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Feb. 17, 2017, 4:17 p.m. EST

Treasury yields fall, extending February retreat

Trading quiet ahead of the holiday

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By Ryan Vlastelica

U.S. Treasury yields ticked lower on Friday, extending their month-to-date decline, though the day’s action was quiet going into a long weekend.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note /quotes/zigman/15866666/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD10Y -1.66%  dipped 3.1 basis points to 2.42%, while the two-year note /quotes/zigman/15866656/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD02Y -1.90%  shed 2 basis points to 1.19%. The yield on the 30-year bond was 3.03%, a move of 2 basis points.

Bond prices and bond yields move in the opposite direction.

Government bonds drew a bid as equity investors took a breather following what has been a brisk run to multiple records for U.S. equity benchmarks. That ascent stalled out on Friday, with investors looking to pick up assets considered havens, like Treasurys, as the S&P 500 index /quotes/zigman/3870025/realtime SPX -0.24% traded lower for much of Friday’s session, though it ended with a slight rise on the day.

For the week, the 10-year Treasury rose 1.6 basis point. The yield has gained in four of the past five weeks, as has the yield for the 30-year Treasury, which is up 1.9 basis point this week. The two-year yield, which has risen in three of the past four weeks, is up 0.1 basis point over the past week.

Thus far this month, the 10-year yield is down 2.6 basis points while the two-year note is down 0.6 of a basis point. The 30-year yield is off 2.3 basis points for February.

Overall, trading action was subdued going into the holiday, with the Treasury market closed on Monday for Presidents Day. A light schedule for data similarly left bond traders without a pronounced market driver.

“It’s a low-event day in the market, and bonds are in a reactionary mode ahead of the holiday and what will likely be a lightly attended market next week in terms of trading,” said Ian Lyngen, head of U.S. rates strategy at BMO Capital Markets. “However, there is still uncertainty over government tax policy, the Trump administration’s remaining political capital, and the opposition that any of his policy proposals will face. That has layered in a meaningful bid of uncertainty in the market.”

Treasurys have lately been driven by inflation expectations. On Wednesday, data showed that inflation had surged by the largest amount in four years, though this was mostly due to the price of gasoline, as opposed to core inflation. Typically, when inflation is seen rising, bond investors demand a higher yield to account for the corrosive impact of higher prices on real returns.

That data helped to give Treasury yields a fifth straight positive session, the longest streak of gains since mid-December. The move lower in bond prices was exacerbated by Federal Reserve Janet Yellen, who on Tuesday said that waiting too long to raise interest rates would be “unwise,” which some analysts interpreted as increasing the odds for a rate increase in March.

Anticipation of higher rates tend to encourage selling in bonds, with the expectation that newly issued paper will offer more attractive yields. But Treasury yields haven’t moved much, which may suggest that Wall Street, after being jolted by Yellen’s early hint of future hikes, doesn’t think a rate increase is likely. The market is pricing in a roughly 18% probability of an interest-rate increase in March, after being around 30% earlier in the week.

In European markets, the yield on the 10-year German bund /quotes/zigman/15866409/realtime BX:TMBMKDE-10Y -14.34% , considered the benchmark for European government bonds, fell 5.0 basis points to 0.30%. The French 10-year bond /quotes/zigman/15866467/realtime BX:TMBMKFR-10Y -6.43%  yielded 1.04%, gaining 2.8 basis points. The yield on the Italian 10-year bond /quotes/zigman/15866497/realtime BX:TMBMKIT-10Y +6.37%  rose 2.7 basis points to 2.17%.

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Ryan Vlastelica is a markets reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @RyanVlastelica.

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