The Yield Curve Un-Inverting Is Not Your Friend

I have talked about this phenomenon before and must do it again today.  All over the news recently is how the previously inverted yield curve is now no longer inverted.

Yield curve inversion is when short term Federal Funds Rate, set by the Federal Reserve, has a higher yield than longer term rates.   The most common curve-inversion metric is the Fed Funds rate versus the 10-year Treasury bond.  One can also make comparisons between the 30yr, 10yr, 5yr, 2yr and 1yr Treasury yields.  Inversion is regarded as an indicator of a higher risk of recession in the near future.

The chart below shows, in blue, the spread between the US 10 year Treasury yield and the Fed Funds Rate.  The orange is the Fed Funds rate, set by the Federal Reserve.  Red is the 10-year Treasury.

We can see without a doubt that the past 3 recessions (grey bars) were preceded by a decline in the 10-year yield to BELOW the Fed Funds Rate.  Longer term bonds carry higher rates of interest primarily due to inflation expectations.  The natural state is to have the longest-term bonds pay more than shorter term bonds.

When the 10-year is below the Fed Funds rate, the curve is said to be inverted, as its expected longer-term rates are normally higher than short term rates (the Fed Funds rate is an overnight rate).  The curve un-inverts when the 10-year yield goes back above the Fed Funds rate.

The financial media have spilled a lot of digital ink on this topic.  When it first inverted, reports were based on a recession indicator.  Now that it has normalized slightly, I’m seeing reports that the recession risk has passed.

The chart below clearly indicates that the past 3 recessions began as the curve un-inverted. Recessions are the grey vertical bars.

resteepening 11 2019

The process the last 3 times this has occurred was that; 1) market-driven yield on the 10-year bond went down, generally due to deteriorating economic conditions. 2) the 10-year gets below the Fed Funds rate (blue line under the 0% level), inversion. 3) The Fed begins to lower rates to stimulate the economy. It continues to lower rates basically until the recession is over (orange line).  4) The 10-year Treasury bond yield remains flat or vacillates some as the Fed lowers its Fed Funds rate below the Fed Funds rate, un-inverting.

The problem lays in that the Fed is doing the ‘un-inverting’, not market forces.  Had the Fed left rates alone at 2.5% and the 10-year market-driven rate had gone up (due to increasing economic activity)—THAT would be healthy and a good sign for earnings and the economy. 

It is important to remember that stock prices and the economy are only loosely tied together in the short term, stock prices can rise and remain elevated in the early stages of a recession.  Also, it is possible that the curve inversion is falsely predicting a recession, however this indicator has a very high success rate.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

Observations and Outlook October 2019

October 8, 2019

Perspective

 Over the past 3, 12 and 18 months there has been a wide dispersion in the returns of various asset classes.  US equites remain range-bound while ex-US, stocks continue to ebb.  Risk-off assets like bonds and gold have done very well over the past year, while stocks vacillate.  Interest rates continue to fall, and inflation expectations are subdued.  Earnings growth for the third quarter are expected to be negative year over year, and likely zero growth for full year 2019. US economic data continues to be weak while Eurozone and Asia may be entering a recession.  Below are the approximate returns over the 3-month, 12-month and 18-month time frames.

 

3 mos.            12 mos.                 18 mos.

S&P500                                          1.7%                 4.25%                      13.5%

Russell 2000 (US small cap)      -2.4%                  -8.9%                         .5%

Euro Stoxx 600                                .8%                    -.5%                      -2.4%

Emerging stocks                            -4.2%                  -2%                       -14%

Gold                                                    4%                 23.1%                     10.4%

Long-bond price (TLT)                 8.1%                 25.2%                     21.8%

Aggregate Bond Index                 2.3%                   7.5%                        9.6%

 

Economic data in the US continues to roll over.  The chart below shows the top three inputs into the LEI (Leading Economic Indicator) as published by the Conference Board.  Data continued to slow and is now in contraction in some areas like manufacturing.  Payroll growth has declined significantly during 2019.  These data points must reverse very soon otherwise we will undercut the 2015 slowdown and increase chances of a recession in the coming months.

econ rolling over 10 2019

 

We’ve been seeing risk-off assets outperform substantially in recent quarters under the pressure of slowing global economic data and lack of growth in earnings.   More recently there are been reports of large-scale rotation from growth stocks (like Consumer Discretionary sector; XLY) to more value-oriented stocks (like Consumer Staples; XLP).  Value has begun to outperform growth.   While not completely uncommon, it is uncommon to see this while Consumer Confidence is very high.  Recently I came across the chart below from Sentimenttrader.com which shows how rare this is.

discretionary vs stpales vs consumer confidence

Discretionary items are what people buy with ‘extra’ money, while Staples are what people need for everyday life.  Defensive areas usually outperform only when consumers and investors are less confidence about the future.  Only just after the market peak in 1969 (far left side) and the 2000 peak (center) confidence was high (survey results) while defensives were beginning to outperform cyclical stocks.  If this rotation continues it may portend tough times for the general stock market.

Why might consumers be confident while investors are buying more defensive stocks over more cyclical stocks is a difficult question.  Sentiment is often a lagging indicator.  People feel good and optimistic after good things happen.  The long string of employment growth and a long bull market has buoyed sentiment, perhaps so much that any contrary information is being discounted.  A poor job report or two may change this outlook.  But again, we are faced with an imminent need for very good economic data points to counteract current downtrends.

Credit Expansion (aka QE/liquidity/debt)

china credit impulse pmi

 

us pmi 10 2019

 

These two charts show how China’s credit impulse (QE/liquidity/Reserve Rate reductions etc.) have a lagged impact on US manufacturing.   Coming out of the 2009 recession, China had the spigot wide open and we can see US PMI hit a high mark in early 2011. The Impulse was removed during 2010 which resulted in a decline in US PMI.  The renewed impulses in mid-2012 and late 2015 helped create the rise in US PMI in 2013 and 2016.  There is about a 6-9 month lag between an expansion in credit and its impact on the real economy.

Today we are seeing the impact of a lack of significant credit expansion which should continue   Global economies appear to be completely reliant upon increasingly larger credit impulses to maintain growth.   China has eased during calendar year 2019, but not as much in the past.  Hopefully we will soon see better US PMI numbers to avoid outright recession in the very near term.

Update on the Yield Curve

fed funds vs 2 year inversion 10 2018

We’re not hearing much on the Yield Curve lately.  It remains inverted with the 10-year Treasury yield being lower than the 90-day T-bill rate.  The 90-day bill and Fed Funds rate (set by the Federal Reserve) follow each other hand in glove.  We can see market rates, the 10-year Treasury yield began to decline in earnest about a year ago.  We can also see how the 90-day rate moved lower prior to the Fed lowering rates.  It is clear that the Fed follows the market.

Current market expectations are that the Fed will lower its rate again in October by another 25 bps (.25%).  I have showed in previous writings how the last two recessions began (the official dating) as the yield curve regained normalcy with the 10-year yield rising above the 90-day/Fed Funds rate by .33%.

If the Fed Funds rate decreases by .25%, from 1.75% to 1.5%, and the 10-year yield remains constant at 1.56%, the yield curve will un-invert and become positive.  Further decreases will cause the spread to go above .33%.   In 2007 the Fed lowered its rate enough (following the 90-day T-Bill) to get below the 10-year yield, resteepening/normalizing the curve again.  This occurred August-October 2007, and the official dating (which was given to us November 28, 2008(!) that it started December 2007.   Waiting for economic data regarding a recession, before reallocating one’s investments will always result in very poor returns

 

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

awaszkowski@namcoa.com

239.410.6555

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