Sunday, February 25

Bond Yields Surge With Fed Bets While Curve Flags Recession Risk

(Bloomberg) — The hottest US inflation in four decades will push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more aggressively this year, and a recession may not be far behind.

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Those are the dramatic signals coming from markets, which on Monday saw traders drive benchmark 10-year Treasury yields to the highest since 2011 while two-year rates surged to levels last seen before the 2008 crisis and the Bloomberg dollar index touched highs last seen early in the Covid pandemic.

Meanwhile, a closely-watched part of the US yield curve inverted as Treasury futures volumes leaped on increasing concern that tighter monetary policy will take a bigger toll on economic growth, and market pricing suggested the possibility that the US central bank might look to implement even bigger hikes than the 50-basis-point moves it’s already done this cycle.

Money markets are pricing 175 basis points by the Fed’s September decision, implying two half-point and one 75 basis-point hike, according to interest rate swaps tied to FOMC policy outcome dates. They had only fully priced half-point hikes previously.

The Fed hasn’t hiked by three quarters of a percent since 1994, and tightening of this magnitude is fueling concerns of reduced consumer spending and business activity. That’s sparked a global equity selloff and pushed the US S&P 500 closer to a bear market. Short-term yields that are higher than long-term yields are abnormal, and are historically seen as heralding a potential recession.

Amid the market tumult, all eyes will be on this week’s Fed statement and Chair Jerome Powell’s post-meeting press conference, where policy makers’ characterization of inflation and long-term forecasts for the fed funds target — the so-called dot plot – – will be critical.

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“The high inflation print has put a dent to the peak inflation — and peak Fed hawkishness narrative,” Mohit Kumar, an interest rate strategist at Jefferies International Ltd, wrote in a note to clients on Monday. “From a Fed perspective, the question is whether they will need to respond even more forcefully with a 75bp at the June meeting.”

The dollar extended gains Monday as the prospect of larger hikes increased demand for the currency. That drove the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index to its highest level since the first half of 2020.

Meanwhile, US Treasuries and European bonds fell Monday. The yield on the two-year US note, which is most sensitive to rate hikes, jumped as much as 18 basis points to 3.25%, its highest since December 2007. That saw the curve between 2- and 10-years invert for the first time since April. The 10-year yield rose to as high as 3.28%, at a level last seen in 2011.

“The combination of collapsing consumer sentiment, unexpectedly intense price pressures and expectations of Fed activism are conspiring to create a particularly toxic cocktail for risky assets,” said Rabobank strategists including Richard McGuire. The yield curve investment “resonates with the notion that the need to tackle elevated price pressures will see the Fed tip the economy into recession.”

That view is consistent with expectations that the Fed will need to loosen policy again within two years. The market is already positioning for policy makers to respond to the looming slowdown with future rate cuts, pricing two quarter-points of easing by the middle of 2024.

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(Updates throughout.)

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