Oct 4, 2019

The Treasury yield curve has steepened for all the wrong reasons

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Data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. Treasury yield curve is steepening, which typically means investors are growing more confident about the economy. However, analysts say recent moves are actually the result of more fear being priced into the market.

Why it matters: Rather than bets U.S. growth or inflation will pick up, as is the case when the curve sees "bull steepening," action in the Treasury market reflects worry that things could get especially bad in the short term, Tom Essaye, president of Sevens Report Research, tells Axios.

  • "That's not a good thing."

Details: Investors saw fresh cracks in the U.S. economy from both the ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing reports this week, as well as declines in private payroll growth from ADP and an increase in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits amid GM's auto workers strike.

  • The poor data also pulls forward expectations that the Fed will have to cut U.S. interest rates at its next meeting and again in December.

What they're saying: "Earlier this week it was a coin flip on whether or not the Fed was going to cut rates this month or in December, but the ISM and ISM non-mfg changed the odds quite significantly in a short amount of time," DRW Trading market strategist Lou Brien tells Axios in an email.

The big picture: While the Fed has qualified its 2 rate cuts this year as "midcycle adjustments," having to lower rates at its next 2 meetings "would be the Fed’s worst fears coming true," Brien says, signaling a much worse state of play for the U.S. economy.

Of note: The 3-month/10-year yield curve that economists call the best predictor of a recession remains inverted by a wide margin, and 1-month T-bill yields have ticked up to 24 basis points above those on the 10-year.

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The Fed's Treasury bill purchase program helped steepen the yield curve

Data: St. Louis Federal Reserve; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The yield curve had steepened significantly this month, with yields on the 3-month and 1-month Treasury bills falling meaningfully below the 10-year note.

Why it matters: The Fed's $60 billion a month Treasury bill purchase program, announced as a "technical" salve to calm the $2 trillion U.S. repo market, looks to have provided some assistance in the steepening.

Go deeperArrowOct 31, 2019

The Federal Reserve's amazing pause

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Fed Chair Jerome Powell almost rocked the boat during the FOMC's October press conference on Wednesday after announcing a third straight cut to U.S. interest rates.

What happened: Powell initially said it would take a "material reassessment" in the outlook for the Fed to change its view that no further rate cuts were needed — but minutes later he reversed course, saying that holding rates at their current levels would be appropriate as long as the outlook stayed within the Fed’s expectations.

Go deeperArrowOct 31, 2019

Federal Reserve's "pause lite" is the latest stock market lift

Federal Reserve Board chairman Jerome Powell announces a rate cut at a news conference on Oct. 30, in Washington. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Fed chair Jerome Powell almost rocked the boat during the FOMC's October press conference on Wednesday after announcing a third straight cut to U.S. interest rates.

What happened: Powell initially said it would take a “material reassessment” in the outlook for the Fed to change its view that no further rate cuts were needed. But minutes later he reversed course, saying that holding rates at their current levels would be appropriate as long as the outlook stayed within the Fed’s expectations.

Go deeperArrowOct 30, 2019