An economic alarm bell has sounded in the U.S., sending warning signs of a possible recession ahead.
Yields on 2-year and 10-year Treasury notes inverted early Wednesday, a market phenomenon that shows investors want more in return for short-term government bonds than they are for long-term bonds.
It’s the first time that has happened since the Great Recession and it can be an indication that investors have lost faith in the soundness of the U.S. economy.
What appeared to be a slight thaw in trade relations between the U.S. and China that had sent markets sharply higher Tuesday was quickly forgotten Wednesday.
At the opening bell the Dow tumbled 400 points.
Investors responded by dumping stocks, more than erasing gains from a rally the day before. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 700 points in afternoon trading. Banks and tech stocks fell sharply, and retailers came under especially heavy selling pressure after Macy’s issued a dismal earnings report and cut its full-year forecast.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note hit 1.622 percent, falling below the yield of a 2-year, which was 1.634 percent. The last inversion of this part of the yield curve was in December 2005, two years before a recession brought on by the financial crisis hit.
An inversion like the that took place Wednesday has preceded the last nine recessions dating back to 1955, though it doesn’t always mean recession is imminent.
And when a recession might hit, if it does, is tricky. Months or even years have passed after an inversion takes place, and before economists can connect the two.
Still, the inversion sent a ripple through U.S. markets Wednesday.
The Dow fell 1.6 percent, and the S&P 500 fell 1.4 percent. The Nasdaq fell further.
The cost of gold, considered a safe haven for investors, traded well above $1,500 per ounce and continued to climb.
With fears of a global economic slowdown growing even sharper, the price of crude, already down 10 percent in the past three months, fell more than 3 percent.
Longer-term yields have been falling due to anxiety that President Donald Trump’s trade war could derail the global economy.
Other parts of the curve had already inverted, beginning late last year. But economists in each instance have cautioned not to make too much of it.
The latest inversion, however, is considered more of a tripwire.