When The Curves Invert

Two bits of news this week appear to be unrelated. The interesting question is whether appearances are once more deceptive.

Firstly the US Treasury note situation:

At 6:23 am ET. the 10-year note yielded 4.393 percent while the two-year note yielded 4.396 percent.

Or as the FT puts it:

Yields on 10-year US Treasuries briefly fell below those on two-year notes on Tuesday for the first time in five years – a rare event that in the past has often heralded a recession.

Now there is – more or less – a consensus of opinion that this is not a harbinger of imminent recession this time round. So what then does it mean? Aha, would that we knew! There has however been another curve inversion was officially announced during the last week. According to this AFP report:

Japan’s population fell for the first time in 2005, the government said, calling it a “turning point” that will force the world’s second largest economy to adapt to a rapidly aging society….Deaths are likely to outnumber births by about 10,000 this year, the first decline since 1899 when Japan began compiling the data, health ministry figures showed


The data suggest that Japan’s population may actually have been falling since October 2004.So where might the connection be? Well, back in April the soon-to-be Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made his now notorious Global Savings Glut speech. In that speech he said the following:

one well-understood source of the saving glut is the strong saving motive of rich countries with aging populations, which must make provision for an impending sharp increase in the number of retirees relative to the number of workers. With slowly growing or declining workforces, as well as high capital-labor ratios, many advanced economies outside the United States also face an apparent dearth of domestic investment opportunities. As a consequence of high desired saving and the low prospective returns to domestic investment, the mature industrial economies as a group seek to run current account surpluses and thus to lend abroad

So he was arguing that ageing populations tend to increase the savings motive and produce an investment dearth. This flow of savings looking for investment tends to nudge down global interest rates. Perhaps the best discussion I have seen anywhere of the inversion phenomenon is this one from the Morgan Stanley GEF team. Clearly this is a complex problem, and they themselves have no consensus, but I did note this point from the Japan-based Robert Feldman:

In how many of the eight inversions over the last 40 years were international markets as closely intertwined as they are today? My point is that, as long as Bank of Japan still has huge quantitative easing in place and the yen carry trade is alive and well, part of the yield curve flattening in the US will be due to international factors and doesn’t necessarily signal a recession


Here there are two points, the increasing efficiency and integration of global capital markets, and the special situation in countries like Japan. So to return to where I started, are the two inversions related. My answer would be a qualified yes. There is some relation. The hard part is to determine the nature and extent of the relation.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

1 thought on “When The Curves Invert

  1. What a rare blog that pays attention to such seemingly boring issues like yield curves! Especially during the “dead” period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

    I find this article highly interesting. Thank you, Edward, nice job.

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