Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stocks Twelve Months After a Rate Cut

If history is a guide, the Fed will cut rates today and will continue to cut for at least the next four months.

The top part of the chart at the right shows the graphs of the Fed Funds Target Rate and the yields on 90-day T-bills. The bottom of the chart shows the difference between the two in red. I discussed the significance of the recent divergence between the two short-term rates in our Sept. 4th post.

There have been four previous divergences that have approached one percent over the past 20 years: the crash of 1987, the S&L troubles of 1989, the Asian Financial crisis in 1998, and the popping of the tech bubble in 2000. In each case, as the divergence between Fed Funds and T-bills approached one percent (.9% more precisely) the Fed cut rates and the differential and, ultimately, the crisis went way.

I have done some additional studying of these divergences and I see two additional areas of interest:
  1. On average, after rates were cut, Fed Funds were lower by .75%, within four months . Thus, if history is to be our guide, today's cut is just the beginning.
  2. Twelve months after the first Fed rate cut during three of the credit crunches (1987,1989,1998), stocks were higher, including dividends, by nearly 20%. In the year following the tech bubble, stocks were down nearly 15%, including dividends. The average for the four periods was about 12%.

After what we have waded through 2007, the hopes of a 12% total return over the next year sounds very acceptable. However, I think it may well be better than that because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the poor performance of stocks in the year after the popping of the tech bubble. That pushed us into the time of Enron and then the 9-11. It would have been hard to imagine that stocks could have risen during that time, no matter what the Fed was doing.

Thus, I think it is best to call the period after the tech bubble a special case and drop it from our analysis. If we do that, as I said earlier, the average total return after the Fed started cutting rates in the other three occurrences of a credit crisis, was near 20%.

As they say, the future is not the past, but sometimes it is the best guide we have.