Shorting Bonds

There was an article the other day on LRC that talked about shorting bonds.  The author says that the bond market is the next big bubble.  He also has suggestions for mutual funds and ETFs that short bonds.  If you haven't already, you should read the article.

Overall, there is not much to disagree with in the article.  The author makes a great case and lays out a number of true and relevant facts.  There is just one problem and that is the main problem for students of Austrian economics who invest.  The problem is timing.

There were libertarians/Austrians predicting a crash in the housing market or a crash in the stock market 5 years before they actually happened.  There were Austrians predicting that gold would spike up in price in the 1990's.  These were accurate predictions, but far too early.

I can predict right now that China will have a major recession/depression.  They have a bubble economy.  Some of their growth has been real, but some of it is also artificial and illusory.  This is because of the Chinese central bank inflating.  They will eventually face a choice of hyperinflation or recession/depression.  They will choose the latter.  The Austrian business cycle theory tells us this.  It won't be a surprise.  The problem is, again, timing.  Maybe the boom will last a few more years before we see the bust.

It is the same with government bonds.  It is likely there is a bubble.  It is likely we will see much higher interest rates in the future.  But we are also competing against the Fed with endless money.  The Fed can and will buy bonds.  In the long run, this will cause interest rates to rise due to the inflation premium.  In the short run though, it can actually drive rates down.

If you short bonds now, what will happen if it takes two or three years to play out?  What if rates go down?  Can you afford to wait it out?  Even if rates stay steady, you will be paying fees for a mutual fund or ETF.

If you are going to short bonds, I would suggest you do it carefully.  I don't usually like to look for confirmation with investments because you miss out on the easy money.  In this case though, I would look for some confirmation.  At least wait until we see some substantial price inflation.  With an investment like gold, it is easy to buy and hold.  Shorting bonds is a little trickier and you should be cautious about doing it.