Market Review

Interest rates declined precipitously in February as a result of the spread of Covid-19 worldwide. U.S. Treasury rates reached new lows at the end of the month, with the 10-year yield at 1.12%, having fallen some 50 basis points from its peak for the month (Feb. 5). By month end, the market priced in a Fed funds rate cut of 50 basis points (bps), causing the spread between Fed funds and two-year yields to widen to levels reminiscent of the financial crisis.  
 
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January was characterized by a significant rally in the U.S. Treasury market.  Ten-year yields fell by 41 basis points (bps) and the 2-year yield declined 24 bps. The yield curve flattened with the 2- to 10-year spread falling to 17 bps and the very short-end of the curve actually inverted. The 30-year bond yield declined substantially although failing to keep pace with the 10-year, leading to a very modest steepening of the long end of the curve.
 
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The tide turned on interest rates in the fourth quarter of 2019. The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield reached a low for the year in September, hitting 1.46%. In October, the Federal Reserve cut rates for the final time in 2019. The market responded by taking a more measured view over future rate moves, with many if not most participants believing that the Fed will be on hold in 2020. 

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Rates rose as the month began, only to move back as the month progressed. Ultimately, the yield curve had a modest “bearish flattening” for the month with 2-year Treasury yields rising 9 basis points (bps), while 30-year yields increased by only 2 bps. The 2- to 10-year yield spread was virtually unchanged.

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October featured a “more of the same” theme with respect to domestic economic data and news. The Federal Reserve cut the Fed Funds rate (as anticipated), the consumer continued to drive the economy, corporate earnings came in higher than expected but continue to decline, wage growth was marginal, and inflation benign. GDP growth for the quarter, at an annualized rate of 1.9%, came in higher than Wall Street anticipated. The trade war pendulum swung towards resolution, with a preliminary deal now expected to be signed in November. BREXIT resolution appeared to be on-again, off-again. 

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It might be our imagination, but we seem to recall summers when, as the song goes, living was easy. We fondly remember summer as a time for digging our toes in the sand at the beach, sailing a sunfish on a lake, or maybe enjoying a round of golf at the local course. Not so in 2019, at least as far as the bond markets were concerned. Interest rates took a roller coaster ride. Global economic weakness, negative rates overseas, an inverted yield curve at home, trade wars, Brexit, a shifting Federal Reserve, oil refinery attacks in Saudi Arabia, “repo-madness,” and, to top it off, impeachment inquiries, all made this summer very eventful and made us long for apple picking season come fall.

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