Much Ado About Interest Rates - S&P Global

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INDEX INVESTMENT STRATEGYSeptember 2013MUCH ADO ABOUT INTEREST RATESNow sit we close about this taper here,And call in question our necessities.Julius Caesar, Act 4Contributors:Fei Mei ChanAssociate DirectorIndex Investment Strategyfeimei.chan@spdji.comCraig J. Lazzara, CFASenior DirectorIndex Investment Strategycraig.lazzara@spdji.comWant more? Sign up toreceive complimentaryupdates on a broad rangeof index-related topics andevents brought to you byS&P Dow Jones Indices.www.spdji.comConventional wisdom tells us that rising interest rates are anathema to stocks. In recentweeks, the mere suggestion that the Federal Reserve might begin to taper, or reduce, itspurchases of long-term Treasury and mortgage securities has been enough to roil theequity markets in anticipation.Since yields peaked in 1981, the three subsequent decades have witnessed aremarkable bull market for bonds. The yield of the 10-year Treasury bond fell from morethan 15% in 1981 to its current level of less than 3% (see Exhibit 1).With interest rates at historically low levels, investors might reasonably assume that it’snot a matter of if but a question of when rates will increase. Hence stock market volatilityseems to spike with every suggestion of an imminent Federal Reserve action.Exhibit 1: 10-Year Treasury Yield from 1953 through 201318. Federal Reserve. Data from April 1953 through June, 2013. Charts are provided for illustrativepurposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.A Theoretical DigressionWhy do we assume that rising rates are bad for stocks? A review of basic finance mightshed some light on the relevant issues.One of the strongest arguments in favor of an inverse relationship between bond yieldsand stock prices comes from the classic Gordon growth model:DP k–g(1)in which1

Index Investment Strategy MUCH ADO ABOUT INTEREST RATESooooP is the fair value of a stockD is its current dividendk is the appropriate discount rate, andg is the projected growth rate of dividends.We can decompose the discount rate into a risk-free rate and a risk premium:k Rf Rp(2)So if the risk-free (e.g., the 10 year Treasury) rate increases, so does the discount rate k,and the fair value of the stock declines. Other things equal, rising rates are bad for1stocks, and falling rates are good.But other things may not be equal. We can expand equation (1) by remembering thatdividends are the product of earnings (E) and the payout ratio (PO), and that earnings area function of return on equity (ROE) and book value (BV):Other things equal,rising rates are badfor stocks, and fallingrates are good.D PO * E(3)E ROE * BV(4)So thatP ROE * PO * BV(Rf Rp) – g(5)Now, imagine a scenario in which the economy, having been in the doldrums, begins toperform better. This might well trigger an increase in government bond rates, which onits own should cause stock prices to fall. But equation (5) helps us to identify somepotentially countervailing factors: If the resurgent economy causes growth forecasts to increase, the g term in thedenominator of equation (5) will increase, which indicates a higher level of stockprices. Similarly, if corporate profits rise, the ROE term in equation (5)’s numerator couldincrease, pushing prices up. And if corporate boards and managements feel more confident, they mayincrease dividend payout ratios, leading to a further increase in the numerator ofequation (5).These countervailing factors might make it possible for interest rates and stock prices torise at the same time. In this scenario, rather than rates causing stocks to move, it’sbetter to consider that rates and stock prices can both be driven by the same set ofexogenous economic variables.1N.B. In this formulation it is rising interest rates that are bad for stocks, not “high” interest rates. Consider, e.g., a scenario inwhich high inflation produces high interest rates. Companies which can pass inflation through to their customers may do quitewell in such an environment, despite the relatively high level of nominal rates.2

Index Investment Strategy MUCH ADO ABOUT INTEREST RATESA Case for Discounting?Does the theory play out in practice? Exhibit 2 shows us the interaction of interest ratesand the U.S. stock market over the past 22 years. Since 1991, we can easily identifythree periods of rising interest rates and four periods when rates fell.While each of the three rising rate environments was characterized by particular idiosyncrasies, the S&P 500 rose in all three episodes, and in three of the four periodswhen interest rates declined. Since 1991, at least, interest rates seem not to have beena decisive factor in equity performance.Exhibit 2: 10-Year Treasury Rate from 1991 through 2013While each of the lastthree rising rateenvironments wascharacterized byparticularidiosyncrasies, theS&P 500 rose in allthree episodes.Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices and Federal Reserve. Data from December 1990 through June 2013. Chartsare provided for illustrative purposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.Worse yet for the theoretical argument: Between January 1991 and June 2013, theaverage monthly return for the S&P 500 was 0.85%. Paradoxically, in the three periodsof rising rates, the average monthly return was 0.96%, compared to an average monthlyreturn of 0.82% for the periods of declining rates. Rising rates have clearly not beenbad for stocks over the past two decades.Conventional Wisdom CorroboratedWe can extend Exhibit 2’s analysis back in time. This may be particularly usefulbecause, although we’re able to identify periods of rising interest rates in the past 202years, they pale in comparison to the rising rates of the pre-1981 bond market.3Exhibit 3 shows that since April 1953, the average monthly return of the S&P 500 was0.94%. Of the 722 months within this period, there were 347 months when the 10-year4Treasury declined and 358 months when it rose. In months when the 10-year Treasurydeclined, the average monthly return for the S&P 500 was 1.38%. This compares to anaverage monthly return of just 0.63% in months when the 10-year Treasury rose, lessthan half the return of the declining months. Consequently, measured over the last 60years, rising rates have indeed been bad for the stock market.2See Fei Mei Chan and Craig Lazzara, “Income Beyond Bonds,” S&P Dow Jones Indices, March search-income-beyond-bonds.pdf.3The data start in 1953 since the Federal Reserve ended its control of government debt markets in mid-1951. (Controls hadbeen instituted as a wartime measure in April 1942.) See Robert L. Hetzel and Ralph F. Leach, “The Treasury-Fed Accord: ANew Narrative Account,” Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Economic Quarterly Volume 87/1 Winter 2001.4Of the total 722 months, there were 17 when the 10-year Treasury did not change.3

Index Investment Strategy MUCH ADO ABOUT INTEREST RATESExhibit 3a: Stock Performance in Rising and Declining Interest Rate Environments10-Year Down10-Year UpAllNo. of MonthsAverage Monthly S&P 500Return (%)3473587221.380.630.94Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices and Federal Reserve. Data from April 1953 through June 2013. Charts areprovided for illustrative purposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.Going further, Exhibit 3b breaks the data into modified “quartiles.” When 10-yearTreasury rates rose, the median increase was 14 bps, so we can use this breakpoint torefine our data sample into “large” increases and “small” increases. We can do the samefor periods of falling rates. (Coincidentally, the median monthly change when rates fellhappened to be -14 bps.) This lets us look at “large” and “small” rate declines separately.In the months when 10-year Treasury rates increased the most, the S&P 500 fell byan average of -0.12%. This quartile–with relatively large interest rate increases–is theonly quartile in which the S&P 500 declined on average. Contrariwise, in the 173 monthswhen interest rates declined the most, the S&P 500 experienced the best monthlyperformance (1.50% on average). Both results are consistent with the view thatrising rates are bad for the stock market.Data for the last 20years pose achallenge toconvention.Exhibit 3b: Interest Rate Quartiles and Stock PerformanceAverage MonthlyChange in 10No. of MonthsYear Treasury(bps)Biggest Declines173-33Moderate Declines174-7Moderate Increases1806Biggest Increases17832Average Monthly S&P500 Return (%)1.501.271.37-0.12Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices and Federal Reserve. Data from April 1953 through June 2013. Charts areprovided for illustrative purposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.A Challenge to ConventionThe data for the past two decades are not consistent with the entire history of the past 60years. The longer data set tells us that stocks do best when rates fall the most, and viceversa. But this does not seem to be reflected in recent years.To get a better sense of the timing of this apparent paradigm shift, we looked at thedifference in average monthly stock market returns contingent on interest rate behavior.For example, in 1970, the 10-year Treasury yield rose in four months and fell in eightmonths. In the four months when bond yields rose, the average return of the S&P 500was -4.27%; in the eight months when bond yields fell, the average return of the S&P 500was 2.86%. The “payoff” of falling rates in the stock market was therefore 7.12% in 1970,and that’s the value plotted in Exhibit 4.If the conventional wisdom is correct, all the values in Exhibit 4 would be positive – i.e.,stocks would always do better in months when rates fell compared to months in whichrates rose. For most of the 59 years plotted, that’s exactly what happened. Thirty-nine ofthe bars in Exhibit 4 point upward, meaning that falling rates were good for stocks 66% ofthe time.Interestingly, we begin to see far more exceptions to the conventional wisdom in the past15 years. Between 1954 and 1997, falling rates accompanied rising stock markets 80%of the time. Between 1998 and 2012, falling rates were associated with rising stocks only27% of the time.4

Index Investment Strategy MUCH ADO ABOUT INTEREST RATESExhibit 4: Average Monthly Spreads Between Declining and Increasing Interest Rates10%8%6%4%2%0%-2%-4%-6%-8%-10%-12%Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from 1954 through 2012. Charts are provided for illustrative purposes.Past performance is no guarantee of future results.Conventional wisdomis that rising interestrates are bad forstocks. Recent historyshows that's not aforgone conclusion.The post-1997 data are almost a mirror image of the full 60-year period. In the last 15years, the months when interest rates declined were also months when the S&P 500declined. Exhibit 5 shows the performance of the S&P 500 in declining and rising interestrate environments–this time juxtaposing the data for the two different periods (1953-1997and 1998-2013). The behavior of equities in the most recent history is starklydifferent from that of both the more distant history and the period as a whole.Exhibit 5: Interest Rates and Stock PerformanceAverage Monthly S&P 500 Return10-Year Down10-Year UpApril 1953-Dec 1997 (%)2.150.30Jan 1998-June 2013 (%)-0.381.81April 1953-June 2013 (%)1.380.63Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from April 1953 through June 2013. Charts are provided for illustrativepurposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.A Call for CircumspectionO! that a man might knowThe end of this day's business, ere it come;But it sufficeth that the day will end,And then the end is known.Julius Caesar, Act 5To what degree should the prospect of Federal Reserve tapering unsettle equityinvestors? The evidence does not allow a definitive answer. There are good reasons tobelieve that the prospective increase in interest rates will be bad for the stock market,and there are good reasons to believe the opposite. If it is true that interest rates andstock prices can both be driven by the same set of exogenous economic variables, it’sarguable that the variables that will lead the Fed to increase rates will also supporthigher equity prices.5

Index Investment Strategy MUCH ADO ABOUT INTEREST RATESAbout S&P Dow IndicesS&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a part of McGraw-Hill Financial, Inc., is the world’s largest, global resource for index-based concepts, data and research. Home to iconic financial market indicators, such as the S&P 500 and the Dow JonesSMIndustrial Average , S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC has over 115 years of experience constructing innovative andtransparent solutions that fulfill the needs of institutional and retail investors. More assets are invested in products basedupon our indices than any other provider in the world. With over 830,000 indices covering a wide range of assets classesacross the globe, S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC defines the way investors measure and trade the markets. To learn moreabout our company, please visit more? Sign up to receive complimentary updates on a broadrange of index-related topics and events brought to you by S&P DowJones Indices.6

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better to consider that rates and stock prices can both be driven by the same set of exogenous economic variables. 1 N.B. In this formulation it is rising interest rates that are bad for stocks, not "high" interest rates. Consider, e.g., a scenario in which high inflation produces high interest rates.

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