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With the yield curve hitting its flattest level of the expansion last week, many are wondering what impact that will have on the stock market.
The yield curve is a leading indicator of the economy, but the stock market is one as well. So to provide advance warning for stocks, the yield curve must be a longer leading indicator.
Looking back at history, that does seem to be the case. The yield curve has inverted before 6 out of the last 9 recessionary stock market peaks, with an average lead time of 8 months.
In the last economic cycle, the yield curve would invert 21 months before the stock market peak in October 2007. That’s a long time to wait, exposing just one of the problems in using the yield curve to time your stock market exposure.
Another issue is that the stock market is not the economy. Stocks can go down without a recession or a yield curve inversion, as we saw most recently in 2011.
Thus far we’ve focused only on an inversion of the curve as it relates to stock market peaks.
The chart below illustrates S&P 500 returns at various yield curve levels. There does not appear to be a linear relationship here between the yield curve and the concurrent return for stocks.
In the lowest decile for the yield curve (-3.07% to -0.27%), stocks have generated an annualized return of 6.9%, a higher return than in the second decile (4.5%). At the current yield curve level of 0.66%, stocks have annualized at 18.9%.
But since the yield curve is a longer leading indicator than stocks, what we really want to focus on is future returns.
There does seem to be some evidence of that, with the weakest forward stock market returns occurring in deciles 9 and 10 (yield curve range of -3.07% to 0.09%).
The odds of a positive return are lower as well.
We’re still a ways off from entering the bottom two deciles today, but this is something to keep in mind. As the yield curve flattens towards inversion, the odds suggest a more difficult period for stocks awaits. It is important to remember, though, that this is by no means a prerequisite; stocks can decline sharply irrespective of the curve.
Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts. He is the co-author of four award-winning research papers on market anomalies and investing. Charlie is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors and previously held positions as a Credit, Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms.
Charlie holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University. He has also done a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.
In 2017, Charlie was named the StockTwits Person of the Year. He has been named by Business Insider and MarketWatch as one of the top people to follow on Twitter. His work has also been featured in Barron’s, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal.
You can follow Charlie on twitter here.
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