The Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise the Federal Funds rate by 25 bps on March 16, 2022. This move was well telegraphed and not at all surprising—but that doesn’t mean that we won’t hear concerns about how rising rates will impact equity returns. Finance theory teaches us that, other things equal, rising interest rates are not good for the performance of stocks, as rising borrowing costs and higher discount rates tends to translate to lower future performance. For the much of history, empirical evidence has aligned with the theory. But in more recent data, we have noticed that “other things” may not have always been equal.
At a cursory glance, rising rates have not necessarily boded ill for equity performance, at least in the period from 1991 through 2021. There were eight episodes when the 10-Year U.S. Treasury yield rose. The S&P 500® declined in none of these; in two cases equities were flat, and the S&P 500 rose in six, in some instances quite substantially.
Breaking down the period in Exhibit 1, there were 156 months when the 10-Year U.S. Treasury yield rose (and 216 months when it declined). Of the months when the 10-Year U.S. Treasury yield rose, the S&P 500 gained in 115 (74%) and declined in 41; the S&P 500 rose nearly three times as often as it fell when interest rates rose. On average, the S&P 500 gained 1.57% each month that rates rose, versus just 0.55% in months when rates declined.
We can also look at these months graphically in the scatter plot in Exhibit 3. Here we plot the change in the 10-Year U.S. Treasury yield against the performance of the S&P 500 for the same period from 1990 through 2021. Each point represents a monthly observation, and we see no discernible relationship. The blob speaks for itself—or rather, it doesn’t. History does not provide evidence of a clear link between changes in interest rates and changes in the equity market.
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