Why Gundlach Is Still Wrong About Higher Rates

Last Monday, Jeff Gundlach, famed bond fund manager and CIO of Doubleline, made an interesting comment during an interview with CNBC when he stated that the 10-year Treasury yield would top 6% by 2020 or 2021.

6% would be the highest yield since 2000.

The chart below shows Gundlach’s estimated yield as compared to the long-run range of economic growth. (Note that real GDP growth was running at 5.27% in 2000 as compared to 3.0% today which is also getting weaker.)

As I discussed last week, interest rates are a function of the economy. So, while Jeff suggests that yields are rising to 6% in the next couple of years, such would suggest an extremely strong rebound in economic growth. Unfortunately, there is no evidence currently of a major upturn in economic growth due to surging deficits, debts, demographic, and employment trends. Further productivity trends mean such an upturn in economic growth could only come from a massive surge in debt. Is that likely to happen given our indebted state already?

The biggest problem with rising rates is the negative impact from higher borrowing costs. Given that consumption makes up 70% of economic growth, and that consumers are heavily indebted, a change in rates has an immediate impact to consumption. Take a look at the chart below of the Total Housing Activity Index versus 30-year mortgage rates.

But it isn’t just housing, but everything from automobiles to iPhones. When interest rates rise to a point to where the consumer can no longer afford the payment, the buy decision changes to either a lower priced product or a postponement of the purchase. More importantly, the change to the purchase mentality (either reduction or postponement) specifically slows the rate of economic growth.

Given the structural backdrops to the economy, there is an inability to substantially increase rates of productivity, output, wage growth, savings, or consumption which would lead to stronger rates of economic growth. In fact, we are currently running some of the weakest rates of economic growth, productivity, and wages on record.


The annual rate of economic growth back in the late 70s, early 80s, was between 6 and 8 percent. Today, the long-run outlook for the economy is closer to 2% which is the terminal result of a 40-year long debt-driven expansion. Given that long-run projections of economic growth are between 1.5-2.5%, such means that the 10-year Treasury should run at about the same level. It is simply not feasible for rates to levitate to 4, 5, or 6% when economic growth is unable to support higher rates. Inflation, interest rates, wages, and economic growth are all tied to the consumer.

And the consumer is pretty much tapped out as credit card debt hits all-time highs and most Americans say they didn’t get a pay raise at their current job, or start a better paying job, in the last 12 months, according to a Wednesday survey from Bankrate.com.

“According to the poll, 62% of Americans report not getting a pay raise or better paying job in the past year – up from 52% last surveyed last year. That said, just 25% of respondents in this year’s survey said they would look for a new job in the next year.”

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Norman Mogil 3 months ago Contributor's comment

Gundlach does not understand the Keynesian concepts of how excess savings will suppress economic growth ex post. At 6% interest and 2% inflation consumption will decline in favour of investment and this will result in excess capacity. That, in turn, will be disinflationary and the 10yr rate will fall sharply to a new, lower equilibrium