HONG KONG — Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, said Monday the recent triggering of a recession indicator in the U.S. bond markets could signal the need for an interest rate cut and not a prolonged economic downturn.
Stocks tumbled Friday after an inversion of the so-called yield curve in the U.S. bond markets. This occurs when short-term rates surpass their longer-term counterparts, which hurts bank lending profits and is considered a warning sign of recession.
Yellen, who led the Fed from 2014 to 2018, was asked at a Hong Kong conference about the yield curve inversion and whether it signals a looming downturn.
"My own answer is no, I don't see it as a signal of recession," Yellen said during a question and answer session at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.
"In contrast to times past, there's a tendency now for the yield curve to be very flat," she said, adding that it's now easier for it to invert — which traditionally meant investors had become concerned about a future downturn. In technical terms, it's when the spread between the three-month Treasury bill yield and the 10-year note rate turns negative, which happened on Friday for the first time since 2007.
"And in fact it might signal that the Fed would at some point need to cut rates, but it certainly doesn't signal that this is a set of developments that would necessarily cause a recession," Yellen added.
Yellen, a distinguished resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, said she doesn't see a recession as "particularly likely" though she did stress that the U.S. economy is indeed slowing.