Well, the party may finally be over. Like the college dean who shuts down the campus party, the Fed has finally taken away the interest rate punch bowl that investors have enjoyed for so long. It may be hard to believe, but we have been in a secular interest rate decline for over thirty years. In fact, we have been in a declining interest rate environment for so long that for most of us (the authors included!) that is all that we have known.
This benign and beneficent market is portrayed in Exhibit 1, which plots the yield on the 10-year US Treasury bond dating back to the 1980s. We can see that interest rates peaked in the early 1980s near 16 percent and then began a long and consistent decline to 1.4 percent in June of 2016.
And, declining interest rates translate into rising prices for bonds. Over the last thirty years, the average annual return to the 10-year Treasury bond has been about 6.3 percent. Bottom line, it has been a great time to own bonds.
Importantly, we should not overlook that Treasury bonds are an economic “shock absorber”; they play a critical part in modern portfolio construction. In times of stress, investors have historically flocked to Treasury bonds as a natural hedge when the financial markets become more volatile or suffer a market downturn.
Exhibit 2 demonstrates the return to the 10-year Treasury bond during times of stress and recession in the U.S. financial markets. We can see that Treasury bonds outperformed stocks during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, the popping of the Tech Bubble in 2000 – 2002, and even in the brief recession of 1990.