Vancouver Sun

Market’s favourite recession indicator — the yield curve — lurches


Traders returned to their desks in the new year with a familiar warning signal flashing even more strongly than before — the Treasury yield curve got even flatter, feeding the market’s worst suspicions about the U.S. economy.

Market watchers noted a dramatic compressio­n in what is arguably the most reliable indicator of recession — the gap between the three-month and 10-year Treasury yields.

This spread hit a post-crisis low of just 18.6 basis points in early New York trading Wednesday, barely half the intraday peak it reached on Dec. 31.

The gap has since pulled back toward its opening level for the day of around 24 basis points, but the narrowing trend is hard to ignore as U.S. economic data deteriorat­e and traders start pricing in the possibilit­y of a Federal Reserve rate cut in 2020.

Interest-rate strategist­s at BMO Capital Markets say the slide in this indicator just made Fed chairman Jerome Powell’s job “that much harder.” While central bank officials have warned against over-interpreti­ng flattening of the widely watched two-year to 10-year curve, BMO points to “a great deal of academic research” around the curve from three months to 10 years, and “it is generally accepted as being a better recession predictor.”

They cite, in particular, analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, whose own model indicated back in mid-December about a 24-per-cent chance of recession in the coming year. At that point the spread between three-month and 10-year yields was considerab­ly wider and BMO strategist­s reckon that “the next recalculat­ion of this model in two weeks will surely show a material increase in the chance of a recession.”

The strategist­s draw particular attention to the 20-basis-point level for the spread, which they say has worked as a gauge for Fed policy in the past few decades.

 ?? DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES ?? The Treasury yield curve dropped dramatical­ly Wednesday.
DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES The Treasury yield curve dropped dramatical­ly Wednesday.

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