Haver Analytics
Haver Analytics
| Mar 08 2023

The Payback From QE---Fed Hikes Not Lifting Long Term Borrowing Costs To Break Inflation Cycle

The Fed looks at bond yields as a gauge of long-term inflation expectations and its overall policy stance. Policymakers believe moderate and stable long bond yields are consistent with well-anchored inflation expectations and an appropriately configured policy stance. Yet, questions surround the current signal from long-bond rates after a decade-plus-long program of debt security purchases (quantitative easing, known as QE) by the Federal Reserve.

Studies have shown that QE has lowered long bond yields by several hundred basis points. But, it needs to be clarified if the anchoring of long-bond interest rates via QE has also changed how the market price of long bonds adjusts to official rate hikes. Whatever the effect is, the Fed is not getting the market response it needs if it believes that higher borrowing costs are the main channel to break the inflation cycle.

The core inflation and long bond yield picture that Fed faces today is something they have not encountered since the mid-1970s. One has to go back to the mid-1970s to find a similar alignment between long bond yields and inflation. The core inflation rate is approximately 200 basis points over the ten-year Treasuries yield, and that alignment has been in place for more than two years.

That alignment raises several issues, all pointing to higher official rates.

First, market rates adjusted for inflation have moved from "super" easy to still easy, indicating that the public's borrowing costs are still not sufficiently high enough to break the inflation cycle. That means the Fed has to hike official rates much more.

Second, an inverted Treasury yield curve with market borrowing costs below the inflation rate has never occurred before. If borrowing costs matter more, as history has shown, curve inversion does not have the same adverse economic consequences. Consequently, the Fed will need to raise official rates well above market expectations creating an even greater curve inversion to get the inflation slowdown its wants.

Third, the most significant risk to investors is if remnants of QE have permanently broken the links between long-term market borrowing rates and official rates. That would open the door to official rates moving to levels not seen in several decades. The risk of this scenario is low, but not zero, as the Fed has never faced an inflation cycle with QE in place.

  • Joseph G. Carson, Former Director of Global Economic Research, Alliance Bernstein.   Joseph G. Carson joined Alliance Bernstein in 2001. He oversaw the Economic Analysis team for Alliance Bernstein Fixed Income and has primary responsibility for the economic and interest-rate analysis of the US. Previously, Carson was chief economist of the Americas for UBS Warburg, where he was primarily responsible for forecasting the US economy and interest rates. From 1996 to 1999, he was chief US economist at Deutsche Bank. While there, Carson was named to the Institutional Investor All-Star Team for Fixed Income and ranked as one of Best Analysts and Economists by The Global Investor Fixed Income Survey. He began his professional career in 1977 as a staff economist for the chief economist’s office in the US Department of Commerce, where he was designated the department’s representative at the Council on Wage and Price Stability during President Carter’s voluntary wage and price guidelines program. In 1979, Carson joined General Motors as an analyst. He held a variety of roles at GM, including chief forecaster for North America and chief analyst in charge of production recommendations for the Truck Group. From 1981 to 1986, Carson served as vice president and senior economist for the Capital Markets Economics Group at Merrill Lynch. In 1986, he joined Chemical Bank; he later became its chief economist. From 1992 to 1996, Carson served as chief economist at Dean Witter, where he sat on the investment-policy and stock-selection committees.   He received his BA and MA from Youngstown State University and did his PhD coursework at George Washington University. Honorary Doctorate Degree, Business Administration Youngstown State University 2016. Location: New York.

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