Which Assets Have Done Well During Fed Rate Hikes? | Lord Abbett
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Market View

A look at the last five rate-hike cycles could offer some clues about the next one.

Read time: 5 minutes

With the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) widely expected to begin their QE tapering in early 2023, and inflation running uncomfortably higher than the Fed’s target, the question for most observers is: When will the hikes begin, and how quickly will the Fed raise rates? As of mid-November, markets were pricing in five quarter-point hikes in the benchmark fed funds rate target by the end of 2023, with persistently high inflationary measures likely to introduce some level of uncertainty to these market expectations in coming months. Yet while expectations around the pace of hikes may shift in the coming months, it seems clear that investors need to prepare for a Fed hiking environment.

What might this mean for investors? One way to assess the potential impact is to look at history, although past performance is not a guar­antee of future results. In a previous Market View, we looked at how short-term bonds fared during previous Fed rate-hike cycles. Now, we will cast a wider net to look at the historical impact on other key asset classes.

But first, let’s get our bearings. Figure 1 tracks changes in the fed funds rate over the past three-plus decades, and the most recent projections for where the rate could be headed.


Figure 1. A Look at Past Increases in the Fed Funds Rate …
Effective fed funds rate, December 1987–October 2021

… and Where It May Be Headed Next
Expectations for rate increases in the United States, based on the Federal Reserve’s “dot plot” projections, fed funds futures, and overnight index swap futures

Source: Federal Reserve and Bloomberg.
Upper panel: Data compiled November 17, 2021. A basis point is equivalent to one one-hundredth of a percentage point; the figures accompanying arrows in the chart refer to the size of the total increase in the fed funds rate during the indicated period.
Lower panel: Data as of 09/30/2021. FOMC = Federal Open Market Committee. The federal funds market consists of domestic unsecured borrowings in U.S. dollars by depository institutions from other depository institutions and certain other entities, primarily government-sponsored enterprises. The forward rate is a fixed/float interest-rate swap where the floating leg is computed using a published overnight index rate. The index rate (OIS) is typically the rate for overnight unsecured lending between banks, for example, the federal funds rate for U.S. dollars.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator or guarantee of future results. For illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees and expenses, and are not available for direct investment.


In viewing the last five, distinct rate-hike periods, we see that the Fed has moved rapidly, as in 1994, and more gradually, such as during 2004–06. To see where the rate might be going in the months ahead, the lower panel of Figure 1 shows four sets of projections: 1) the actual rate projections (the so-called “dot plot”) from 17 Fed board members; 2) a line indicating the median points from the “dot-plot” predictions; 3) the rate priced into the fed funds rate-futures market for the next three years; and 4) the expected fed funds rate based on overnight index swaps. We think there are two important takeaways here: all projections shown suggest a far less aggressive series of hikes than seen in previous cycles; and market expectations of where the fed funds rate will be after 2023 are lower than the Fed’s own projections, even as the market anticipates a faster rate of hikes than the Fed dot plot over the next two years.

Now that we’ve mapped the interest-rate landscape, let’s turn back to those last five Fed rate-hike periods and summarize the performance of various segments of the bond and stock markets during each period to assess how markets might react in the coming years. We present this performance in Figure 2.


Figure 2. How Have Key Asset Classes Performed during Past Periods of Fed Rate Hikes?
Total return by index during indicated periods of U.S. Federal Reserve rate hikes

Source: FTSE Russell, Bloomberg, ICE BofA Indices, Credit Suisse. Two-Year U.S. Treasury = ICE BofA Current 2-Year U.S. Treasury Index. 10-Year U.S. Treasury = ICE BofA Current 10-Year U.S. Treasury Index. Bloomberg Aggre­gate = Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. Short Corporate Bonds = ICE BofA 1-3 Year U.S. Corporate Bond Index. Bank Loans = Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index (historical data for this index is monthly; returns reflect nearest month-end). U.S. High Yield = ICE BofA High Yield Index. Growth Stocks = Russell 1000® Growth Index. Value stocks = Russell 1000® Value Index.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator or guarantee of future results. For illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees and expenses, and are not available for direct investment. 


What happened in each of the sectors? Here are some observations:

U.S. Treasuries: The performance of U.S. government bonds during the five periods in our survey was largely a function of the bonds’ maturity. The lower duration, or price responsiveness to interest-rate changes, of a repre­sentative, two-year U.S. Treasury index allowed a positive return in every cycle and an average return of 1.87% during these periods. The story changes dramatically farther out on the yield curve, as an index of 10-year U.S. Treasury securities posted an average return of -0.88%.

U.S. Short-Term Corporate Bonds: The performance picture improved greatly outside the government-bond sector during the rate-hike periods in our survey. A representative index of one- to three-year U.S. investment-grade corporate securities handily outperformed both classes of U.S. Treasury securities in each of the past five Fed rate-hike episodes. The October 25 Market View cited earlier contains more detailed information on the historical outperformance of short-term bonds during periods of Fed rate hikes.

Bank Loans: There have been four Fed-tightening cycles since 1992, which is the beginning of reliable bank-loan index data. The episodes shown represent a range of rate hikes and time frames. In each case, bank loans (as measured by the Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index) performed well relative to the alternatives. While past performance is no guarantee that bank loans will again perform in a similar manner in the next rate-hike cycle, current forecasts indicate that initial rate hikes likely will coincide with periods of self-sustaining U.S. economic strength. More robust U.S. growth likely would also support the economically sensitive bank loan sector. Based on current valuation measures, the bank loan sector offers potentially attractive relative returns, almost regardless of when the Fed chooses to hike rates.

U.S. High Yield: In every period but the interval of June 1999–May 2000, the representative ICE BofA High Yield Index outperformed the Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. The high yield index also returned more than the two-year U.S. Treasury note during four of these five periods. If we combine all five periods, the high yield index provided an average return of 4.00%, compared to 1.52% for the Bloomberg Aggregate and 1.87% for the two-year Treasury index. The historical returns of the high yield index imply economic sensitivity, rather than rate sensitivity, for the asset class, and the importance of the higher yield that accrues over time. The criteria that favor rate hikes—stronger economic growth and moderately increasing inflation—seem to argue for U.S. high yield securities.

U.S. Equities: Over the five tightening cycles, the average returns of the representative Russell 1000® Growth Index (10.10%) and Russell 1000® Value Index (6.38%) signaled the historical resilience of the respective equity categories. Although many investors worry that growth equities can struggle during periods of rising interest rates, we can see that they have actually fared extremely well during periods of Fed hikes. Meanwhile, some investors fret about the potential for problems with value stocks, either from rising rates hurting high dividend stocks, or from low margins getting squeezed in inflationary environments. Yet, Lord Abbett Portfolio Manager Jeffrey Herzog recently noted that during inflationary periods, which tend to prompt Fed rate hikes, “value equities provide some defense because these firms’ cash flows are more near term and therefore less impacted by discounting.” Value equities are also often leveraged firms, and inflation tends to lessen the constraint of leverage through higher nominal growth rates in business activity, according to Herzog. Meanwhile, he notes, growth investing strategies that employ momentum factors “have also held up well when inflation is accelerating … momentum tends to reveal those companies that are able to maintain pricing power and navigate through changes in the economic environment.”

Summing Up

The start of a Fed rate-hike cycle can engender uncertainty in financial markets, especially when a period of near-zero interest rates looks set to come to an end. Regardless of an investor’s appetite for risk, there have been several investment strategies that historically have worked well during periods of Fed policy tightening. Investors may wish to review them as the day of rate-hike reckoning approaches.

—Edited by Will Andrews

Special thanks to Lord Abbett Messaging Strategist Umair Akhter and Associate Director, Corporate Services Quyen Lu for their help in the preparation of this article.



Unless otherwise noted, all discussions are based on U.S. markets and U.S. monetary and fiscal policies.


Asset allocation or diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.


No investing strategy can overcome all market volatility or guarantee future results.


The value of investments and any income from them is not guaranteed and may fall as well as rise, and an investor may not get back the amount originally invested. Investment decisions should always be made based on an investor’s specific financial needs, objectives, goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.


Market forecasts and projections are based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice. Projections should not be considered a guarantee.


Equity Investing Risks


The value of investments in equity securities will fluctuate in response to general economic conditions and to changes in the prospects of companies and/or sectors in the economy. While growth stocks are subject to the daily ups and downs of the stock market, their long-term potential as well as their volatility can be substantial. Value investing involves the risk that the market may not recognize that securities are undervalued, and they may not appreciate as anticipated. Smaller companies tend to be more volatile and less liquid than larger companies. Small cap companies may also have more limited product lines, markets, or financial resources and typically experience a higher risk of failure than large cap companies.


Fixed-Income Investing Risks


The value of investments in fixed-income securities will change as interest rates fluctuate and in response to market movements. Generally, when interest rates rise, the prices of debt securities fall, and when interest rates fall, prices generally rise. High yield securities, sometimes called junk bonds, carry increased risks of price volatility, illiquidity, and the possibility of default in the timely payment of interest and principal. Bonds may also be subject to other types of risk, such as call, credit, liquidity, and general market risks. Longer-term debt securities are usually more sensitive to interest-rate changes; the longer the maturity of a security, the greater the effect a change in interest rates is likely to have on its price. 


The credit quality of fixed-income securities in a portfolio is assigned by a nationally recognized statistical rating organization (NRSRO), such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, or Fitch, as an indication of an issuer’s creditworthiness. Ratings range from ‘AAA’ (highest) to ‘D’ (lowest). Bonds rated ‘BBB’ or above are considered investment grade. Credit ratings ‘BB’ and below are lower-rated securities (junk bonds). High-yielding, non-investment-grade bonds (junk bonds) involve higher risks than investment-grade bonds. Adverse conditions may affect the issuer’s ability to pay interest and principal on these securities.


This material may contain assumptions that are “forward-looking statements,” which are based on certain assumptions of future events. Actual events are difficult to predict and may differ from those assumed. There can be no assurance that forward-looking statements will materialize or that actual returns or results will not be materially different from those described here.


The views and opinions expressed are as of the date of publication, and do not necessarily represent the views of the firm as a whole. Any such views are subject to change at any time based upon market or other conditions and Lord Abbett disclaims any responsibility to update such views. Lord Abbett cannot be responsible for any direct or incidental loss incurred by applying any of the information offered.


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Please consult your investment professional for additional information concerning your specific situation.


Glossary & Index Definitions


Treasuries are debt securities issued by the U.S. government and secured by its full faith and credit. Income from Treasury securities is exempt from state and local taxes.


basis point is one one-hundredth of a percentage point.


The federal funds (fed funds) rate is the target interest rate set by the Fed at which commercial banks borrow and lend their excess reserves to each other overnight.


Growth/Value Investing: Growth stocks may be characterized as equities of companies that have demonstrated better-than-average gains in earnings in recent years and that are expected to continue delivering high levels of profit growth. Growth equities typically carry higher price-to-earnings multiples than the broader market, high earnings growth records, and greater volatility than broader market. Value stocks may be characterized as equities of companies that have fallen out of favor with investors but still have good fundamentals, or new companies that have yet to be recognized by investors. Value stocks typically feature lower price-to-earnings multiples than the broader market, and, often industry peers; and somewhat lower volatility than the overall equity market.


Yield is the income returned on an investment, such as the interest received from holding a security. The yield is usually expressed as an annual percentage rate based on the investment's cost, current market value, or face value.


The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index represents securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar denominated. The index covers the U.S. investment-grade, fixed-rate bond market, with index components for government and corporate securities, mortgage pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. Total return comprises price appreciation/depreciation and income as a percentage of the original investment.


Bloomberg Index Information


Source: Bloomberg Index Services Limited. BLOOMBERG® is a trademark and service mark of Bloomberg Finance L.P. and its affiliates (collectively “Bloomberg”). Bloomberg owns all proprietary rights in the Bloomberg Indices. Bloomberg does not approve or endorse this material or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information herein, or make any warranty, express or implied, as to the results to be obtained therefrom and, to the maximum extent allowed by law, shall not have any liability or responsibility for injury or damages arising in connection therewith.


The Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index is designed to mirror the investable universe of the U.S. dollar-denominated, leveraged loan market.


The ICE BofA 1-3 Year U.S. Corporate Index is an unmanaged index comprised of U.S. dollar-denominated, investment- grade, corporate debt securities publicly issued in the U.S. domestic market with between one and three years remaining to final maturity.


The ICE BofAML Current 2-Year U.S. Treasury Index is a one-security index comprised of the most recently issued two-year U.S. Treasury note. The index is rebalanced monthly.


The ICE BofAML Current 10-Year U.S. Treasury Index is a one-security index comprised of the most recently issued 10-year U.S. Treasury note. The index is rebalanced monthly.




The Russell 1000® Growth Index measures the performance of those Russell 1000 companies with higher price-to-book ratios and higher forecasted growth values.


The Russell 1000® Value Index measures the performance of those Russell 1000 companies with lower price-to-book ratios and lower forecasted growth values.


This material is the copyright © 2021 of Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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