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What is an 'Inverted Yield Curve'

An inverted yield curve is an interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the same credit quality. This type of yield curve is the rarest of the three main curve types and is considered to be a predictor of economic recession.

.Graph of an inverted yield curve.

BREAKING DOWN 'Inverted Yield Curve'

A partial inversion occurs when only some of the short-term Treasuries (five or 10 years) have higher yields than 30-year Treasuries. An inverted yield curve is sometimes referred to as a negative yield curve.

Historically, inversions of the yield curve have preceded many of the U.S. recessions. Due to this historical correlation, the yield curve is often seen as an accurate forecast of the turning points of the business cycle. A recent example is when the U.S. Treasury yield curve inverted in 2000 just before the U.S. equity markets collapsed. An inverse yield curve predicts lower interest rates in the future as longer-term bonds are being demanded, sending the yields down.

Yield and Maturity

Yields are normally higher on fixed-income securities with longer maturity dates. Higher yields on longer-term securities are a result of maturity risk premium because changes in the value of longer-term securities are more unpredictable with market interest rates potentially more unsettled over a longer time horizon. However, yields on longer-term securities could be trending down sometimes when market interest rates are set to get lower for a foreseeable future to accommodate ongoing weak economic activities. Irrespective of their reinvestment rate risk, shorter-term securities appear to offer higher returns than longer-term securities during such times.

Yield and the Economy

The shape of the yield curve changes in accordance with the state of the economy. The normal or up-sloped yield curve may persist when the economy is growing and conversely, the inverted or down-sloped yield curve is likely to press on when the economy is in a recession. One underlying reason such a relationship exists between the yield curve and economic performance relates to how a higher or lower level of long-term capital investments may help stimulate or rein in the economy. By issuing longer-term securities with lower-yield offerings, businesses and governments alike can acquire needed investment capital at affordable costs to jumpstart a weak economy.

Yield and Bond Demand

What moves yields in the market is the varying demands for securities of different maturities at a particular time and under given economic conditions. When the economy is heading to a recession, knowing interest rates are to trend lower, investors are more willing to invest in longer-term securities immediately to lock in current higher yields. This, in turn, increases the demand for longer-term securities, boosting their prices and further lowering their yields. Meanwhile, few investors want to invest in shorter-term securities when presented with lower reinvestment rates. With lower demand for shorter-term securities, their yields actually go up, giving rise to an inverted yield curve when yields on longer-term securities have come down at the same time.

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