A closely watched section of the Treasury yield curve on Friday turned negative for the first time since the crisis more than a decade ago, underscoring concern about a possible economic slump and the prospect that the Federal Reserve will have to cut interest rates.
The gap between the 3-month and 10-year yields vanished on Friday as a surge of buying pushed long-end rates sharply lower. Inversion is widely considered a reliable harbinger of recession in the U.S. The 10-year slipped to as low as 2.439 percent.
U.S. central bank policy makers on Wednesday lowered both their growth projections and their interest rate outlook, with the majority of officials now envisaging no hikes this year. That’s down from a median call of two at their December meeting.
Traders took that dovish shift as their cue to dig into positions for a Fed easing cycle, pricing in a cut by the end of 2020 and a one-in-two chance of a reduction as soon as this year.
“It looks like the global slowdown worries have been confirmed and the market is beginning to price in Fed easing, potential recession down the road,” said Kathy Jones, chief fixed-income strategist at Charles Schwab & Co. “It’s clearly a sign that the market is worried about growth and moving into Treasuries from riskier asset classes.”
A wave of buying drove the 10-year yield to fresh lows for the year. That yield has fallen as much as 17 basis points from the close on Tuesday, the day before the Fed decision. Weaker-than-expected European factory data that helped drive benchmark German yields back below zero on Friday also supported the move.
The 3-month to 10-year curve is widely favored as an indicator that the economy is within a couple of years of recession.
But Friday’s move is an extension of the inversion at the front end of the curve that happened in December. The gap between the 2-year and 10-year yields has also narrowed, to around 10 basis points.