May 30, 2019

The yield curve inversion is beginning to look a lot like 2006

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The difference between the yield on 10-year Treasury notes went further below the yield on 3-month bills Wednesday. The difference is the most since 2007 and suggests that the inverted yield curve may not be going away.

Why it matters: Since the 1970s, an inverted yield curve has preceded every U.S. recession. However, economists, fund managers and other experts have been waving off the inversion's importance so far this year in a way that's eerily familiar.

What they said before: When the yield curve inverted in January 2006, in much the way it has this year, former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said not to worry. "In previous episodes when an inverted yield curve was followed by recession, the level of interest rates was quite high, consistent with considerable financial restraint," he said in a speech in March 2006. "This time, both short- and long-term interest rates — in nominal and real terms — are relatively low by historical standards."

  • Bernanke's predecessor, Alan Greenspan, labeled it a false indicator, noting that long-term yields were being held down by heavy investor demand, just as they are now.
  • The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip wrote in January 2006 that it was foreign buying of U.S. bonds and exceptionally low yields on U.S. Treasuries (then about 4%, compared to today's yields which are closer to 2%) that was causing the inversion.

Yes, but: It wasn't just 2006 when experts were certain things were different this time.

  • "We said the same thing in 2000," Bank of America trading strategist Gerald Lucas quipped to the FT in January 2006, while noting that "the inversion was the result of scarcity value at the long end of the curve to do with Treasury buybacks."

Be smart: The experts also insisted that economic data was strong and the usual recession warnings signs — other than the inverting yield curve — simply weren't there.

  • "I think it sometimes portends a recession, sometimes not," said Marshall E. Blume, a finance and management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. This time, it probably does not, he added in 2006.
  • "All the forecasts are quite favorable. There aren’t any real excesses in the economy at the current time."

Go deeper ... Economic whiplash: Stocks are rising, but analysts still fear a recession

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World coronavirus updates: Cases surge past 720,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now more than 720,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 33,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Sunday that his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 23 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 718,685 — Total deaths: 33,881 — Total recoveries: 149,076.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 139,675 — Total deaths: 2,436 — Total recoveries: 2,661.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump says his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Trump says peak coronavirus deaths in 2 weeks, extends shutdown

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump is extending his administration's "15 days to slow the spread" shutdown guidelines for an additional month in the face of mounting coronavirus infections and deaths and pressure from public health officials and governors.

Driving the news: With the original 15-day period that was announced March 16 about to end, officials around the country had been bracing for a premature call to return to normalcy from a president who's been venting lately that the prescription for containing the virus could be worse than the impacts of the virus itself.

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