It’s a Code Red: Inventor of the Yield Curve Indicator on the State of the US Economy

Campbell Harvey is a Professor at Duke University and a partner at Research Affiliates. He sat down with Michael Batnick and Josh Brown of Ritholtz Wealth Management to discuss the meaning of the yield curve indicator, which he discovered in 1986 while working on a dissertation.

Campbell cites the fact that 7 out of the last 7 recessions had been presaged by a yield curve inversion – which is what happens when it longer term bond yields fall below shorter term bond yields in the Treasury market. He believes that this phenomenon occurs when the market participants begin to grow more pessimistic about the economic outlook. The behavior of executives, lenders, borrowers and investors can change enough during these times to actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy – producing a negative feedback loop that drives a weakening economy into a full-blown recession.

Recessions are a normal part of the business cycle, although they can be painful to live and invest through. They can also vary greatly be degree. Campbell fields questions from Michael and Josh about all of the ways in which this time might be different. He acknowledges that it is always possible that the yield curve indicator might stop working as a recession signal, but he believes that because it hasn’t yet, this might be a good time for people and corporations to rethink the risks they’re taking.


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