John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Yields on long-term U.S. Treasury debt continued to surge higher yesterday as the market braced for a future upturn in inflation and a tidal wave of long-dated issues that will be needed to fund the bank rescues and the emerging stimulus package.

Yields on three-year notes are up by around 47 basis points from their mid-December low. But yields on ten-year paper have soared 82 points and rates on the 30-year long bond have surged 114 points. Long-bond rates have retraced more than half their decline since the autumn (https://customers.reuters.com/d/graphics/USTREAS.pdf).

Back-end yields would probably have risen even further were it not for persistent hints the Federal Reserve is thinking about buying longer-dated issues to cap them. But the market has started to call the Fed’s bluff.

MANIPULATING THE FRONT END

In the press statement accompanying its most recent interest rate decision, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) gave a clear commitment it will keep short-term rates at “exceptionally low levels for some time.” In practice, the Fed will probably hold rates close to zero for the next two to three years until a cyclical recovery is well underway. But thereafter rates will need to rise to more normal levels to contain inflationary pressures.

The steepening yield curve reflects an assumption the Fed’s zero-interest rate policy will dominate the whole yield on debt maturing in 2009-2011, but have a diminishing effect on securities which mature further in the future.