The stock market has been like a rocket ship over the last three years 2019/2020/2021, advancing +90% as measured by the S&P 500 index, and +136% for the NASDAQ. After this meteoric multi-year rise, stock values started to come back to earth in 2022, and the rocket ship turned into a roller coaster during January. More specifically, the S&P 500 fell -5% for the month and the NASDAQ -9%. Yes, it’s true volatility has increased, and your blood pressure may have risen with all the ups and downs. However, the fact remains the economy remains strong, corporate profits are at record levels, unemployment is low, and interest rates remain at attractive levels despite nagging inflation (see chart below) and the removal of accommodative monetary policies by the Federal Reserve.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
I did okay in school and was educated on many different topics, including the basic principle that math matters. This notion rings especially true when it comes to finance and investing. As I have discussed numerous times in the past, money goes where it is treated best, which is why interest rates, cash flows, and valuations play such a key role in ultimately determining long-term values across all asset classes. This concept of money seeking the best home applies equally to stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, crypto-currencies, and any other asset class you can imagine because interest rates help determine the cost of holding and using money.
Normally, mathematics teaches us the lesson that more is better when discussing financial matters. And currently the stock market is compensating investors significantly more for investing in stocks relative to investing in bonds – I have reviewed this concept repeatedly on my Investing Caffeine blog (see Going Shopping: Chicken vs. Beef ). Currently, investors are getting paid about +5% to hold stocks based on the forward earnings yield (i.e., the inverse of the stock market’s Price-Earnings ratio of 20x) vs. the +2% yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note (1.78% more precisely on 1/31/22). What’s more, historically speaking, stock investors typically get rewarded with an earnings yield that doubles about every 10 years, whereas bond yields usually remain stagnantly flat, if bonds are held until maturity.
With that said, I am always quick to point out that diversification in a portfolio is important (i.e., most people should at least own some bonds), even if bonds are currently very expensive relative to other asset classes (see Sleeping on Expensive Financial Pillows). If bond yields climb significantly to the point where returns are more competitive with stocks, I will likely be buying significantly more bonds for me and my Sidoxia (www.sidoxia.com) clients.
The recent stock market volatility is reinforcing the idea that the Federal Reserve’s more aggressive stance regarding hiking interest rates is making many investors very anxious – just not me. I have lived through many tightening cycles in my lifetime and lived to tell the tale. It is true that all else equal, higher interest rates generally depress asset values, but it is also important to place the current interest rate environment in historical context. Although the Federal Funds interest rate target is expected to increase to 2.5% over the next few years (currently at 0%), this forecast is nothing new and there is no guarantee the Fed can successfully pull off this feat. Many people have short memories and forget the Fed hiked interest rates 10 times from the end of 2015 through 2018. In the face of this scary period, the stock market (S&P 500) still managed to approximately climb a respectable +22% (albeit with some volatility). Furthermore, if you give the Fed the benefit of the doubt of achieving this uncertain target, this 2.5% level is very appealing and still extremely low, historically speaking (see chart below).
Source: Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED)
When discussing interest rates and inflation, investors should also expand their views globally to the other 95% of the world’s population. Many investors are very myopic in their focus on U.S. interest rates. It is important to understand that rates are not just low here in the United States, but also low almost everywhere else as well. While international interest rates have bounced marginally higher in recent months, those countries’ long-term international rates, by and large, remain tremendously low too – in most cases even lower than rates in the U.S. (see chart below). Yes, the Fed has some control over short-term interest rates in the U.S., but considering other crucial forces that are depressing long-term global rates is worth pondering. Factors such as globalization and the pervading expansion of deflationary technology into our personal and work lives are contributing to disinflation. Valuable conclusions can be synthesized beyond digesting the pessimistic and nauseating analysis of Jerome Powell’s Congressional testimony, along with the needless wordsmithing of recent Fed minutes.
Source: Edward Yardeni
In order to earn above-average, financial returns in your portfolio over the long-run, experiencing unsettling volatility and corrections is the price of doing business. Flying on rocket ships might be fun, but sometimes the rocket can run out of gas, and you are forced to jump on a roller coaster. The ups-and-downs can be frustrating at times, but if you stay on for the full ride, you will almost always end with a smile on your face when it’s over.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (February 1, 2022). Subscribe at InvestingCaffeine.com.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in 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