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Dudley, William C. on 2018 January 18 at 18:57

I don’t think there is any signal at all to take today [from the flat yield curve] in terms of the probability of a near-term recession.

The yield curve is flatter than normal but there are good reasons why it is flatter than normal. The most obvious one is that we have QE still ongoing in Japan and Europe and the Fed still has a very elevated balance sheet relative to where we are actually headed in the medium to longer term. So bond term premia are unusually depressed. So think about the path you expect of short term rates in the future and ask yourself how much additional compensation for the risk of holding a bond you want to take. Right now by the measures we have bond term premia are about zero. That means the yield curve, everything else equal, is going to be flatter today than it would typically in prior environments when the term premium was much much larger. Historically the term premium, the spread between say three month treasury bills and 10-year treasury notes, has been about 100 basis points in terms of that term premium. Today the term premium is about zero. That accounts for pretty much all of the fact that the yield curve is flatter than normal can be explained just by the bond term premium. I would be much more concerned about the yield curve if I thought that the yield curve was flat because people thought short-term rates were high and monetary policy was tight. The reason why . . . an inverted yield curve has historically been a pretty good predictor of recession is typically the yield curve becomes inverted and people think short-term rates are high relative to what they are going to be in the future because monetary policy is tight. That turns out to be correct, and the tightness of monetary policy generates an economic downturn and so the yield curve essentially forecasts that outcome. In the current environment the yield curve is not inverted, it is flatter than normal mainly because term premia are unusually depressed. Market participants think short-term rates are low relative to what they are going to be in the future. I don’t think there is any signal at all to take today in terms of the probability of a near-term recession. Dudley, William C.

Financial Times

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