Last week both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes hit all-time highs mid-week before falling significantly at the end of the week on fears about the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) impacting economic growth. Concerns about the contagion were amplified by the release of U.S. Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) flash data for February.1 The Composite PMI dropped to 49.6 – its first time in contraction territory since the 2013 government shutdown. Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.8 from 51.5 in January, with the coronavirus outbreak being blamed. Services PMI was especially hard hit (falling to 49.4 from 53.4) and is now technically in contraction territory.
As of today, Feb. 24, we are seeing a global sell-off in equities and a rush to “risk off” asset classes such as gold and U.S. Treasuries. Bond yields have dropped like a lead balloon on coronavirus fears. As of this writing, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield is at its lowest level since 2016, and the 30-year is at its lowest level ever.2 The 10-year/3-month yield curve has inverted, and the 10-year/2-year yield curve is close to inverting. I have found that, historically, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has been a far better gauge of fear than the VIX – and the 10-year is telling us that there are serious concerns that this contagion will impact global growth.