The Dreaded ‘Flattening Yield Curve’ Meets QE Unwind

During prior incidents of an ‘inverted’ yield curve, the Fed had no tools to get the market to push up long-term yields. Today it has one: the QE Unwind.
The price of three-month Treasury securities fell and the yield – which moves in the opposite direction – rose, ending the year at 1.39%, after having spiked to 1.47% on December 26, the highest since September 12, 2008. This is in the upper half of the Fed’s new target range for the federal funds rate (1.25% to 1.50%). Back in October 2015, the yield was still at 0%:

This post was published at Wolf Street by Wolf Richter ‘ Dec 30, 2017.

The Fed Plays the Economy Like an Accordion

We talk a lot about how central banks serve as the primary force driving the business cycle. When a recession hits, central banks like the Federal Reserve drive interest rates down and launch quantitative easing to stimulate the economy. Once the recovery takes hold, the Fed tightens its monetary policy, raising interest rates and ending QE. When the recovery appears to be in full swing, the central bank shrinks its balance sheet. This sparks the next recession and the cycle repeats itself.
This is a layman’s explanation of the business cycle. But how do the maneuverings of central banks actually impact the economy? How does this work?
The Yield Curve Accordion Theory is one way to visually grasp exactly what the Fed and other central banks are doing. Westminster College assistant professor of economics Hal W. Snarr explained this theory in a recent Mises Wire article.
The yield curve (a plot of interest rates versus the maturities of securities of equal credit quality) is a handy economic and investment tool. It generally slopes upward because investors expect higher returns when their money is tied up for long periods. When the economy is growing robustly, it tends to steepen as more firms break ground on long-term investment projects. For example, firms may decide to build new factories when the economy is rosy. Since these projects take years to complete, firms issue long-term bonds to finance the construction. This increases the supply of long-term bonds along downward-sloping demand, which pushes long-term bond prices down and yields up. The black dots along the black line in the figure below gives the 2004 yield curve. It slopes upward because a robust recovery was underway.

This post was published at Schiffgold on DECEMBER 27, 2017.