E Unmasking The VooDoo: Yield Curve

Today, the 2-10 spread reached a 12-year low.

To normal people, the typical response might be, “What in the name of the almighty are you talking about?

To market geeks likes us, it means the yield curve is as flat as its been since just before the financial crisis and recession.

Still not getting it? Not to worry, you are still normal. The panic in pundit hearts is that a flat yield curve suggests a recession is near. No, not tomorrow, but sometime in the next year or so.

Lazy are we are, we use the spread between the 10-year U.S. Treasury note and the 2-year note as the proxy for the whole curve. The whole curve is actually all the key Treasury rates from three and six months all the way out to 30-years.

Basic Curvology

Normally, these VooDoo articles are mostly time agnostic. However, the current state of the yield curve allows us to cover all sorts of things so I am going to go with it. It will keep, however, once the curve gets more benign again.

Here’s a picture of what everyone calls a normal yield curve (source: StockCharts.com). It is upward sloping as we go from short-term rates to long-term rates. The idea is that investors get paid more to take more risk. And since these are supposedly default-risk free U.S. Treasuries, that risk is interest rate risk. Having your money exposed, i.e. locked up, in longer maturities puts you at risk for rates going higher and your principle going lower.

You know, bond prices and yields move inversely to one another. If you want more, you’ll have to use the google because that will take me too far off track here.

Anyway, that’s the way the world works when things are, ahem, normal. But since the financial crisis and the artificial lowering of short-term rates by they who shall remain nameless (the Fed), this is what the yield curve looked like for the past few years.

Note it still has that nice upward slope. The difference is that the left side (the short end of the curve) starts near zero.  Don’t forget, this was smack in the middle of a rip-roaring bull market is stocks so the economy was humming along, albeit at rather low growth.

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Disclosure: No positions in anything covered.

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