Expand chart
Data: U.S. Treasury; Graphic: Chris Canipe/Axios

The U.S. Treasury yield curve has now been inverted for more than a month — meaning the 3-month bill is paying a higher interest rate than the 10-year note.

Why it matters: An inversion of Treasury bond yields is a near-perfect recession indicator that economists at the Federal Reserve recently called "the best summary measure" for an economic downturn.

How it works: Investors demand higher payment for loaning out money for longer periods of time. Bonds are essentially loans, so it follows that a bond that does not return a lender's cash for 10 years would pay more than one that returns the cash in 3 months.

  • An inversion of the Treasury curve means the exact opposite is happening. Either investors see a higher chance they'll get paid back in 10 years than in 3 months by the U.S. government (the world's most secure borrower), or they see inflation being so flat that money invested today will be worth a little less in 10 years than it is worth in 3 months.
  • Neither says positive things about the market's view of the economy.
  • The yield curve inverted in March and in May, but for very short periods of time, and other parts of the curve inverted as far back as December.

Yes, but: It's not time to put money under the mattress just yet. Many market watchers, including top economists and some of the world's biggest asset managers, believe that the extraordinary measures the Fed took after the Great Recession have fundamentally altered the market and things are different this time.

There is a bright spot: An inversion doesn't signal a recession is coming immediately. Typically, it takes 6 to 24 months after an inversion for a recession to begin, and stocks perform well.

Go deeper

Unrest in Philadelphia after fatal police shooting of Black man

Demonstrators rally on Tuesday near the location where Walter Wallace was killed by two police officers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Pennsylvania National Guard was mobilized Tuesday during a tense second night of protests in Philadelphia over the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man.

Driving the news: Philadelphia Jim Kenney (D) and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a joint statement Monday that police were launching a "full investigation" to answer questions that arose from video that captured part of the incident with police.

Updated 50 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Obama: Trump is "jealous of COVID's media coverage" Axios-Ipsos poll: Federal response has only gotten worse.
  2. Health: Hospitals face a crush — 13 states set single-day case records last week.
  3. Business: Winter threat spurs new surge of startup activity.
  4. Media: Pandemic causes TV providers to lose the most subscribers ever.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota cases traced to three Trump campaign events.
  6. World: Putin mandates face masks.

Louisiana braces for 3rd hurricane in 2 months as Tropical Storm Zeta nears

Municipality workers clean the streets of garbage in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Tuesday that was left by Zeta, which struck the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 1 Hurricane a day earlier — causing no major damage to infrastructure. Photo: Medios y Media/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Zeta is expected to strengthen back into a hurricane and bring dangerous storm surge conditions to parts of the northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

The state of play: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) requested a pre-landfall Federal Declaration of Emergency in a letter to President Trump on Tuesday, ahead of the storm's expected arrival south of New Orleans.