Asset Allocation: Analyzing the Rise of 10-Year T-Note Yield

By Bill O’Grady, Confluence Investment Management Executive Vice President

Since the beginning of September, 10-year T-note yields have risen from a low of 1.52% to a high of 1.75%.

This backup in yields is an issue we are monitoring carefully because we have favored long-duration assets for some time. We analyze long-dated interest rates by starting with a fair value assessment of the 10-year T-note yield.

This is our full T-note model. It uses the effective fed funds rate, the 15-year average of inflation (a proxy for inflation expectations), the yen/dollar exchange rate, oil prices and the yield on German bonds. The current fair value rate is 1.71%, suggesting that the long end is a bit overvalued at current yields. A hike of 25 bps in the effective fed funds rate would raise the fair value yield to 1.88%, assuming no change in the other variables. Thus, the recent rise in yields is due, in part, to concerns about the potential for tightening monetary policy.

Deeper examination shows that foreign factors are keeping yields low. Eliminating the yen/dollar exchange rate, oil prices (which are set globally) and German bond yields creates a model using only domestic factors.  Namely, using just inflation expectations and fed funds boosts the fair value by 100 bps.

By focusing on domestic factors, the 10-year T-note is deeply undervalued. In fact, a comparison of the models shows that international factors have played a key role in lowering yields over the past two years.