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Mar 22, 2019

U.S. markets sink as 10-year Treasury yield curve inverts

Bond market sounds alarm as Treasury yield curve inverts

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U.S. equities ended the week lower and Treasuries rose amid more signals that global growth is slowing. The dollar advanced against most major currencies, while the three-month/10-year yield curve inverted for the first time since 2007.

Despite a dovish turn by the Fed Wednesday, the S&P 500 Index on Friday saw its biggest drop since January -- and lost 0.8 per cent for the week -- with materials and financials leading the benchmark down as the yield on 10-year Treasuries, already at a 14-month low, extended its decline. Growth fears also took a toll on crude, and energy shares tumbled. Investors sought refuge in utilities, while gold headed for its best week since early February.

“The inversion historically has not been a good sign for the economy going ahead,” according to Ed Keon, chief investment strategist and portfolio manager at QMA. “But there’s deeper issues which we don’t fully understand and which the markets are grappling with. It’s not just cyclical signs that a flatter yield curve tends to be a sign of weaker economic growth ahead, but that the secular change where rates around the world in all the developed countries have been remarkably low.”

Banks and industrial shares led the Stoxx Europe 600 lower after German purchasing manager data badly missed forecasts. Sovereign bonds in Europe quickly reversed earlier losses and the euro erased a modest gain. The yield on Germany’s 10-year bonds -- Europe’s benchmark -- tumbled below zero.

The surprise to stock and bond markets pulled the MSCI index of global equities down from its highest level since October, eroding some of the optimism that the Federal Reserve’s dovish tilt could prolong the bull market for stocks. Bonds, however, were already signaling investor worries that momentum in growth and inflation remains too subdued.

Hours before the 10-year yield tumbled in Germany, its counterpart in Japan fell to the lowest since 2016, New Zealand’s dropped below 2 per cent for the first time and Australia’s was approaching an all-time low, as the world’s major central banks wound up another week showing they can’t yet tighten policy. Trade talks between the U.S. and China are scheduled to continue next week.

Elsewhere, sterling advanced after European leaders moved to stop a chaotic no-deal Brexit from happening next week, handing the U.K. an extra two weeks. The U.K. now needs to decide by April 12 what it will do next. In Asia, a late-day turnaround put benchmark stock indexes in Japan, Korea and Australia back into the green.

These are the main moves in markets:

Stocks

The S&P 500 Index decreased 1.9 per cent as of 4 p.m. New York time. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 1.2 per cent. Germany’s DAX Index fell 1.6 per cent to a one-month low. The MSCI Emerging Market Index dipped 1 per cent, the largest decrease in two weeks.

Currencies

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 0.3 per cent. The euro decreased 0.7 per cent to US$1.1297, the largest dip in more than two weeks. The British pound rose 0.7 per cent to US$1.3198. The Japanese yen rose 0.8 per cent to 109.97 per dollar.

Bonds

The yield on 10-year Treasuries sank 10 basis points to 2.44 per cent, the lowest in more than 14 months. Germany’s 10-year yield dipped six basis points to -0.02 per cent. Britain’s 10-year yield fell five basis points to 1.014 per cent.

Commodities

West Texas Intermediate crude sank 1.8 per cent to US$58.91 a barrel. Gold advanced 0.2 per cent to US$1,312.58 an ounce.

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