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Early Thursday morning, investors were feeling pretty good about the trading week. At that point, the S&P 500 was up 1% on the day and about 2.7% week-to-date, and the index had actually just pushed back above its 200-day moving average.
There was nothing we could identify in the news that caused the S&P to peak around 10 AM ET, but from that point through the closing bell on Friday, the index fell 5.3% in basically as straight of a line lower that you can draw.
Fed Chair Powell did, however, make comments in a speech at the IMF mid-day Thursday where he confirmed that a 50 basis point hike was “on the table” for the May meeting. Markets have been pricing high odds for 50 bps hikes for some time now, but Powell’s comments basically cemented them (for now).
The Powell Fed is known for its jawboning and transparency when it comes to the path for rates. The chart below of equities and fixed income in 2022 tells you what these two asset classes currently think of that jawboning:
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Since mid to late-2019 when interest rates really started to fall, the dividend yield on the S&P 500 consistently provided a higher yield than the two-year US Treasury. With a higher payout plus the potential for price appreciation, equities looked more attractive to many investors. The period from the Financial Crisis through 2017 also saw a similar setup where the S&P 500’s dividend yield was higher than the yield on the 2-year, but before the Financial Crisis and the FOMC’s zero-interest-rate policy, it was extremely uncommon for the S&P 500 to yield more than the two-year Treasury. This year has caused a tidal shift in the balance of power in yield between the S&P 500 and the two-year Treasury. As the Fed came to the conclusion that inflation wasn’t as transitory as originally thought and found itself behind the inflation curve, it shifted from a much more accommodative stance to one that was more biased towards tightening, and that shift resulted in one of the most rapid increases in two-year Treasury yields in decades. In the process of this spike in rates, back in February, the yield on the two-year rose back above the dividend yield of the S&P 500 for the first time since 2019.
As Treasury yields have continued to spike, the premium in yield of two-year Treasuries relative to the dividend yield of the S&P 500 reached an important milestone last Friday (4/8). As shown in the chart below, the spread between their yields widened out to 110 basis points (bps), taking out the high of 108 bps from 2018. At these levels, the spread between the two is now the widest it has been in fourteen years since the Financial Crisis. It started with long-term Treasury yields, but as the overall trend in rates has been higher, most of the Treasury yield curve is now yielding more than the S&P 500. For years now, investors have had a TINA (There Is No Alternative) relationship with the stock market, but as interest rates have shot higher, TINA is taking a backseat to BABY (Bonds Are Better Yielders). Click here to try out Bespoke’s premium research service.
US Treasury yields have experienced a dramatic move higher as the market prices in continued rate hikes in the near future. With the increase in long-term Treasury yields, we’re starting to see what looks like the end of a period where the S&P 500 and the 10-year Treasury fought back and forth over which asset class had a more attractive yield.
As shown in the chart below, from 1970 right up to the period before the global financial crisis, the 10-year yield consistently yielded more than the S&P 500. As the Fed cut rates to zero during the crisis, though, the S&P 500 went on to see multiple periods where its dividend yield was in excess of the 10-year Treasury yield. With the recent surge in yields as the Fed embarks on what the market expects to be an aggressive rate hiking cycle, the script has been completely flipped. The 10-year now offers a roughly 125 bps higher yield than the S&P 500 dividend yield which is the widest spread since the fall of 2018 and before that, the fall of 2011. As the spread between the S&P 500 dividend yield and 10-year Treasury yield hits the low end of the GFC/post-GFC era, we would note that current levels are still roughly 200 bps higher than the historical average going back to 1970. Click here to view Bespoke’s premium membership options.