Date: December 12, 2018

Higher Rates Are to Blame. Lower Rates Are to Blame

Everywhere I turn, there seems to be another reason for this correction. Slowing in Europe, China falling off a cliff, tariffs, soaring long-term interest rates, yield curve inversion, deceleration in the U.S. economy. I have heard it all. The problem is that none of these reasons can easily be tied to the decline directly, nor should they be. And every once in a while, declines occur and the reasons are not apparent until well after the fact.

Let’s look at interest rates which has probably been blamed more than anything else. You can see below on the 10 year treasury note from 2018 that yields had been moving much higher all year. And they actually went straight up in September as stocks were also rising sharply. During the sharpest leg of the stock market correction  in October, rates were somewhat all over the place. Yet, since the beginning of November, rates have come way down, along with stocks. It’s really hard to conclude that higher interest rates are responsible for this decline.  

More recently, pundits and the media have been pounding the table about the yield curve boogeyman. The yield curve on the short end has inverted. Perhaps you are wondering, “what the heck is the yield curve and why on earth should I care?”
The yield curve is very simply the difference between two interest rates or yields. For example, if the 10 year note is yielding 3% and 2 year note is yielding 2%, the yield curve is positive by 1%. It’s always the longer maturity minus the shorter one. Investors look at all different yield curve components ranging from the three month treasury bill to the two, three, five and ten year treasury notes and out to the 30 year treasury bond.

Almost all of the time, the various yield curves are “ordered” properly, meaning that the 30 year bond has the highest yield, followed by the 10 year, 5 year, 3 year, 2 year and three month. The bigger the difference in the yields, the more stimulative for the economy it is. That difference is also one way to gauge how incentivized banks are to lend as they borrow on the short side of the curve and lend on the long side. The bigger the difference, the more banks may be willing to lend which is good for their economy and their profits.

Anyway, last week, the yield curve for shorter-term maturities inverted, meaning that the yield on the three year was higher than the five year. Prior to that, the yield curve was flat. You would have thought that someone literally flipped a switch to recession as it seemed like the whole world woke up to a short-term inverted yield curve and the economy was now in a tailspin. That’s beyond idiotic and nonsensical.

First, we only saw part of the yield curve invert. The 2/10 year yield curve which usually follows the 3/5 inverting hasn’t done so yet. Inverted yield curves do lead to recessions and it is an accurate predictor, however, it’s not like flipping a switch. There is usually several quarters to years of lag time before recession hits. And stocks typically perform well in the weeks and months after the 2/10 curve inverts which hasn’t even happened yet.

With so many negative forces in the markets today, it certainly has the look and feel of a solid bottom forming with major rally coming amid continuing volatile conditions. Sticking my neck out as I usually do, I would be surprised to see stocks fall off a cliff from here. Just below 24,000 should provide a floor for now.


Paul Schatz, President, Heritage Capital