Are Interest Rates Signaling a Recession?

According to Investopedia, the yield curve shows the relationship between bond yields (the interest rates on the vertical axis) and bond maturity (the time on the horizontal axis).

Long-term bonds generally provide higher yields than short-term bonds because investors demand higher returns to compensate for the risk of lending money over an extended period. Occasionally, however, this relationship flips, and investors are willing to accept lower yields in return for the relative safety of longer-term bonds. This is called a yield curve inversion because a graph showing bond yields in relation to maturity is essentially turned upside down.

Imagine going to the bank and being told that a 1-year certificate of deposit yields 4.0%, but the 5-year CD only yields 3.0%. Few people would lock up their money for five times as long and earn a lower rate. This is an example of a yield inversion.

A yield curve could also apply to any bonds that carry similar risk, but the most studied curve is for U.S. Treasury securities, and the most common focal point is the relationship between the two-year and 10-year Treasury notes. Although Treasuries are often referred to as bonds, maturities up to one year are called bills, while maturities of two to 10 years are called notes. Only 20- and 30-year Treasuries are officially called bonds.

The two-year yield has been higher than the 10-year yield since July 2022, and beginning in late November, the difference has been at levels not seen since 1981. The biggest separation in 2022 came on December 7, when the two-year was 4.26%, and the 10-year was 3.42%, a difference of 0.84%. Other short-term Treasuries have also offered higher yields;  the highest yields in early 2023 were for the six-month and one-year Treasury bills. (1) 

Predicting Recessions

An inversion of the two-year and ten-year Treasury notes has preceded each recession over the past 50 years, reliably predicting a recession within the next one to two years. (2)  A 2018 Federal Reserve study suggested that an inversion of the three-month and ten-year Treasuries may be an even more reliable indicator, predicting a recession within about 12 months. (3) The three-month and ten-year Treasuries have been inverted since late October 2022, and in December 2022 and early January 2023, the difference was often greater than the inversion of the two- and 10-year notes. (4)

Weakness or Inflation Control?

Yield curve inversions do not cause a recession; rather they indicate a shift in investor sentiment that may reflect underlying economic weakness. A normal yield curve suggests investors believe the economy will continue to grow and interest rates will likely rise with the growth. In this scenario, an investor typically would want a premium to tie up capital in long-term bonds and potentially miss out on other opportunities in the future.

Conversely, an inversion suggests that investors see economic challenges that are likely to push interest rates down and typically would instead invest and lock in longer-term bonds at today’s yields. This increases demand for long-term bonds, driving prices up and yields down.

Note that bond prices and yields move in opposite directions; the more you pay for a bond that pays a given coupon interest rate, the lower the yield will be, and vice-versa.

The current situation is not so simple. The Federal Reserve has rapidly raised the benchmark federal funds rate (short-term) to combat inflation, increasing it from near 0% in March 2022 to 4.50%–4.75% today. The fed funds rate is the rate charged for overnight loans within the Federal Reserve System.  The funds rate directly affects other short-term rates, which is why yields on short-term Treasuries have increased rapidly. The fact that 10-year Treasuries have lagged the increase in the federal funds rate may mean that investors believe a recession is coming. But it could also reflect the confidence that the Fed is winning the battle against inflation and will lower rates over the next few years. This is in line with the Federal Reserve’s (The Fed) projections, which see the funds rate peaking at 5.0%–5.25% by the end of 2023 and then dropping to 4.0%–4.25% in 2024 and 3.0%–3.25% in 2025. (5)

Inflation has been slowing somewhat in October-December, but there is a long way to go to reach the Fed’s target of 2% inflation for a healthy economy. (6)  The fundamental question remains the same as it has been since the Fed launched its aggressive rate increases: Will it require a recession to control inflation, or can it be controlled without shifting the economy into reverse?

Other Indicators and Forecasts

The yield curve is one of many indicators that economists consider when making economic projections. Among the most closely watched are the ten leading economic indicators published by the Conference Board, with data on employment, interest rates, manufacturing, stock prices, housing, and consumer sentiment. The Leading Economic Index, which includes all ten indicators, fell for nine consecutive months through November 2022. Conference Board economists predict a recession beginning around the end of 2022 and lasting until mid-2023. (7) Recessions are not officially declared by the National Bureau of Economic Research until they are underway. The Conference Board view would suggest the United States may already be in a recession.

In The Wall Street Journal’s October 2022 Economic Forecasting Survey, most economists believed the United States would enter a recession within the next 12 months, with an average expectation of a relatively mild 8-month downturn. (8) More recent surveys of economists for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and Wolters Kluwer Blue Chip Economic Indicators also found a consensus for a mild recession in 2023. (9)

For now, the economy appears strong despite high inflation, with a low December 2022 unemployment rate of 3.5% and an estimated 2.9% 4th quarter growth rate for real gross domestic product (GDP). Nonetheless, the indicators and surveys discussed above suggest an economic downturn in the next year or so. This would likely cause some job losses and other temporary financial hardship, but a brief recession may be the necessary price to tame inflation and put the U.S. economy on a more stable track for future growth.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so are your financial plan and investment objectives.

(1), (4) U.S. Treasury, 2023

(2)  Financial Times, December 7, 2022

(3) Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, August 27, 2018

(5) Federal Reserve, 2022

(6) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

(7)  The Conference Board, December 22, 2022

(8) The Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2022

(9) SIFMA, December 2022

Market Update and A Caution For The Week Ending 5/29/2009

The markets ended up for the third month in a row with a late day rally on Friday, capping one of the best (albeit volatile) months in two years. With the exception of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (of 30 stocks), all indices are positive for the year.  GM traded below $1 a share today as bankruptcy is likely to occur on Monday.

Opinions about the markets’ direction run the gamut from “drunken bulls” to “raging bears”, with everyone taking each up or down day to prove their point.  But the solid fact is that the market is in a confirmed uptrend, and no opinion can argue with that.  But that’s all they are: opinions.

Economists predict that the recession will end by the 3rd quarter of this year, but the recovery will be slow.  For states like Michigan and California, recovery will likely begin in the 1st or 2nd quarter of 2010.  In the meantime, we still have to deal with waning consumer demand and higher unemployment.  Nonetheless, consumer confidence rankings jumped nicely in April, a bullish sign for the markets and the economy.  Remember, the stock market usually leads an economic recovery by 6-9 months.

Our investment approach remains a cautious, defensive one as we closely monitor the markets for signs of sell-offs.  Over the past few months, I’ve slowly increased clients’ allocations to equities and bonds to take advantage of the markets’ rallies.  However, I continue to maintain a healthy allocation to cash as a defensive move should the markets begin to move against us.  Any move this high, this fast, is a good reason to be cautious.  Fortunately, technical indicators confirm that the bullish sentiment is higher than bearish negativity and therefore give reason to be optimistic.  As billions of dollars of economic stimulus hits the streets, it can’t help but “lift all boats.”

Many prognosticators and so called experts predict that the low on March 9 was not the bottom, and that we’re merely experiencing a bear market rally.  Some even predict that we may have a severe 35-40% drop from here before the economic recovery and the “real bull market” kicks in later this year.  That drop could begin next week, next month, or next quarter—no one really knows.  I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you about this possibility. I don’t know if they’re right or not, but everyone should nonetheless be prepared for that possibility.

For my clients, I will continue to take advantage of the upside of the markets as long as it lasts and will not simply wait on the sidelines for the bears to arrive.  If or when the bears return, I am prepared to make the necessary tactical adjustments to minimize the effects on client portfolios and lock in as much of the recent gains as possible.  If the bears decide to stay for awhile, then we’ll take advantage of those conditions and attempt to profit from such bearish conditions.

In any case, future annualized returns on equities and bonds are likely to be in the single digits for some time.  Nonetheless, there’s no substitute for regular saving and continuous financial planning.  That combination can help overcome any lower expected returns.  Remember, it’s never too late to start.

I welcome your comments and feedback and invite you to read the below articles.  If you have any questions, please feel free to get it touch with me and share this with your friends and colleagues.

Market Update For Week Ending 5/29/2009


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International index is MSCI EAFE index. Bond data reflect net change in yield, not price. Indices are unmanaged and you cannot directly invest in an index.

Market Wrap
A volatile post-holiday week ended with the bulls back in control of Wall Street and most major equity indices in positive territory for both the week and the year to date. The Dow industrials continued to lag, held back by developments at component General Motors in particular, but other benchmarks gained 3% to 5%. Foreign shares also ended in the black, while bond markets were mixed. For more on recent trading activity, please read:

Consumer Confidence Revives
The American public’s battered sense of the economy’s health revived somewhat in April. Analysts warn that while the light at the end of the recessionary tunnel may finally be in sight, it will take some time for a true recovery to begin. In fact, while the business environment seems to be improving in many parts of the country, conditions in the Midwest in particular appear to be getting worse as the auto industry lurches from crisis to crisis. For more on the latest economic indicators and what they mean for the economy, please read:

Is The Recession Nearing An End?
Some economists now say the longest and most savage economic contraction in six decades may finally be winding down. But while consumers are in relatively high spirits, both labor markets and home prices remain fragile at best as layoffs and foreclosures continue. Where are the “green shoots” that some see heralding a new cycle of economic growth? And where are the storm clouds ahead? For more, please read:

Sam H. Fawaz CFP®, CPA is president of YDream Financial Services, Inc., a registered investment advisor. All material presented herein is believed to be reliable, but we cannot attest to its accuracy.  Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment advisors before making any investment decisions. Opinions expressed in this writing by Sam H. Fawaz are his own, may change without prior notice and should not be relied upon as a basis for making investment or planning decisions.  No person can accurately forecast or call a market top or bottom, so forward looking statements should be discounted and not relied upon as a basis for investing or trading decisions.

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