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Yield Curve Inversion Thumbnail

Yield Curve Inversion

The yield on the 2-year Treasury briefly exceeded the 10-year on Tuesday for the first time since 2019, in a warning sign that coming Fed rate hikes may trigger a recession. The inversion happened at a level of about 2.39%, but only lasted several minutes before things returned to a 5 basis point spread. A short-lived inversion also occurred in the summer of 2019 amid the trade war with China, and while that was followed by the COVID downturn of 2020, the last persistent inversion of the Treasury curve occurred in 2006-2007.

What it means: Yield curves typically slope upward, so when short-term yields return more than longer-dated ones, it suggests there is reason to worry about the long-term outlook. It can also signal that the high levels of short-term yields are unlikely to be sustained as economic growth slows, which can have an impact on a range of asset prices. "Historically, a recession has not happened without an inversion," said Ben Emons, global macro strategist with Medley Global Advisors. "So likely, it will be a predictor of a future recession. Timing, however, is unknown. It could take up to two years."

A series of inversions besides the closely-watched 2s/10s proxy have recently occurred as traders price in more and more rate hikes. 20-year yields topped 30-year yields last October, while the gap between 5-year and 30-year yields turned upside down on Monday. As the Fed embarks on a cycle of quantitative tightening, there are fears that it will reduce consumer spending and business activity as the central bank battles the highest inflation rates in a generation.

False alarm? "There's reason to believe that this time around, yield curve inversion may not be as good of an indicator as it has been in the past, particularly given the enormous amount of quantitative easing undertaken by global central banks," said Erin Browne, a fund manager at PIMCO. Moreover, Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced last week that he's paying more attention to the first 18 months of the yield curve rather than anything that goes on afterwards. The inversion could also be more of a blip than a lasting trend, and in fact, the curve steepened overnight with the 2-year and 10-year yields hitting 2.31% and 2.40%, respectively.