To analyze the relative value argument, let’s look at the interaction of interest rates and stock valuations over the broad sweep of time. As shown below, extremely high stock market valuations occurred in 1929, 2000, and recently. But interest rates were extremely low only once (recently) during those three occurrences. If low interest rates coincide with extremely high stock valuations only one time out of three, then it is obvious that low interest rates cannot cause high stock valuations. Yet “low interest rates cause high stock valuations” is one of the certainties of the current mainstream narrative.
Source: Robert Shiller, multipl.com. Data through June 2017.
Isolating the times when interest rates were extremely low, that has occurred twice; in the 1940s and again in recent times. But in the 1940s, stock valuations were low. So, the statement that low interest rates cause high stock valuations is supported by a .500 batting average in the historical record, which is the equivalent of a coin-flip.
A better batting average is achieved by the relative value argument that extremely high interest rates coincide with extremely low stock market valuations, which occurred in 1921 and 1981. Although a sample size of two observations is not enough from which to draw a statistically-significant conclusion, at least the batting average is 1.000.
Summarizing the historical relationship between extremes in stock market valuations with extremes in interest rates:
- Extremely high interest rates, which have occurred twice, coincided with low stock market valuations. This fact does not prove that high interest rates “cause” low stock valuations. But at least the historical record is consistent with such a statement.
- Extremely low interest rates, which have occurred twice, have coincided with high stock market valuations only once; today. The historical record (1/2 probability) does not validate the highly-confident mainstream narrative that low interest rates “cause” or extremely high stock market valuations.
- Extremely high stock valuations have occurred three times. Only once (1/3 probability) did high stock valuations coincide with low interest rates; today.
- If extremely low interest rates do not cause extremely high stock market valuations, then a rise in rates should not necessarily cause a decline in stocks. That is, the historical record does not support the near-certain mainstream narrative that a rise in rates will torpedo stock prices.
- To demonstrate the ability of a consensus narrative to overwhelm analysis of historical facts and even current reality, consider that the Fed has hiked short-term interest rates five times since December 2015. Also, long-term rates bottomed in mid-2016 and have moved more than a full percent higher. Yet the S&P 500 index has risen more than 30% since the lows in short-term and long-term rates.