U.S. Treasury yields fell as several Federal Reserve officials who spoke Tuesday were more balanced in their comments on inflation and the likely path of interest rates, suggesting that the central bank could be near the end of its tightening cycle.
U.S. benchmark 10-year yields dropped in five of the last six sessions, and 30-year yields in four of the last five. Yields extended their fall after a fairly solid U.S. three-year note auction following a lackluster one in October.
The slide in yields on the long end of the curve was much sharper than those on the short end in what is called a “bull flattener,” a scenario which normally precedes a Fed rate cut, analysts said.
A bull flattener, or in Tuesday’s case a further inversion of the yield curve, typically reflects a decline in inflation expectations. The two-year/10-year yield curve was last at -34.5 basis points (bps), flattening further or deepening its inversion from Monday after weeks of steepening.
Fed officials who spoke on Tuesday were mixed as to the next central bank action, but were united in watching out for what upcoming economic data brings.
“The comments were more balanced in terms of not having so much of a hawkish tilt, saying that future data will dictate how things play out. And I don’t think that is incorporated in the market just yet,” said Jim Barnes, director of fixed income at Bryn Mawr Trust in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. “I think the market was more thinking that the Fed is on hold, but with more of a hawkish lean. You really haven’t had a catalyst today to build on the yield gains from yesterday.”
Chicago Fed President Austan Goolsbee said the U.S. central bank has made significant inroads in its battle to bring inflation down to its 2% target, and attention will turn to how long to keep rates at their current level if that progress continues.
Minneapolis Fed Bank President Neel Kashkari, for his part, said the Fed may have to do more to bring inflation down to its 2% goal, given the recent spate of resilient economic data. Fed Governor Michelle Bowman, on the other hand, repeated her view that the U.S. central bank will likely need to raise short-term rates again, though for now she is content to assess the data and what it implies for the economic outlook.
Fed Governor Christopher Waller, one of the more hawkish Fed members, was less so. He said the “blowout” third-quarter gross domestic product number bears watching, but did not include a policy recommendation in his remarks.
U.S. rate futures on Tuesday have priced in a 52% chance of a rate cut next May, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool. A week ago, those odds were at 29.4%. Also on Tuesday, the outcome of the Treasury’s three-year note auction came out better than expected. The auction stopped at a high yield 4.701%, just below 4.702%, the expected rate at the bid deadline, suggesting investors were happy to buy the note with a lower yield.
The bid-to-cover ratio, another gauge of demand, was 2.67, higher than last month’s 2.56, but a tad lower than the 2.69 average. Post-auction, U.S. three-year note yields were down 4.9 basis points (bps) at 4.678%. The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was down 8.9 bps at 4.572%. U.S. 30-year yields dropped 9.4 bps to 4.738%.
U.S. two-year yields, which tend to reflect rate expectations fell 2.1 bps to 4.919%. The breakeven rate on five-year U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) was last at 2.329%. This inflation metric has been on a downtrend since mid-October.
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