The Yield Curve

A version of the relationship applies to not only assets of one-year and two-year maturity but also assets of all maturities. From the term structure of interest rates, we learn something very significant: if the annual one-year interest rate is below the annual rate on a two-year loan, then interest rates are expected to increase in the future. For example, if the annual one-year interest rate is 5 percent and the annual rate on two-year loans is 6 percent, this means both borrowers and lenders expect one-year interest rates to be higher than 6 percent next year. (If desired, you can calculate exactly what the expected rate is by using the previous equation.) We can see the connection between assets of different maturities by looking at the yield curve. [1] The yield curve shows the current annual return for assets of different maturities. Figure 9.10 “The Yield Curve” shows the yield curve for US Treasury securities in 2011. [2] On the horizontal axis of the yield curve is the number of years to maturity of the asset. On the vertical axis is the current annual yield on the asset. Notice that the yield curve is upward sloping: the longer the maturity, the higher the annual interest rate. This is generally what we observe, although sometimes the yield curve is inverted, meaning that higher maturity debt has a lower interest rate.

All assets are linked, not just government bonds of different maturities. Suppose that the interest rate on one-year government bonds increases. To buy these bonds, financial institutions will start selling other assets—not only bonds at other maturities but also stocks, holdings of foreign currencies, and so on. As they sell those other assets, their prices will decrease, and their rate of return will increase. An increase in the interest rate on one-year treasuries therefore increases interest rates on other assets. Thus different interest rates typically move together, and it is usually not too misleading, at least for the purposes of macroeconomics, to think about there being a single interest rate in an economy.

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Arbitrage with Assets and Goods: The Real Interest Rate The exchanges we have described so far have all been in terms of dollars. The interest rates paid on such exchanges are nominal interest rates. In a world where prices are increasing, however, the nominal interest rate does not represent the true cost of borrowing and lending.

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