The yield curve, an indicator from the bond market just a few months ago set off alarms about the risk of a recession. Now it has gone back to normal, and that signal has been met with relief in the markets. But as far as the economy is concerned, it might not matter. Once the yield curve has predicted a recession, one usually follows even if that signal changes later.
Investors take for granted that the Federal Reserve controls interest rates. But a surprisingly lively couple of days in short-term money markets has meant that the “how” became nearly as important as the “why.” The stress started on Monday in the market for repurchase agreements, or repos. Repos are short-term loans mainly used by banks and hedge funds in their daily bond trading and brokerage businesses.
Cheaper mortgages are usually a boon to the housing market. But this year, a sharp drop in mortgage rates hasn’t provided much of a lift, and that could bode poorly for the Federal Reserve’s efforts to shore up economic growth.
For stock investors in the United States, the political and economic outlooks have suddenly become ominous. More volatility could be in store this week. “The fact is that politics is driving the economy to an extent that is very atypical,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at BTIG, an institutional brokerage firm. “We would say probably to the greatest extent that we’ve seen in our investing lifetime.”
A financial assembly line that went haywire a decade ago and contributed to an economic crisis is gearing up again on Wall Street. This time around, a similar kind of investment, called C.L.O.s, are at the heart of the boom. And that’s not the only parallel: The loans are being made to risky borrowers, lending standards are dropping fast, and regulators are easing the rules.
The bond market’s yield curve is perilously close to predicting a recession — something it has done with surprising accuracy — and it’s become a big topic on Wall Street. Some economists on Wall Street think the economy could be growing at around a nearly 5 percent annualized clip this quarter. But if the current economic vigor is only reflecting a short-term stimulus coming from the Trump administration’s tax cut, then some kind of slowdown is to be expected.
Republicans sold the 2017 tax law as “rocket fuel” for American investment and growth, saying that corporations — flush with cash from lower tax rates — would channel money back into the economy by building factories and offices and investing in equipment, which would help companies grow and provide winnings for workers. But, so far, hard evidence of such an acceleration has yet to appear in economic data, which show more of a steady investment roll than a rapid escalation.
President Trump promised that his tax cut would encourage companies to invest in factories, workers and wages, setting off a spending spree that would reinvigorate the American economy. Companies have announced plans for some of those investments. But so far, companies are using much of the money for something with a more narrow benefit: buying their own shares.