If you've been scanning financial news lately you might have seen headlines warning that the US Treasury yield curve has inverted - something that traditionally means a recession is on its way.
But what exactly is an inverted yield curve, how good a predictor of recession is it, and could it be wrong this time?
The yield curve "is the shape of interest rates" plotted on a graph, says Pie Funds chief executive Mike Taylor.
It should normally be a curve that is rising to the right of a graph, indicating that yields are higher for bonds that are held for longer terms.
If you think about the interest on term deposits, for example, banks offer a higher rate of return the longer you are prepared to lock into a fixed term.
The inversion means that shorter-term rates (like those for two-year treasuries) are higher than the longer-term rates, said Taylor.
In other words, bond investors get paid more to hold shorter-term US government debt than they do for holding it for a longer term.
"We get that because we have central banks trying to curb inflation, or slow an economy down, by putting up shorter-term rates, said Taylor.
"But then we have markets going: well, actually I'm not so sure about this, maybe this is going to lead to a recession, so the longer-term rates come down and then you get this inversion."
So the inversion is broadly a sign of pessimism about the long-term outlook for an economy.
"It seems to be that the inversion of the yield curve, has been a very good predictor of economic recessions, for the last 60 or 70 years," Taylor said.
According to US Federal Reserve research, an inverted yield curve has preceded all nine US recessions between 1955 and 2019, with a lag time ranging from six months to two years.
Last week the US 2-year Treasury yields and 10-year yields inverted for the first time since 2019.
That means the interest rate on the 2-year note was higher than that on the 10-year note.
How worried should we be about that?
"Some commentators are saying that we shouldn't put as much emphasis on the yield curve as we used to," Taylor said.
"Because since Covid there's been so much distortion to interest rates by the Federal Reserve that maybe it doesn't mean what it used to mean."
But there's still enough people paying attention to it that it can't be ignored, Taylor said.
While a recession in the next six months to two years was plausible, it didn't mean markets were due for a big sell-off, he said.
"Sometimes markets move ahead of a recession. It could be a mild bear market [a fall of more than 20 per cent]. We've already lived through a bear market on the Nasdaq in the last four months."
There were a lot of other factors that would influence equity prices, he said.
Most markets had moved in to correction territory [off by at least 10 per cent] in the first few months of the year, but the past couple of weeks had seen stocks rally.
One reason for that was the initial shock of the war in Ukraine had been priced in.
"That's historically what tended to happen with conflicts around the world," Taylor said.
The second thing was that some of the fear about rising interest rates had abated as the US Federal Reserve delivered its first hike and laid out the path for further hikes.
"It was almost as if the fear of it was worse than the reality of it."
But there were still risks on the horizon, he said.
The situation with Covid in China had the potential to extend supply disruption and push inflation higher.
That could mean central banks having to push harder with more rate hikes that planned.
- The Market Watch video series is produced in association with Pie Funds. View the original article here.
Information is current as at 6 April 2022. Pie Funds Management Limited is the manager of the funds in the Pie Funds Management Scheme. Any advice is given by Pie Funds Management Limited and is general only. Our advice relates only to the specific financial products mentioned and does not account?for personal circumstances or financial goals. Please see a financial adviser for tailored advice.?You may have to pay product or other fees, like brokerage, if you act on any advice.?As manager of the Pie Funds Management Scheme investment funds, we receive fees determined by your balance and we benefit financially if you invest in our products.?We manage this conflict of interest via an internal?compliance framework designed?to help us meet our duties to you.?For information about how we can help you, our duties and complaint process and how disputes can be resolved, or to see our product disclosure statement, please visit www.piefunds.co.nz. Please let us know if you would like a hard copy of this disclosure information.