The yield curve narrowed continuously throughout most of 2018. The spread between 2- and 10-year Treasuries fell to just over 9 basis points in December and sits at 14 now. Where is it headed? The answer is likely towards an inversion. The Fed is releasing its minutes, and once it does, it seems likely the spread will continue to narrow. There are two scenarios that would likely create an inversion. The first is if the Fed minutes show that the central bank may raise rates again soon (sending short term yields higher). The other, and perhaps more likely, scenario is that the Fed expresses some anxiety about a recession (pushing long-term yields lower).
FINSUM: This is interesting because the two most likely scenarios for what the Fed might say/do in the near-term both add up to the same thing—a yield curve inversion.
Is the US headed for a major slowdown? That is the big question, especially as the economic clouds darken around the globe. The rest of the world, from Europe to China, is slowing, but the US continues to hum along nicely. So are we the last ship that is going to sink, or will the US manage to defy the tides and keep growing strongly? Looking to markets, yields around the world have fallen (including a dramatic increase in negative yielding European bonds), showing that investors are growing more bearish about the economic outlook.
FINSUM: With the Fed paused, we do not see an imminent recession by any means. We do, however, feel the US economy and markets lack a strong narrative at the moment, which makes us slightly nervous.
Hate him or love him, you have definitely heard of him and may respect him. Paul Krugman is one of the most famous economists in the world, and he has just put out a warning we think investors need to hear. Krugman’s big fear is that trouble is building in the economy and the Fed doesn’t have much firepower to help stimulate things if and when growth heads backwards. “There seems to be an accumulation of smaller problems and the underlying backdrop is that we have no good policy response”. Krugman argues that hiking rates was never “grounded in the data” to start with and that “Continuing to raise rates was really looking like a bad idea”.
FINSUM: What we know is that a recession will come at some time, what we don’t know is when. Krugman has given sometime in the next two years as his timeline, which to us wreaks of a lack of confidence.
Stock investors and bond investors are showing a big disconnect right now. That mismatch in sentiment could cause some big losses. Fixed income investors have been buying bonds aggressively, keeping yields pinned at low levels and the curve very flat. However, equity markets have been rallying strongly, which will alleviate some pressure on the Fed, allowing them more margin to raise rates again. However, the bond derivatives market shows the market is betting there is a 98% chance rates are in exactly the same place as now in one year’s time.
FINSUM: Bond investors are too comfortable with the Fed right now. Powell et al have been quite hawkish for awhile now, only very recently backing off. We don’t think it would take much to get them back on track, and the equity market is paving the way.
For the last six months, there has been a lot of focus in the media and amongst analysts that a recession will be arriving in 2020. 2019 always seemed to close of a call because of how the economy was trending, but 2020 seems to be a safe bet based on some of the indicators out there. Now, JP Morgan is saying a recession in 2020 is unlikely. The catalyst for the change? The Fed. Strategists at JP Morgan concluded “If the Fed is less spooked by full employment, more tolerant of an inflation overshoot and less anxious to reach restrictive policy, then 2020 might not be a year to think about recession and so late 2019/early 2020 would be premature to position defensively cross-asset”.
FINSUM: This analysis is dead simple, but we would agree. If the Fed is less hawkish, then it will prolong this cycle.