The historic surge in interest rates impacted both stocks and bonds
Beneath all of the headlines and day-to-day market noise, one key factor drove markets: the surge in interest rates broke their 40-year declining trend. Since the late 1980s, falling rates have helped to boost both stock and bond prices. Over the past year, the jump in inflation pushed nominal rates higher and forced the Fed to hike policy rates. This led to declines across asset classes at the same time.
While this has created challenges for diversification, there is also reason for optimism. Most inflation measures are showing signs of easing, even if they are still elevated. This has allowed interest rates to settle back down in recent months even as the Fed continues to hike rates. While still highly uncertain, most economists expect inflation and rates to stabilize over the next year rather than repeat the patterns of 2022.
The Fed raised rates at a historically fast pace
The Fed hiked rates across seven consecutive meetings in 2022 including four 75 basis point hikes in a row. At a range of 4.25% to 4.50%, the fed funds rate is now the highest since the housing bubble prior to 2008. In its communication, the Fed has remained committed to raising rates further and keeping them higher for longer in order to fight inflation.
This is where the market arguably had unrealistic expectations last year. The market rally from June to August and again in October and November occurred when investors believed the Fed might begin loosening policy. When these hopes were dashed, markets promptly reversed, causing several back-and-forth swings over the course of the year. These episodes show that good news that is supported by data can be priced in quickly but that investors should not get ahead of themselves.
History shows that bear markets eventually recover when it's least expected
While 2022 was challenging, history shows that markets can turn around when investors least expect it. While it can take two years for the average bear market to fully recover, it’s difficult if not impossible to predict when the inflection point will occur.
Many investors have wished that they could go back to mid-2020 or 2008 and jumped back into the market. If research and history tell us anything, it’s that it’s better and easier to simply stay invested than to try to time the market. This could be true again in 2023, just as it was during previous bear market cycles.