Earlier this week it seemed that the market might finally have a reason to believe the Fed might pause its inexorable march higher in rates. That reason was that inflation had dipped below the Fed’s target. Being just a single occurrence, it was a weak-footed hope. Now, new data shows the American consumer is doing well, as retail sales jumped 0.9% in November. The explanation for the jump is that a drop in gasoline prices helped fuel more retail spending.
FINSUM: Consumers are obviously still feeling comfortable, which will give the Fed a bit of comfort about the stage of the cycle.
Investors looking for signs of trouble have no shortage to examine. However, one that might have escaped notice is that small caps are on the brink of a full blown bear market. The Russell 2000 has fallen a whopping 17% since its all-time high close on August 31st. The S&P 500, for comparison, is off 10%.
FINSUM: This is really interesting because it doesn’t make much sense. Both the trade war and the economic situation are more favorable to small caps than their larger peers, yet they are falling more sharply.
The moment many investors have been waiting for (or not, depending on how you look at it) has arrived. Rate hikes finally have a chance to slow after their steady rise over the last couple of years. New inflation data has come in showing weakness. Inflation has now fallen below the Fed’s 2% rate, which means the central bank has cause to pause its rate hikes as the economy looks to be on more fragile footing.
FINSUM: There are two ways to look at this. The first is that it takes some momentum away from the current yield inversion. But on the other hand, it could be an indicator that the economy is headed towards recession.
Stock markets are taking a pounding right now. Where should investors turn? One’s first instinct is probably to look for ten-year Treasuries. However, that safe haven may have finally worn itself out given the current rising rate paradigm. So where should investors turn? Look at short-term (two years and under) securities, both sovereign and corporate. The two-year Treasury yield is now 2.82%, and funds at the very short end of the curve have positive returns for the year even though the rest of fixed income has had a tough time.
FINSUM: Short-term bonds look very favorable right now. Yields are strong and they have little rate sensitivity. So long as one avoids too much credit risk, they look like a good safe haven.
Pay attention, the yield curve just inverted. And we are not talking about some esoteric swap rate most have never heard of. Yesterday the spread between two-and five-year Treasuries fell below zero, the first major inversion of this bull market. The 2- and 10-year spread is the most typical benchmark for gauging an inversion, but the 2- and 5-year is significant. Yield curve inversions are one of the most accurate predictors of recession, with one preceding the previous several recessions.
FINSUM: One very important thing to remember is that it often takes many months (or years) for a recession to begin once a yield curve starts, so there is still plenty of room for the economy (and markets) to run.
This is a day where investors need to take a deep breath. Markets are plunging, the yield curve just inverted, and there are major fears about the durability of the US-China “truce”. One thing to take heart in is that even though they are good predictors, a yield curve inversion doesn’t mean everything. It is important to note that it is the two and five-year Treasuries that have inverted, not the two and ten, which could mean this is just a temporary kink. For instance, in 1998, this pair turned negative without the rest of the curve following suit.
FINSUM: On top of the last point there, remember that inversions don’t cause recessions, they are just the market predicting slower long-term growth. That said, they seem to create self-fulfilling prophecies.