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US Treasuries sell off as upbeat data sharpen Fed rate rise fears

US stocks and government bond prices dropped on Tuesday after an upbeat survey on the country’s vast services industry fuelled expectations of further big interest rate rises by the Federal Reserve.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, seen as a proxy for borrowing costs around the world, added 0.15 percentage points to 3.34 per cent. The yield on the two-year note, which is sensitive to changes in short-term interest rate expectations, rose 0.11 percentage points to 3.50 per cent. Bond yields rise as their prices fall.

Meanwhile, the tech-dominated Nasdaq Composite fell for a seventh consecutive session, its longest losing streak since November 2016. The index fell 0.7 per cent, while the broader S&P 500 index slid 0.4 per cent.

Those moves, which followed a public holiday in the US on Monday, became more emphatic after a closely watched Institute for Supply Management survey showed that services activity had outpaced economists’ expectations, registering a reading of 56.9 in August compared with forecasts of 55.1 and July’s figure of 56.7. Any figure above 50 signals expansion. Growth in business activity and new orders both accelerated last month, the report said.

The data, following on from a robust labour market report last week, encouraged investors to further crank up their projections of how far and fast the Fed will lift borrowing costs to tame inflation.

Futures markets show investors think the Fed’s benchmark interest rate will climb to almost 4 per cent by next March. In late July, the same measure showed expectations of less than 3.2 per cent.

Markets are pricing in a 75 per cent likelihood that the Fed will lift rates by 0.75 percentage points at its late September meeting, which would mark the third consecutive increase of such magnitude. The central bank’s current target range stands at 2.25 to 2.50 per cent.

Analysts at Citi said the ISM survey “points to a resilient services side of the economy, despite pressure from high prices and continued difficulties hiring workers.

“This should keep the Fed pursuing a still-hawkish stance with a [0.75 percentage point] hike in September, as the inflationary pressure in services looks more indicative of tight labour markets with less feed- through of commodity shocks.”

The strong ISM reading contrasted with a separate survey of the same sector published by S&P Global on Tuesday, which suggested the service sector was in contraction territory. Citi said “the source of the discrepancy is unclear, but the strong ISM reading pushes back on immediate concerns over slowing economic activity”.

Government bond yields have climbed in volatile trading in recent weeks after hawkish rhetoric from the Fed and a deepening European energy crisis sent shivers through financial markets. Chair Jay Powell reiterated last month the US central bank’s commitment to curbing rapid price growth, saying the Fed “must keep at it until the job is done”.

Line chart of Yield on 10-year US Treasury (%) showing Treasury yields surge as sell-off hits US sovereign debt

The European Central Bank will on Thursday deliver its own monetary policy decision, with multiple Wall Street banks anticipating a jumbo three-quarter-point increase. The ECB raised rates in July for the first time in more than a decade by an unexpectedly large 0.5 percentage points.

The moves in US government bonds on Tuesday ricocheted into other debt markets. The UK’s 10-year benchmark gilt yield added 0.16 percentage points to 3.1 per cent, having touched 3 per cent on Monday for the first time since 2014, according to Refinitiv data. Ten-year UK government borrowing costs in the gilt market had soared more than 0.9 percentage points last month, the biggest rise since at least 1989.

In currencies, Japan’s yen tumbled as much as 1.7 per cent to ¥142.97 against the greenback, marking a 24-year low, as Tokyo’s strict yield curve controls contrasted with soaring bond yields in other major economies — lessening the appeal of the nation’s currency.

“The yen’s role as a safe haven has been eroded by Japan’s worsening trade position, and the [fall in the yen] may have further to go until Japanese authorities intervene,” said analysts at ING.

In European equities, the regional Stoxx 600 share index closed 0.2 per cent higher.

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