Yield Curve Partial Inversion Roils Markets, What Happens If and When It More Fully Inverts?

On Monday, the US Treasury “yield curve” partially inverted as the 5 year T yield dropped below the 3 year T yield.  A typical “classic” inversion occurs when the 10 year yield drops below the 2 year yield, that is the most scrutinized relationship on the range of treasuries. Stock markets tumbled. (Dow dropped 800 points yesterday) as this added to uncertainty. An inverted yield curve is a classic harbinger of recessions (every recession since the 70’s).  Other macro economic concerns helped fan the flames (Brexit, mixed signals regarding the China/US “cease fire” on trade, etc). This is the first inversion in a decade, so it’s a major uncertainty. The major question facing markets: Is this “old school” indicator still valid in the “new normal” era of post Great Recession metrics of massive central bank accommodations, and stubbornly low inflation? Or “are things different this time?” We are again in uncharted territory. The Fed is still holding massive amounts of long dated Treasuries as it is now in its second year of the long slow unwind of its $4 trillion balance sheet. Markets seem to be counting on a very gradual sell off, keeping the long yields down. But most importantly, the lower 10 and 30 year bond yields are a product of reduced growth and inflation expectations for 2019, 2020 and beyond. Potential causes: the effects of US tax cuts fade, Italy weakening the Eurozone, continued trade disputes, etc. Many major economic groups are lowering growth forecasts for the next few years. Inflation is still spotty and not steady, note that oil prices again dropped today (after rising from lows) as the long awaited OPEC production cuts may be “off”. Stay tuned. By David R. Pascale, Jr. , Senior Vice President at George Smith Partners