As a member of the research staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1983 to 2008, the author used the term spread, defined for the most part as the difference between 10-year and 3-month Treasury interest rates, to model economic expectations and to forecast U.S. recessions. The following is a summary of the use of the term spread in real time to forecast the three NBER-dated recessions that occured during this period.

The graphs show the federal funds rate leading into each recession, with a vertical line representing the date for which the inversion and probability were first reported, and shading denoting the recession. Note that the lead time provided by the yield curve signal, which is about one year on average, varies across recessions. The lead time was shorter in 2000 and longer in 2006. Monetary easing started shortly before the signal in 1989, at about the time of the signal in 2000, and about a year after the signal in 2006.

1990-91 Recession
  • November 16, 1988: memo to NY Fed Research Director analyzing the past predictive power of yield curve and noting that the term spread was relatively low at the time.
  • February 8, 1989: above memo was transmitted to NY Fed President for discussion at subsequent meeting.
  • June 14, 1989: memo to NY Fed Research Director noting that the average term spread for the second quarter of 1989 (to date) was 10 basis points and that the implied probability of a recession in the second quarter of 1990 had risen to 26%.
  • April 25, 1991: NBER announced that a recession had begun in July 1990.

ff1989

2001 Recession
  • March 19, 2001: presentation to NY Fed President about yield curve inversion and other evidence of an impending recession, noting that the spread in December 2000 had been -69 basis points and that the implied probability of a recession in December 2001 was 45%.
  • May 8, 2001: memo summarizing mounting evidence of a current recession, using the preceding yield curve inversion as timing benchmark.
  • November 26, 2001: NBER announced that a recession had begun in March 2001.

ff2000

2008 Recession
  • September 15, 2006: report to NY Fed President indicating that the term spread in August 2006 had been -21 basis points, with a probability of recession in August 2007 of 33%.
  • October 26, 2007: memo to NY Fed President summarizing concurrent evidence of an economic slowdown, using the preceding yield curve inversion as timing benchmark.
  • December 1, 2008: NBER announced that a recession had begun in December 2007.

ff2006