For most of the past 10 years the financial markets have been led if not actually directed by the all-knowing, all-seeing Federal Reserve. But over the past year or so the roles have changed, or at least the markets have basically stopped listening to the Fed.
Case in point: Last week the Fed, largely as expected, voted 8-to-1 to raise short-term interest rates by another 25 basis points; Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, who wanted to keep rates unchanged, was the lone dissenter. The Fed has now raised its benchmark federal funds rate three times since last December.
Normally, that move should have induced long-term rates – which are set by traders and investors in the bond market, not the Fed – to rise, too. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, long-term rates have gone in the other direction, falling to their lowest levels since last November, to the point where the yield curve – the difference between short-term and long-term rates – has flattened out to a point we haven’t seen in years.
Last week the yield on the U.S. Treasury’s benchmark 10-year note ended at 2.15%, which is down nearly 50 basis points from a recent high of 2.63% three months ago. Over that same period, the yield on the three-month T-bill has risen by about 25 bps, from 0.75% to 1.01%. That means the difference between the two has been cut to about 115 bps from 188 bps in just three months.
Why the disconnect between what the Fed is doing, and thinks is happening, and what the bond market perceives is really happening? [Read more...]