Why borrowing costs for nearly everything are surging

Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., on July 26, 2023.


Violent moves in the bond market this week have hammered investors and renewed fears of a recession, as well as concerns about housing, banks and even the fiscal sustainability of the U.S. government.

At the center of the storm is the 10-year Treasury yield, one of the most influential numbers in finance. The yield, which represents borrowing costs for issuers of bonds, has climbed steadily in recent weeks and reached 4.8% on Tuesday, a level last seen just before the 2008 financial crisis.

The relentless rise in borrowing costs has blown past forecasters’ predictions and has Wall Street casting about for explanations. While the Federal Reserve has been raising its benchmark rate for 18 months, that hasn’t impacted longer-dated Treasurys like the 10-year until recently as investors believed rate cuts were likely coming in the near term.

That began to change in July with signs of economic strength defying expectations for a slowdown. It gained speed in recent weeks as Fed officials remained steadfast that interest rates will remain elevated. Some on Wall Street believe that part of the move is technical in nature, sparked by selling from a country or large institutions. Others are fixated on the spiraling U.S. deficit and political dysfunction. Still others are convinced that the Fed has intentionally caused the surge in yields to slow down a too-hot U.S. economy.

“The bond market is telling us that this higher cost of funding is going to be with us for a while,” Bob Michele, global head of fixed income for JPMorgan Chase‘s asset management division, said Tuesday in a Zoom interview. “It’s going to stay there because that’s where the Fed wants it. The Fed is slowing you, the consumer, down.”

The ‘everything’ rate

Investors are fixated on the 10-year Treasury yield because of its primacy in global finance.

While shorter-duration Treasurys are more directly moved by Fed policy, the 10-year is influenced by the market and reflects expectations for growth and inflation. It’s the rate that matters most to consumers, corporations and governments, influencing trillions of dollars in home and auto loans, corporate and municipal bonds, commercial paper, and currencies.

“When the 10-year moves, it affects everything; it’s the most watched benchmark for rates,” said Ben Emons, head of fixed income at NewEdge Wealth. “It impacts anything that’s financing for corporates or people.”

The yield’s recent moves have the stock market on a razor’s edge as some of the expected correlations between asset classes have broken down.

Stocks have sold off since yields began rising in July, giving up much of the year’s gains, but the typical safe haven of U.S. Treasurys has fared even worse. Longer-dated bonds have lost 46% since a March 2020 peak, according to Bloomberg, a…

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