Trader’s thoughts - inverting yield curve sparks recession fears

Traders are anticipating an imminent end to the Fed’s hiking cycle, and they are now trying to approximate when the Fed may cut rates again.

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Source: Bloomberg

Inverted Yield Curves:

There’ll probably be a lot of talk about “inverted yield curves” and “recessions” today. For some, reading such headlines will come as a shock. Perhaps even a cause of anxiety. It’s wise to understand why such commentary has emerged – and what that may imply. The price action in US Treasuries has been quite dramatic in the past 24-hours: the (what ought to be) familiar themes regarding a looming global economic slow-down, and the prospect of softer future US inflation has seen traders cut their predictions of future rates hikes from the US Fed. The short-end of the yield curve – the end which is more exposed to the near-term actions of the Fed – has held up well; but it’s the middle-to-end of the curve – the part controlled very much by traders’ expectations about future growth and inflation – that is experiencing the greatest duress.

What it all means:

In short: traders are anticipating an imminent end to the Fed’s hiking cycle, and they are now trying to approximate when the Fed may cut rates again. This is where the talk of recession starts to pop-up. As is easy enough to grasp, the Fed would need to cut rates in the event that the economy requires stimulatory support from monetary policy. Such circumstances would emerge if the economy began to slip into something resembling a recession. Hence, when yields at some point in the curve invert, it’s a reflection of traders collectively estimating that in the near-enough future, interest rates will be lower than what they are (around about) now, because the economy will enter into a period of significant weakness to require a rate cut from the Fed.

No reason to panic (yet):

It sounds quite ominous when the mechanics are explained. It’s doubly as bad when one considers the last time the US went into recession, it was the GFC. We all have memories of how dire that stage of history was. However, any fears elicited by talks of recession and everything that comes with it must be moderated by some counterbalancing arguments. Indeed, an inverted yield curve has portended the last 9 out 11 US recessions, but the time-lag between yield-curve-inversion and a recession should be noted. After an inversion of the US 2 Year Treasury note and the 10 Year Treasury note (the spread on these two assets being the most popular barometer for the phenomenon) it’s not for another 12-18 months that a recession is realized.

US growth is solid (for now):

So: while financial markets will be whipped into a frenzy about what is going on – especially as safe-haven assets like US bonds are gobbled-up as risk appetite wanes – the effects on the “real” economy are unlikely to manifest in the all-too immediate future. And justifiably so: global growth is waning, and it is not as synchronized as it was in 2017, but at least in the US, economic indicators remain relatively strong. The labour market, which is in focus this week with Non-Farm Payrolls figures released on Friday, is still very tight, leading to gradual wages growth; quarter-on-quarter GDP is still around 3-and-a-half per cent; and although business conditions are cooling, Monday’s release of US Manufacturing PMI still posted a much better than forecast result.

What triggered the panic:

It begs the question what precipitated this bearishness overnight. In financial markets, an underlying dynamic – such as that which has been experienced in the last 24 hours – may well be present, but it requires a catalyst to ignite it into full motion. Last night’s jitters, in a macro-sense, were brought- about by a slew of disappointing news. The post-G20 rally has been faded, as traders question the longevity and substance behind the so-called deal between the US-China, after several top White House advisers failed to substantiate what outcomes have been agreed upon between the two trade-waring nations. The trade related pessimism was exacerbated by renewed concerns regarding Brexit, and the apparent inevitability of an economically disruptive “hard-Brexit” outcome.

Risk-off, havens-on:

A rush to safety, and a subsequent liquidating of positions in riskier assets, has occurred. Touching again on US Treasuries: the yield on the benchmark 10 Year note has plunged to 2.91 per cent, and on the 2 Year note it has dipped to 2.80 per cent, taking the spread there to a narrow 11 points. Equities have been slaughtered, unwinding a considerable amount of last week’s gains: the Dow Jones is off 2.73 per cent, the
S&P 500 is off 2.3 per cent, and the NASDAQ is off 3.3 per cent (with an hour remaining in trade). The USD has climbed on its haven appeal, as has the Japanese Yen, which is back into the 112-handle, though gold has also rallied, despite the stronger greenback, to $US1238 per ounce. While in other commodities, copper is down 1.8 per cent, and oil is flat (this, leading into Thursday’s OPEC meeting).

Australia today:

SPI futures are predicting another punishing day for the ASX 200, with that contract at time of writing indicating a 52-point fall for the local index. The heavy hitting financials and materials sectors will probably struggle today: the former due to this tumble in bond yields, the latter as traders unwind the growth optimism piqued by the weekend’s G20 meeting. In line with overseas markets, defensive sectors could be the play today, though a day similar to yesterday which saw 10 out of 11 sectors in the red on 17.5 per cent breadth shouldn’t be discounted.

It’s GDP day today, and that should be watched closely, especially after the RBA at its meeting yesterday talked up the growth prospects of the Australian economy. Whatever the result the numbers produce – forecasts are for annualized growth at 3.3 per cent – it will unlikely shift Australian equities. The interest will be on the Australian Dollar and interest rate markets – the A-Dollar fell below 0.7350 again last night as risk-proxies were dumped – however the likelihood rates traders will bring forward their RBA-hike expectations in from 2020 is rather slim.

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