Evan Frazier, CFA, CAIA
Senior Research Analyst
Short-term interest rates have increased dramatically since the fourth quarter of 2021 amid inflationary pressures and concerns surrounding reduced global market liquidity. The 2-year Treasury yield ended February at 1.33%, up from 0.56% at the end of November 2021, and has continued to rise throughout the first few days of March. The yield on the 10-year Treasury has also ticked up in recent months, albeit at a much slower pace than that of the 2-year instrument. As a result, the spread between the 2- and 10-year Treasury yields has contracted significantly since the beginning of the year and currently sits at approximately 23 basis points, its lowest level since March 2020. Current yield curve dynamics could be exacerbated by the Federal Reserve, which, after holding short-term rates near zero for the last two years, is set to begin a hiking cycle later this month. Increases in the federal funds rate, though likely modest (25–50 basis points per increase), could number as high as seven in 2022 and result in additional yield curve flattening.
The relationships between Treasury yields of different maturities are important considerations for investors and traditionally serve as key indicators of macroeconomic trends. Typically, longer-dated debt instruments have higher yields than short-term bonds due to increased risk and liquidity premiums, resulting in relatively wide spreads and an upward-sloping term structure of interest rates, an indication of solid growth expectations and overall economic health. An inverted yield curve, marked by short-term yields that are higher than long-term yields, is commonly considered a bear signal, as it implies that the nearer term is riskier than the longer term. Each instance of a 2/10 inversion dating back to the 1990s has been followed by a recession in the United States within the next two years.
It is important to note that a narrowing 2/10 spread does not necessarily portend an economic downturn, as most economists expect positive economic growth in 2022 and beyond given solid corporate fundamentals and strong consumer balance sheets. Still, recent sell-offs in equity markets, elevated inflation, and supply shortages stemming from the conflict in Eastern Europe are causes for concern, especially when viewed in tandem with narrowing Treasury spreads. Marquette will continue to monitor the term structure of interest rates, as well as other leading macroeconomic indicators, and advise clients accordingly.
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