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WHAT DOES THE YIELD CURVE TELL US ABOUT FUTURE ECONOMIC CONDITIONS?

There are few indicators more prescient than the yield curve. Over the years the curve has successfully predicted all but two post WW2 recessions.  In the last 40 years it is 7 for 7 in predicting recessions.  A negative yield curve is generally consistent with a Federal Reserve that is attempting to cool the economy.  Clearly, they have a tendency to overshoot.

The current curve, however, is quite steep and tends to be consistent with a Federal Reserve that is attempting to stimulate the economy (something they also have a tendency of overshooting).  Based on past readings the Cleveland Fed says the current environment is consistent with 1% growth in real GDP:

“Projecting forward using past values of the spread and GDP growth suggests that real GDP will grow at about a 1.0 percent rate over the next year, the same projection as in October and September. Although the time horizons do not match exactly, this comes in on the more pessimistic side of other forecasts, although, like them, it does show moderate growth for the year.”

But meager growth is better than no growth.  At current levels the probability of recession is virtually 0%. Unfortunately, low growth means this is going to continue feeling like a recession for a large portion of the country.  And in a balance sheet recession the usual Fed toolbox of altering interest rates is unlikely to have the usual stimulative impact.

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