Inverted Yield Curve: Its different this time (not)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | 06:17 AM

The yield curve, as measured by the ratio between the 10 and 2 year treasuries, is merely a few ticks away from inverting. This is something worth paying close attention to.

What's the significance of an Inversion?

It reflects a decreasing demand for capital (low long rates), and can also be read as the Bond Market's apprehension of a slowing economy  -- why buy short Bonds if they are about to get even cheaper?

While not every inversion leads to a recession, every recession has been preceded by an inverted yield curve. Thus, it can be described as a necessary but not sufficient factor for a subsequent recession. 

According to a Dow Jones article in today's WSJ:

"Bond analysts aren't holding out much hope that the 10-year Treasury note will end 2005 with a bang, but the yield curve may ignite some fireworks.

The benchmark 10-year yield, which is sitting just below the 4.4%-4.6% range it had been confined to for more than a month, probably won't stage a significant breakout during the last trading week of the year, analysts say.

But it's a different story for the two-year note. Amid upcoming supply as well as widespread belief that the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise rates one or two more times, the two-year yield is likely to head higher. A bond's yield rises as its price falls.

When the two-year note underperforms the 10-year issue, the difference between these notes' yields -- which slid to 0.01 percentage point last week -- has the potential to disappear altogether, and the two-year note's yield can even surpass the yield on the 10-year.

When shorter-dated yields overtake their longer-dated counterparts, the yield curve is described as inverted. It is a bond-market rarity that has historically foreshadowed recession."

The 2/10 relationship -- and whether it becomes inverted -- has been one of several traditional harbingers of ill economic winds. There has already been Inversion "in the shorter end of the yield curve, with two-year notes yielding about 0.04 percentage point more than five-year notes late last week."

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has noted that "its different this time." He has challenged the view that "inversion signals economic trouble, pointing out that the shape of the curve is less predictive than it once was."

Further, the depth and duration of the inversion also plays a hand in its predictive ability:

"While an inversion between two- and 10-year "seems in the cards," some bond managers expect the flip-flop in yields to be minimal -- just 0.1 to 0.15 percentage point over the next few months before things turn back around. A brief, shallow inversion won't signal any marked slowdown in the economy. Over the past several decades, the yield curve has had to invert by two percentage points or more before a recession materialized.

One bond portfolio manager noted that the market seems to be priced for the Fed to start easing rates as soon as it stops tightening them." (emphasis added).

Any good technician will tell you never to anticipate a breakout or technical signal. Thus, declaring a recession to be inevitable based on an imminent inversion -- or a non-recession based upon a short, mild inversion -- may not be the best market call.

Nonetheless, any inversion -- even a shallow and brief one -- would ratchet up an already elevated anxiety level in the bond market, as "investors worry about a cooler housing market, inflation and energy prices, particularly high home-heating bills" notes the Journal. And that's before getting to Mortgage Equity Extraction, Current Account Deficit, a shopped out consumer, an expensive ongoing War, and assorted ills left over from the equity bubble's collapse.

An inverted yield curve is not a guarantee of a recession, but it is nonetheless a worrisome thing. If it doesn't foretell a recession, its not because "its different this time;" rather, its more likely because only some conditions precedent will have been met . . . 


UPDATE:   December 27, 2005  5:13pm

That didn't take very long, did it?

Stocks tumbled Tuesday as the bond market gave signals that in the past have preceded economic slowdowns. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 100 points.

The yield curve, the spread between the yields of short-term and long-term bonds, inverted for the first time in five years. That means short-term interest rates were higher than long-term interest rates. Investors have been watching the yield curve closely because, in the past, inverted yield curves have preceded recessions.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 4.341 percent, while the two-year Treasury note closed at 4.347 percent.

Normally, lenders receive higher interest when they commit their money for a longer time. A surge in demand for short-term credit can flatten or invert the yield curve.

The last time the yield curve was inverted was 2000, Charles H. Blood Jr., senior financial markets analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. At the time, "it served its classic function of a warning," he said.

Investors have been watching for months as bonds' long-term yields and short-term yields grew closer. "Although an inverted yield curve does not always imply an economic recession, it has predicted a profit recession 100 percent of the time," Merrill Lynch's North American Economist David R. Rosenberg said earlier this month.

Dow Finishes Down 106 at 10,778, Nasdaq Finishes Down 23 at 2,227 As Yield Curve Inverts


Yield Curve May Become Inverted
Rate of the 2-Year Treasury Is Likely to Rise as 10-Year Flattens, Sparking Concern
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES, December 27, 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | 06:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (6) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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» Inverted Yield Curves Spell the Utter Destruction of Mankind from None of Your Business
I first saw the news on The Big Picture about the upcoming Inverted Yield Curves, then later on Despite the Dire Predications and Prognostications, an inverted yield curve by itself doesnt mean much except that bond buyers (which... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 11:33:41 AM

» Yield Curves and Thin Ice from Fiat Lux
Of the many bits of macroeconomic esoterica I studied this semester, one that particularly caught my interest was the bond yield curve. Normally, long-term bonds pay more interest than short-term ones, because you have to lock... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 2:19:30 PM

» Thinking clearly about the yield curve from A Dash of Insight
Barry is like the farmer who thought the sun would no longer rise after his rooster died. He has observed a correlation and has inferred causation. The yield curve is an indicator of something, not a cause. Ask yourself this question: Would U.S. ec... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 5:06:34 PM

» Yield curve inverts from Investing Intelligently
The yield curve on US Treasury yields, inverted today, an event which has frequently signalled the beginning of a recession: The Globe and Mail: Bonds spark growth worry Here is the historical record we have endured eight Fed tightenin... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 11:08:16 PM

» Some Strong Support for Barry from Studies from A Dash of Insight
There is very strong support for the yield curve association, and I'll link to some sources below. Barry's analysis is more carefully qualified than that of most of the talking heads on CNBC. Until now, I have always believed in [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 11:25:26 PM

» Thinking clearly about the yield curve from A Dash of Insight
Barry is like the farmer who thought the sun would no longer rise after his rooster died. He has observed a correlation and has inferred causation. The yield curve is an indicator of something, not a cause. Ask yourself this question: Would U.S. ec... [Read More]

Tracked on May 7, 2007 2:23:26 PM


We need to remember that "its different this time" Greenspan never was much of an economic forecaster.

About those gas bill? My mother is going to call the gas company because "it must be wrong," even though I have been telling her watch out.

My sister-in-law ives in a small house and received a $300 gas bill. The thermostat is at 65 and they wear hooded sweatshirts and hats. The registers are turned off in unused rooms.

I think when this reality sets in it will not be pretty.

Already here in Georgia republicans are worried becuase GA has deregulation and pays the highest reate of any contiguous state, so they will be suspending 2% of the sales tax. Good luck chumps, 2% of a $500 gas bill will do nothing.

Posted by: me | Dec 27, 2005 9:29:25 AM

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