJ indicator is BEARISH (for U.S. bonds)

Figure 3 – $ + (-) for Treasury Bond Futures when EWJ indicator is BULLISH for bonds (blue) or BEARISH for bonds (orange)

Summary

Bond investors might keep a close eye on Japanese stocks for a while.  If the latest thrust higher follows through and becomes the move that finally breaks out to the upside, the implication would appear to be negative for U.S. long-term treasury bonds.  On the flip side, if Japanese stocks fail once again to break through and reverse to the downside, then things might look a whole lot better for the 30-year US treasury.

Jay Kaeppel

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