The Yield Curve Just Inverted for the First Time in Years. Time to Reconsider Risk?
One of the most reliable indicators of an economic slowdown just flashed a warning sign this week. On Monday, the yield curve between the five-year Treasury yield and three-year Treasury yield inverted, or turned negative, for the first time since 2007. What this means is the shorter-maturity bond now pays more than the longer-maturity bond, suggesting investors believe the government is less likely to service the debt it owes in three years than in five years. Such an inversion has historically portended a recession sometime in the next six to 24 months.
Meanwhile, the more closely watched spread between the 10-year yield and two-year yield, though positive, sat at a lowly 15 basis points on Monday, the flattest it’s been in more than 11 years. All nine recessions since 1955 have been preceded by an inversion of the 10-year and two-year Treasury yields.
I believe the flattening yield curve is just one among a number of signs that we’re entering a more risk-off investing environment (one in which investor appetite for riskier assets, such as stocks, decreases). The recent trade war ceasefire between the U.S. and China is encouraging, but challenges still persist, including rising U.S. interest rates, Brexit, skyrocketing debt and a purchasing manager’s index (PMI) that’s steadily weakened over the past eight months.
All things considered, I think it might be time for investors to consider getting more defensive as we proceed further into the later stages of this business cycle, one of the longest in U.S. history. That means making sure you have exposure to assets that have historically done well during slowdowns in the economy and capital markets. Among my favorite are precious metals, particularly gold, and short-term, tax-free municipal bonds.