Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Yielding to Panic

A photo representing the signing of the original brokers agreement, founding the New York Stock Exchange, May 17, 1792.
A photo representing the signing of the original brokers agreement, founding the New York Stock Exchange, May 17, 1792.Photograph by AP Photo

Marinate your mind in this for a minute: Long-term U.S. Treasury yields are essentially at a 220-year low, says Barry Ritholtz. Mind you, 1792 was when two dozen brokers met under a buttonwood tree in Lower Manhattan to shake hands on what would ultimately become the New York Stock Exchange. And when George Washington, while test-driving his second set of experimental dentures, cast the nation’s first presidential veto. And France first successfully used its guillotine. Those 220 years traversed at least three panics, two depressions, two world wars, multiple global economic crises, a Great Recession, and “Who Shot J.R.?”

All that history be damned; on Thursday the 10-year Treasury touched a record-low yield of 1.5309 percent. Thirty-year bonds, for their part, fell to a yield of 2.6 percent, which is just above the all-time low they set in the midst of the Panic of 2008. Apparently our times are so fraught with fear and the need to flee to safety that the Treasury market is pricing in historic amounts of misery. As the Wall Street Journal’s Dennis Berman tweeted, “Even in ancient Babylon (4%), Medieval Europe (6%), 1800s America (4%), no one was paying 1.6% for 10-year money.”