The graphic depiction of the relationship between the yield
of the same credit quality but different maturities
. Related: Term structure of interest rates
. Harvey (1991) finds that the inversions of the yield curve (short-term rates greater than long term rates) have preceded the last five US recessions
. The yield curve can accurately forecast the turning points of the business cycle.
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At any particular time, the relation between bond yields and maturity lengths. The yield curve usually has a positive slope because yields on long-term bonds generally exceed yields on short-term bonds. The shape of a yield curve is influenced by a number of factors including the relative riskiness between long-term and short-term securities and by investors' expectations as to the level of future interest rates. Also called term structure of interest rates
. See also expectations hypothesis
, flat yield curve
, negative yield curve
, positive yield curve
, riding the yield curve
Case Study Long-term interest rates are generally higher than short-term rates, resulting in a yield curve that slopes upward. An upward-sloping yield curve was in place in fall 2001 when six-month Treasury bills were yielding 2% at the same time that 30-year Treasury bonds were selling to yield slightly over 5%. Despite the relatively steep slope of the curve, many bond traders were convinced the slope would grow even steeper. That is, they believed short-term interest rates would continue to fall at the same time long-term rates remained steady or moved upward. The Federal Reserve was actively pursuing an easy money policy to stimulate a weakening economy. The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon accelerated the economic decline with major corporate layoffs, reductions in industrial output, and increased business bankruptcies. The attack also made it likely that the U.S. Treasury would increase spending, thereby borrowing more and selling more Treasury bonds. The increased borrowing would result in higher long-term interest rates and reduced prices for Treasury bonds. At least, that was the theory. In this environment many bond traders decided to take an investment position that allowed them to profit from a steeper yield curve. Traders took a bullish position (bought) in short-term Treasuries they thought would increase in price, and at the same time they assumed a bearish position (sold) in long-term Treasuries they thought would decline in price. This investment strategy came tumbling down on October 31, when the U.S. Treasury made a surprise announcement that it would quit selling 30-year bonds. The announcement caused a major price increase in these bonds that in a two-day period reduced yields from 5.25% to about 4.8%. What seemed a sure thing among sophisticated investors turned into a nightmare as a bearish bet on long-term Treasuries went bad for a reason none of the participants had foreseen.
Wall Street Words: An A to Z Guide to Investment Terms for Today's Investor by David L. Scott. Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. All rights reserved.
A yield curve shows the relationship between the yields on short-term and long-term bonds of the same investment quality.
Since long-term yields are characteristically higher than short-term yields, a yield curve that confirms that expectation is described as positive. In contrast, a negative yield curve occurs when short-term yields are higher.
A flat or level yield curve occurs when the yields are substantially the same on bonds with varying terms.
A negative yield curve has generally been considered a warning sign that the economy is slowing and that a recession is likely.
yield curve a line that traces the relationship between the rates of return on BONDS of different maturities. The slope of the line suggests whether INTEREST RATES are tending to rise or fall.
Collins Dictionary of Economics, 4th ed. © C. Pass, B. Lowes, L. Davies 2005