Treasury bonds have been falling hard lately. Their interest rates are up significantly as a result:

The yield on the 10-year note, a bellwether for borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to corporate loans, has jumped to near 1.5% from around 1% in a matter of weeks, lifted by increased expectations that vaccines and government stimulus efforts will accelerate growth and inflation.

And the sell-off is making its way into the stock market today:

The sell-off in the bond market ricocheted into equities, pushing the broad S&P 500 down 2.3 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down 3.3 per cent by afternoon on Wall Street.

A lot of this is the side effect of something good: people are getting vaccinated, new vaccines are coming, and economic stimulus could boost the economy further. That picture is leading investors to expect greater economic growth in the future, along with greater inflation (see the Feb 22 post):

Signs of a renewed economic boom, in tandem with pockets of price pressure, color that move in rates. Bianco Research notes today that Wall Street economists now expect U.S. real GDP growth of nearly 5% this year

But higher rates on Treasury bonds could affect other markets negatively in several ways:

  • Higher Treasury yields tend to mean higher rates in other areas. This could make it more expensive for companies to borrow to fund expansion, etc. That would hurt their shares.
  • If Treasuries offer more interest, that makes stocks less attractive by comparison.
  • Treasury yields, especially the 10 year note, tend to drive mortgage rates. Higher mortgage rates mean a weaker real estate market.

Nonetheless, the Fed remains committed to low interest rates and a loose monetary policy:

In his remarks to the House Financial Services Committee, [Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome] Powell said it could take more than three years before inflation reached the Fed’s target of 2%. That helped to reiterate the message that the central bank was in no rush to pare back on stimulus anytime soon, Deutsche’s Reid said.

I think that if rates spike too high, Powell will probably get the Fed in there buying lots of bonds (with printed money, if necessary) to get the rates back down. He doesn’t want to see higher rates derailing the economic recovery.

A slower rate rise may be less problematic:

“If it is stable and steady, it is easier for equities to digest,” O’Rourke said in an interview. “A quick spike has the potential to create a shock.”

Overall, this situation concerns me and it’s one I’m going to watch. But I am pretty confident that Powell will put a stop to extreme increases in Treasury yields.

For more on recent developments in financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Jerome H. Powell, governor of the Federal Reserve Board, discusses how markets currently function” by BrookingsInst is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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