The flip side of the previous point is that if the term premium narrows, yield curve inversions will become more likely even if there is no increased risk of recession. And, indeed, there is reason to believe the term premium has fallen. Recently, the ACM model’s estimates of the term premium have moved persistently lower. The average values since 2006 and 2012 are 0.77 and 0.20, respectively. (See Figure 2).3
Two authors of this Economic Brief (Wissuchek and Wolman) recently evaluated how changes in the term premium affect the likely frequency of yield curve inversions.4 In principle, one could do this by conducting a statistical analysis of historical data to assess the relationship between the level of the term premium and the frequency of yield curve inversions. However, the number of inversions is too small to produce a reliable estimate using this method. Instead, Wissuchek and Wolman’s exercise involved simulating data for the short-term interest rate and then measuring how the frequency of yield curve inversions in the simulated data varies with the behavior of the term premium.
To build intuition for this simulation exercise, Figure 3 illustrates the qualitative relationship that would arise between the frequency of yield curve inversions and the level of the term premium if the term premium were fixed at different levels. For very high values of the term premium, the yield curve would never be inverted because the expected decrease in short-term rates would never be large enough to outweigh the term premium. Conversely, for very low (negative) values of the term premium, the yield curve would always be inverted because the expected increase in short-term rates would never be large enough to outweigh the term premium. And, if the term premium were fixed at zero, then over long periods the yield curve would be inverted roughly half the time. In reality, the term premium is not constant, so the simulation involves looking at how the frequency of yield curve inversion varies as the distribution of the term premium changes.
One of the most predictable outcomes of an inverted yield curve is the discussion about whether it will be a predicative tool on this occasion because so many mitigating factors have arisen since the last inversion to suggest this time is different.
What I find particularly interesting on this occasion is other Fed economists are coming out with alternative measures which support the view we are looking at an impending recession even while they contend the yield curve spread is an imperfect measure.
This report by Eric Engstrom and Steve Sharpe contends there is no predicative power gained from using bond maturities of anything beyond 18-months. Instead they suggest taking the difference between 3-month and 18-month forward spread. Here is a section:
The spread between the yield on a 10-year Treasury bond and the yield on a shorter maturity bond, such as a 2-year Treasury, is commonly used as an indicator for predicting U.S. recessions. We show that such “long-term spreads” are statistically dominated in recession prediction models by an economically more intuitive alternative, a "near-term forward spread." This latter spread can be interpreted as a measure of the market's expectations for the near-term trajectory of conventional monetary policy rates. The predictive power of our near-term forward spread indicates that, when market participants expected—and priced in—a monetary policy easing over the next 12-18 months, this indicated that a recession was quite likely in the offing. Yields on bonds beyond 18 months in maturity are shown to have no added value for forecasting either recessions or the growth rate of GDP.
The spread is in negative territory which confirms the market’s view interest rates are going to be by at least 25 basis points supporting, the view growth is going to slow down which increases the risk of a recession. Just how aggressively central banks ease, and how quick they move into action will be a key determining factor in whether they can avoid a recession.Back to top