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The yield curve plots the relationship between U.S. bond yields and their maturities, and typically slopes upward: the longer you hold the security, the higher the return given various risks through time such as inflation, opportunity cost, and economic uncertainty. The yield curve, however, can be inverted when high demand for long-term Treasuries drives the price up and the yield down resulting in a downward sloping curve. Yield curve inversion often signals a pessimistic view of the economy in which investors look for protection against slow economic growth and higher-than-expected inflation. Furthermore, the previous four instances of curve inversion have been followed by a market correction, though it can sometimes be years before a market correction follows inversion.
Last Friday, the 10-year Treasury yield fell below short-term yields with maturities ranging from 1-month to 1-year in response to disappointing Eurozone data, geopolitical risks around Brexit, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s remark on a global economic slowdown. Shortly after the yield curve inverted — especially after the negative yield spread emerged between 3-month and 10-year Treasuries (regarded as the Fed’s most sensitive measure of market sentiment) — the equity market sold off and the S&P 500 total return fell by 1.89%. This immediate reaction led some investors to believe the correction was already unfolding.
While it is impossible to determine at this point if the correction is already here, investors should take comfort knowing that the equity market eventually rebounds from these corrections and shows resilience after the yield curve inverts. Our chart above shows the subsequent 3-month, 6-month, 1-year, 2-year, and 5-year returns of the S&P 500 index after the primary inversion data point — the spread between the 2-year and 10-year Treasury yields — first went negative (thus inverting). For example, after the 10s/2s yield inversion on December 27, 2005, S&P 500 annualized total returns after 1 year, 2 years and 5 years were 15.6%, 10.7% and 2.2% respectively. Over longer time periods after yield curve inversion, such as 7 or 10 years, equity returns more closely resemble their long-term averages. The other primary takeaway from the chart is that shorter-term equity returns — 3, 6, or 12 months — feature significant disparity from the last four yield curve inversions, indicating each instance is different in terms of magnitude and timing after initial 10s/2s inversion. Thus, we do not recommend that investors reduce their equity allocations in an attempt to time the potential correction after inversion, and over the longer-term, equities are still expected to be positive contributors to portfolio returns, even if the yield curve is temporarily inverted.
The opinions expressed herein are those of Marquette Associates, Inc. (“Marquette”), and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to purchase or sell any product. Marquette reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.
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