Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, left, and Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Key Fed Yield Gauge Points to Rate Cuts for First Time Since 2008

(Bloomberg) -- Some of the most accurate gauges of economic health are pricing in lower Fed rates for the first time in more than a decade.

The little-known near-term forward spread, which reflects the difference between the forward rate implied by Treasury bills six quarters from now and the current three-month yield, fell into negative territory on Wednesday for the first time since March 2008. Two-year yields dipped below those on one-year paper in December.

“This is a crystal ball, it’s telling you about the future and what the market thinks of the Fed and what it will do with its policy rate,” Tony Crescenzi, market strategist and portfolio manager at Pimco, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “The market is predicting a rate cut at the beginning part of next year.”

Key Fed Yield Gauge Points to Rate Cuts for First Time Since 2008

Federal Reserve economists said looking at forward rates relative to those on current Treasury bills has served traders well in the past.

“When market participants expected -- and priced in -- a monetary policy easing over the next 18 months, their fears were validated more often than not,” Eric C. Engstrom and Steven A. Sharpe wrote in a research paper dated July 2018.

When the near-term forward spread turns negative, it indicates bets on easier policy “over the next several quarters, presumably because they expect monetary policymakers to respond to the threat or onset of a recession,” they wrote.

Money markets have been paring back expectations of rate hikes as economic data weaken and equities whipsaw. Last week, traders priced in no move in the Federal Funds rate this year and more than a 50 percent chance of a rate cut in 2020.

“We won’t be roaring into the 20s like we did a hundred years ago, we could be stumbling into the 20s, is what the market is saying,” said Pimco’s Crescenzi.

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