Santa and the Interest Rate Hike Boogeyman via Investing Caffeine
Boo! … Rates are about to go up. Or are they? We’re in the fourth decade of a declining interest rate environment (see Don’t be a Fool), but every time the Federal Reserve Chairman speaks or monetary policies are discussed, investors nervously look over their shoulder or under their bed for the “Rate Hike Boogeyman.” While this nail-biting mentality has resulted in lost sleep for many, this mindset has also unfortunately led to a horrible forecasting batting average for economists. Santa and many equity investors have ignored the rate noise and have been singing Ho Ho Ho as stock prices hover near record highs.
A recent Deutsche Bank report describes the prognostication challenges here:
i.) For the last 10 years, professional forecasters have consistently been wrong on their predictions of rising interest rates.
Yost Partners was up 0.8% for the first quarter, while the Yost Focused Long Funds lost 5% net. The firm's benchmark, the MSCI World Index, declined by 5.2%. The funds' returns outperformed their benchmark due to their tilt toward value, high exposures to energy and financials and a bias toward quality. In his first-quarter letter Read More
ii.) For the last five years, investors haven’t fared any better. As you can see, they too have been continually wrong about their expectations for rising interest rates.
I’m the first to admit that rates have remained “lower for longer” than I guessed, but unlike many, I do not pretend to predict the exact timing of future rate increases. I strongly believe inevitable interest rate rises are not a matter of “if” but rather “when”. However, trying to forecast the timing of a rate increase can be a fool’s errand. Japan is a great case in point. If you take a look at the country’s interest rates on their long-term 10-year government bonds (see chart below), the yields have also been declining over the last quarter century. While the yield on the 10-Year U.S. Treasury Note is near all-time historic lows at 2.18%, that rate pales in comparison to the current 10-Year Japanese Bond which is yielding a minuscule 0.36%. While here in the states our long-term rates only briefly pierced below the 2% threshold, as you can see, Japanese rates have remained below 2% for a jaw-dropping duration of about 15 years.
There are plenty of reasons to explain the differences in the economic situation of the U.S. and Japan (see Japan Lost Decades), but despite the loose monetary policies of global central banks, history has proven that interest rates and inflation can remain stubbornly low for longer than expected.
The current pundit thinking has Federal Reserve Chairwoman Yellen leading the brigade towards a rate hike during mid-calendar 2015. Even if the forecasters finally get the interest rate right for once, the end-outcome is not going to be catastrophic for equity markets. One need look no further than 1994 when Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan increased the benchmark federal funds rate by a hefty +2.5%. (see 1994 Bond Repeat?). Rather than widespread financial carnage in the equity markets, the S&P 500 finished roughly flat in 1994 and resumed the decade-long bull market run in the following year.
Currently 15 of the 17 Fed policy makers see 2015 median short-term rates settling at 1.125% from the current level of 0-0.25%. This hardly qualifies as interest rate Armageddon. With a highly transparent and dovish Janet Yellen at the helm, I feel perfectly comfortable the markets can digest the inevitable Fed rate hikes. Will (could) there be volatility around changes in Fed monetary policy during 2015? Certainly – no different than we experienced during the “taper tantrum” response to Chairman Ben Bernanke’s rate rise threats in 2013 (see Fed Fatigue).
As 2014 comes to an end, Santa has wrapped investor portfolios with a generous bow of returns in the fifth year of this historic bull market. Not everyone, however, has been on Santa’s “nice” list. Regrettably, many sideliners have received no presents because they incorrectly assessed the elimination impact of Quantitative Easing (QE). If you prefer presents over a lump of coal in your stocking, it will be in your best interest to ignore the Rate Hike Boogeyman and jump on Santa’s sleigh.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions, including certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in DB or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.