Last Friday, the 10-year Treasury Note closed at a yield of 2.85%. That's up from 2.41% at the end of 2017, but down from the peak of 3.24% on November 8th, and well below where fundamentals suggest yields should be.
In the last two years, nominal GDP growth – real GDP growth plus inflation – has run at a 4.8% annual rate. Normally, we'd expect yields to be close to nominal GDP growth, but Treasury yields have remained stubbornly low.
Some analysts are spooked by the recent movement of 3-year yields above 5-year yields, thinking this "inversion" signals a recession. We think this is sorely mistaken. With a lag, recessions have often (but not always) followed periods when the federal funds rate exceeds the 10-year yield. If anything, that's the inversion to look out for; feel free to ignore the rest. But, at present, the 10-year is yielding about 70 basis points above the funds rate, well within the normal range.
One reason that the 10-year yield has remained below where economic fundamentals suggest it should trade is that the Federal Reserve set short-term interest rates near zero. Longer-term bonds, including the 10-year reflect the current level of short-term rates as well as the projected path of those rates in the future. So, back when yields were essentially zero, and the Fed was signaling they could stay there for a long time, this pulled down longer-term yields. The Fed has now lifted short-term interest rates by 200 basis points from where they were, but investors still don't believe they will go much higher.
Part of the issue is that many think low rates themselves are the only reason the economy came out of the Great Recession. So as the Fed lifts rates, many investors expect the next recession is a small tip of the scale from returning in force.