Do Higher Interest Rates Lead to Lower Stock Prices?
Common economic "theory" says that, as interest rates rise, stock prices should fall, since investors will demand a higher return on investment (i.e., investors will now pay less for a given future earnings stream) in a higher interest rate environment. Offhand, this logic seems plausible. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall--and so should stock prices, since stocks are a "substitute" investment for bonds.
To see if history supports these common investor beliefs, I took a look at interest rate (10-year Treasury) and stock price (S&P 500) data for the past two centuries:
Period: 1801 to 2004
Average annual % change in 10-yr. Treas. rate: 0.3%
Average annual % change in S&P 500: 4.4%
Correlation between inflation and stocks: -0.14
Quartiles: I, II, III, IV (sorted by change in Treas. rate, from high to low)
Average annual % change in 10-yr. Treas. rate: 13.5%, 1.8%, -1.8%, -12.2%
Average annual % change in S&P 500: 3.9%, -1.6%, 4.8%, 10.6%
Correlation between inflation and stocks: 0.03, -0.10, -0.30, -0.02
Note: "% change" is defined as (R2-R1)/R1, where R1 and R2 are rates or prices in consecutive years.
For this 204-year period, the correlation between interest rates and stock prices has generally been weak, based on annual data. Rising interest rates have been accompanied by falling stock prices just as often as they have by rising stock prices. Quartile data also do not show any pronounced pattern with a strong enough correlation coefficient to lend support to a cause-effect relationship.
Nor is there any obvious pattern among the years with the largest percentage changes in interest rates:
Year: % Change in 10-Yr. Treas. Rate, S&P 500 Return
1999: 38.7%, 19.5%
1994: 34.5%, -1.5%
1919: 30.7%, 14.0%
1969: 27.9%, -11.4%
1967: 22.8%, 20.1%
1987: 22.1%, 2.0%
1931: 22.1%, -47.0%
1959: 21.5%, 8.5%
1956: 21.3%, 2.6%
1814: 21.3%, -16.7%
1950: 21.1%, 21.8%
1980: 20.3%, 25.8%
1958: 20.3%, 38.1%
For example, in 1999, the 10-year Treasury rose in yield from 4.65% to 6.45% (a 38.7% rise, making it the highest percentage change among all 204 years in the study!); yet, instead of falling, the S&P 500 rose sharply by 19.5%.
These data certainly do not indicate any "obvious" relationship between interest rates and stock prices. In other words, the belief that stock prices should fall because interest rates rise is not well supported by historical evidence.