A flat yield curve is a type of yield curve that occurs when anticipated interest rates are steady, or short-term volatility outweighs long term volatility. It signifies that the difference between yields on short-term and long-term bonds minimize, in effect giving no incentives for investors and lenders to lend for the long term.
The flat yield curve is always depicted like the graph below, plotting yield (interest rate) against maturity.
When a flat yield curve occurs, it often signals uncertainty in the market and could make investors wary of making any investments or going “long” in the market. Often, economists and investors will use a flat yield curve as an economic indicator of a potential recession.
In essence, a flat yield curve signals to the market that institutions and individuals with the money to loan are worried about loaning it in the future, so they decide to loan it today. In a recession, fewer loans will be written, as there will be less overall activity in the market.
When a flat yield curve exists, investors get the same amount of money for short-term investments as they do for long-term investments.
For lenders, a flat yield curve may also indicate that we are about to enter a period of lower expectations for inflation soon.
Often, economists and investors will use a flat yield curve as an economic indicator of a potential recession.
Usages of the Flat Yield Curve – The Federal Reserve
A flat yield curve can also indicate things other than a recession. Market forces are generally efficient; however, the Federal Reserve can manipulate the market by introducing monetary policy measures whenever they are relevant or deemed necessary. The Federal Reserve can change the overnight rate, which often will cause lending and financial institutions to change the interest rates that they give to the public.
An artificial increase by the Fed on short-term rates can often influence the yield curve and may begin to flatten it. It may be a warning sign for investors that we are entering into a recession, but a flattening yield curve may ultimately result from Federal Reserve policy; thus, investors should use caution when examining a yield curve and use it as only one indicator of market conditions.
The Flat Yield Curve – An Indicator for Lenders
For lenders, a flat yield curve may also indicate that we are about to enter a period of lower expectations for inflation soon. Lenders and investors want the yield on long-term investments to make up for the effect of inflation on their investment. However, when a yield curve has flattened and inflation is expected to be low, investors will be less concerned about the effect inflation will have and will be looking at the opportunity cost of a long-term investment.
Simply put, when a flat yield curve exists, investors get the same amount of money for short-term investments as they do for long-term investments. They can have many effects on the market, including reducing long-term investments due to no net benefit over short-term investments. In such a market, many investors will flock towards short-term bonds over long-term bonds, as they incur none of the risks of having their finances tied up in a long-term bond with identical profit and upside.
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