What Does the Inverted Yield Curve Mean for the Economy?

April 8, 2019
A strong March Jobs Report makes it unlikely that we are facing an immediate recession.


A few weeks ago, we had a one-day precipitous drop in the stock market which was blamed on the appearance of an inverted yield curve, which for some analysts signals that a recession can be on the horizon. An inverted yield curve is simply an inversion that occurs when long-term rates become lower than short-term rates. Typically, long-term interest rates are higher than short-term rates. When you go to the bank and you tie up your money in a CD for a longer period of time, you expect the bank to pay you a higher rate for the longer term. 

Inverted yield curves typically occur sometime before recessions because the markets see slower growth ahead, which causes long-term rates to fall. Short-term rates will fall only when the Federal Reserve Board trims their benchmark rates. Thus, today the markets are predicting a slowdown in growth, but the Fed has not lowered short-term rates as they have only just declared that they are just about done raising short-term rates. We have actually seen a flat yield curve for the past several months, and the Fed’s more recent statements about ending their increases has helped bring long-term rates down even further. 

Here is the point. While an inverted yield curve can be a predictor of recessions and slower growth, predictions are never guaranteed. To see real evidence, we should look at the economic indicators. A very important indicator was released Friday. The jobs report showed 196,000 jobs added in March. Following a weak February report, this has relieved many analysts who thought February was a harbinger that the slowdown was already here. For the first quarter we added an average of 180,000 jobs per month, subject to two future revisions. Again, no guarantee that even a mild recession is on the horizon, but an indication that employment growth has slowed from the brisk pace of last year.