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Is Wall Street’s Favorite Recession Indicator Striking Out?

There was a time when batting average was a baseball stat that meant something. Now it’s all WAR, OPS, wOBA, and BABIP. No one cares about plain-old BA anymore (unless you’re the player with the highest BA). 

What’s this got to do with banking? Well, Wall Street’s preferred recession predictor, the inverted yield curve, appears to be losing its prophetic punch. Could it soon go the way of the once closely watched batting average? 

Traditionally, an inverted yield curve—where short-term Treasury yields surpass long-term ones—has been a reliable signal of an impending economic downturn (the pattern has preceded the last eight U.S. recessions). But according to a Wall Street Journal article, the current yield curve inversion has persisted for a record 400 trading sessions, yet the economy remains resilient. What gives? 

Key points from the WSJ: 

  • Historical Reliability: The yield curve has historically predicted recessions by signaling investors’ expectations of Federal Reserve rate cuts, typically used to stimulate a weakening economy. 
  • Current Anomaly: Despite the long-term inversion (since July 2022), the economy continues to grow, with job additions and forecasts of positive growth. 
  • Pandemic Impact: The COVID-19 stimulus shifted economic dynamics, potentially altering the reliability of traditional indicators like the yield curve. 
  • Expert Opinions: Ed Hyman of Evercore ISI acknowledges the current disconnect but suggests a delayed recession is still possible. Economist Campbell Harvey, who popularized the yield curve’s predictive power, notes the complexities of forecasting the economy with a single measure. 

​​​​​For banks, the impact of an inverted yield curve depends on exactly how assets and liabilities are distributed along the curve, but the profit margin challenges it poses are still a crucial consideration. For investors, however, relying on what the WSJ called the “near-mythical status” of the inverted yield curve as a recession indicator may no longer be a guaranteed home run.