The bond market, even more so than the stock market, is often a key indicator of investor expectations and the overall health of the economy.
Figure 1 shows the RBA reported bond yields on treasury bonds from 90-day bills to 10-year, long term bonds. From March to April this year, long term yields decreased more than short term ones. This is called “flattening” of the yield curve and is often a sign of lower investor confidence and a bleaker future outlook for the economy. From April to May, the opposite effect can be observed: while yields for all maturity dates decreased, the yield curve steepened slightly. The drop in short term yields reflects the RBA’s decision at the start of May to cut the official cash rate by 25 basis points (0.25%).
So what has happened since the interest rate cut?
Figure 2 illustrates snapshots of treasury bonds being traded on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) on three separate occasions: one before the interest rate cut (19/04/16) and two after (17/05/16 and 15/06/16). Again, between the April and May snapshots, a similar effect to the above can be observed: short term rates decreased due to the interest rate cut and long term rates decreased slightly less.
However, since the May cut, short term rates have remained at about the same level, while long term rates, especially on bonds with 10+ year maturities, have continued to plummet. The yield on the longest duration bond (maturing in 2039) is down nearly 0.4% over the past month. This means that since April, the steepness of the yield curve has only increased by about 0.1%.
An interest rate cut is designed to stimulate the economy and lift investor confidence. While this boost was achieved in the (very) short term, the threat of Great Britain leaving the EU, uncertainty about China’s future direction and an upcoming Federal Election to name a few have all but eroded the stimulus. With the Brexit vote on June 23rd and Australia voting on July 2nd, some of the shakiness may be resolved. However, both events have the potential to further upset economic conditions. If the latter occurs, expect another rate cut before the year is over.