Posts tagged Fed Watch
It's that yield curve again

For all the talk about a flattening U.S. yield curve, it is ironic that it steepened last week, albeit slightly. The trend, though, is clear enough. The 2s5 and 2s10s have flattened 27 and 32 basis points in the past year, respectively. Another 12 months at this rate and the curve would invert by the middle of next year. This wouldn’t be odd. It’s normal for the curve to flatten as monetary policy is tightened, and it is also normal for the Fed to keep going until the curve inverts. If you believe that an inverted curve is a good recession indicator—which is debatable—this is tantamount to saying that the Fed will keep going until something breaks, consistent with what almost always happens at the tail-end of policy tightening cycles. This probably won’t prevent investors and analysts from continuing to pay close attention to the yield curve. I have sympathy for that, for two reasons. Firstly, it is not clear to markets whether the Fed cares about a flattening curve or not. Some members of the FOMC do, some don’t. Secondly, if the shape of the curve is important to the Fed, the recent pace of curve flattening challenges the prediction by economists and markets that the Fed funds rate will be hiked by 25 basis points three-to-four times in 2018 and 2019.

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Searching for a new Narrative

Everyone is now talking about the flattening yield curve in the U.S., and it appears that a consensus is emerging for a Fed-induced recession—or severe slowdown—in 2019. The rationale here is simple. If the Fed hikes three times a year and 5y-to-10y yields won’t get traction, the curve will invert at some point in the latter part of 2018. This, in turn, has historically been one of the best pre-cursors for shift in the U.S. economic cycle. It warms my heart to see that attention has turned to the 2s5s. Forget about the 2s10s and 2s30, the 2s5s is all we need. If markets truly believe that the Fed is about to steer the U.S. economy into a slowdown, 5-year yields won’t go anywhere as the fed funds rate edge higher. If, on the other hand, markets think the economy will keep trucking despite higher rates—perhaps because the Fed gets behind the curve on tax cuts—they will move to sell 5-year notes, in size.  Alternatively, markets could take the position that the Fed is unlikely to push too far on the short end in light of still-record low policy rates in Europe and Japan. If that’s your tipple, you are buying 2y notes, and selling the 5y. I have to assume that this month’s Fed meeting will give markets some guidance on these questions.

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Spread Em

One of the more enjoyable aspects of being an independent macroeconomic researcher—at least for a geek like me—is the road trips when you get to speak to clients and prospects. Sure, you see more airport lounges and hotel rooms than you need to. But there is no better way to gauge the zeitgeist than to spend a week in meetings with portfolio managers and asset allocators. I have done just that in New York, and I sense a cautious optimism that the positive trend in equities and credit and the economy will continue for a bit longer. In my capacity as a Eurozone economist, my central message to the wardens of our capital was that the European economy is just fine. But I also spent time floating the following proposition: Monetary policy divergence is back with a vengeance, and macro traders will make, or lose, their money on this theme in the next 12 months. The ECB and the BOJ recently have signalled to markets that they will be stuck with negative interest rates for a while. Meanwhile, the the Fed is on the move, a point highlighted by Friday’s robust advance Q3 GDP report, which suggests that growth in the U.S. economy was a punchy 3% annualised, despite a drag from two hurricanes.

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The BOJ and the Fed - What's the Story Again?

A number of interesting stories are being groomed at the moment in financial markets. First off, investors looking for a “Reverse Twist” story at the BOJ were partly vindicated by the introduction of yield curve control, but the details were underwhelming. In the end, the BOJ opted to commit to the maintenance of status quo.

The most interesting aspect of this policy move, however, has been the interpretation of its significance and what indeed it is trying to achieve. The main story, as I see, is that the BOJ wants a steeper yield curve, and they’re trying to achieve that by playing chicken with the momentum chasers in duration. They are sending a signal to the market that they will continue to do QE, but that they won't buy as much duration as before. They are betting on herding and front-running here. That has worked before for central banks, but will it this time, and will investors start to discount a similar move in Europe? The initial evidence doesn’t really suggest that this theme will have legs.

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