More on Interest Rates

Frederic Mishkin on rising bond yields:

When the Federal Open Market Committee meets this Tuesday and Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will face a serious dilemma.

Since the last committee meeting six weeks ago, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has risen by around 70 basis points (0.70%), with the result that the interest rate on 30-year mortgages has risen by a similar amount. The rise in long-term interest rates is particularly worrisome, because it has the potential to choke off economic recovery and lead to further deterioration in the housing market. That would put an already weakened financial system under stress. Does the situation call for the Fed to expand its purchases of Treasury bonds to lower long-term interest rates?

To answer this question, we need to look at why long-term interest rates have risen. Here, there is good news and bad news. One cause of the rise in long-term rates is the more positive economic news of the past couple of months, particularly in financial markets. The bad news is that long-term interest rates are higher because of concerns about the deteriorating fiscal situation, with massive budget deficits expected for the indefinite future. To fund these budget deficits, the Treasury has to sell large quantities of bonds both now and in the future, causing bond prices to fall and interest rates to rise. The increased supply of Treasury debt puts pressure on the Fed to buy it up.

Note that he doesn’t point to rising inflation.

Similarly, Scott Sumner looks at the TIPS spread. You will notice that (1) the TIPS spread implies that expected inflation is around 1.47%, and (2) the TIPS spread largely follows the movements in the S&P 500. This provides more evidence against the hypothesis that yields are rising because of inflation concerns (as I previously discussed here).

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