After a strong start to the year, volatility in markets has risen. Investors appear concerned that the Federal Reserve (Fed) may reduce policy accommodation at a faster rate than previously expected. At the same time, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has jumped from a low of 1.35% in late December to above 1.70% for the first time since April 2021.
A shift in Fed policy often injects volatility into markets. Indeed, this is one of the key points we discussed in our 2022 outlook and is a reason behind why we are looking for more moderate market returns and more normal pullbacks.
That said, stocks have generally had positive performance during periods where the Fed is raising short-term rates because this is normally paired with a healthy economy. A growing economy supports corporate profit growth, which supports the stock market.
Moreover, with U.S. GDP output above pre-pandemic levels, annual job gains in 2021 at a record level, and inflation well above average, it’s hard to justify maximum monetary policy accommodation when the economy is no longer in crisis.
However, it will be a long time before one could argue that Fed policy is restrictive, especially when one considers that yields after inflation, known as real yields, remain in deeply-negative territory. This stands in sharp contrast to 2018, when markets had a sharp selloff late in the year when real yields were slightly positive and investors were concerned the Fed was becoming too aggressive.
Notably, stocks have risen at an average annualized rate of 9% during the 12 Fed rate hike cycles since the 1950s and showed positive returns in 11 of those instances. The one exception was the 1972-1974 period, which coincided with the 1973-1975 recession. Our work suggests near-term recession risks remain low.
Likewise, stocks have generally risen during periods of rising 10-year U.S. Treasury yields. In a study of 15 periods where intermediate rates rose by at least 1.5 percentage points since 1950, stocks averaged an annualized gain of 12%. The exceptions have coincided with recessions or economic slowdowns.
Importantly, intermediate-term rates are only back to pre-pandemic levels. This is certainly justified in our view given the aforementioned economic and inflation backdrop. It’s also consistent with our fixed income team’s outlook for higher rates and higher volatility.
Even with the recent rise in 10-year yields and stocks, the equity risk premium, a metric that compares the valuation of stocks to bonds, remains at a level that has historically corresponded with stocks outperforming bonds on a 12-month basis by an average of almost 11%. Accordingly, we do not see the current level of the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield as a significant threat to the bull market.
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