U.S. Government Bonds Strengthen on Soft Economic Data

By Sam Goldfarb Features Dow Jones Newswires

U.S. government bonds strengthened Tuesday as investors responded to a batch of soft economic data.

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Traders bought government debt after the Institute for Supply Management said its index of U.S. manufacturing activity fell to 56.3 in July from 57.8 in June. Reports from U.S. auto makers also showed sharply lower sales in July, while the Federal Reserve's preferred measure of inflation, the price index for personal-consumption expenditures, slipped in June on an annual basis to 1.4% from 1.5% in May, its fourth straight month of year-over-year declines.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note settled at 2.253%, compared with 2.292% Monday. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

Taken together, the data helped support bonds, which typically thrive in environments of weak economic growth and soft inflation, in part because inflation erodes the purchasing power of their fixed returns.

In particular, sales reported by Detroit's Big Three auto makers were "really, really weak, and that sparked the rally," said Thomas Simons, senior vice president and money-market economist in the Fixed Income Group at Jefferies LLC.

Prices of Treasurys had fallen earlier in the trading session, with the 10-year yield rising as high as 2.321%.

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Analysts said the Treasury Department's refunding announcement scheduled for Wednesday was one factor initially pushing yields higher.

Some traders are nervous that agency could announce plans to issue more long-term debt, including the inauguration of 50-year bonds, in anticipation of the Federal Reserve starting to scale back its program of reinvesting proceeds from maturing Treasury bonds into new debt, said Gennadiy Goldberg, U.S. rates strategist, at TD Securities in New York.

That would likely pressure outstanding bonds with longer maturities. Still, TD Securities analysts are among those who expect that Treasury will focus more on borrowing through short-term debt, which would be good for long-term bonds.

Data on core inflation, which excludes food and energy products, was also something of a bright spot amid the lackluster economic reports, providing some short-lived selling pressure on bonds.

While headline inflation fell on an annual basis, core inflation was 1.5% in June and was revised up to 1.5% in May from the earlier estimate of 1.4%. Though still down from 1.9% in February and below the Fed's 2% target, the two consecutive months at 1.5% could make people "think that we've bottomed here," Mr. Goldberg said.

Write to Sam Goldfarb at sam.goldfarb@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 01, 2017 16:08 ET (20:08 GMT)