The Relationship Between the Yield Curve and the Stock Market

With the yield curve hitting its flattest level of the expansion last week, many are wondering what impact that will have on the stock market.

Yield curve and US recessions graph5

Data Sources for all tables herein: NBER, FRED, Bloomberg. Using monthly data.

The yield curve is a leading indicator of the economy, but the stock market is one as well. So to provide advance warning for stocks, the yield curve must be a longer leading indicator.

Looking back at history, that does seem to be the case. The yield curve has inverted before 6 out of the last 9 recessionary stock market peaks, with an average lead time of 8 months.

Inverted Yield curve and S&P 500 peaks chart1

In the last economic cycle, the yield curve would invert 21 months before the stock market peak in October 2007. That’s a long time to wait, exposing just one of the problems in using the yield curve to time your stock market exposure.

Another issue is that the stock market is not the economy. Stocks can go down without a recession or a yield curve inversion, as we saw most recently in 2011.

S&P 500 bear markets without a recession (1956 till today) chart3-1

Thus far we’ve focused only on an inversion of the curve as it relates to stock market peaks.

What does the yield curve level itself tell us, if anything, about general stock market performance?

The chart below illustrates S&P 500 returns at various yield curve levels. There does not appear to be a linear relationship here between the yield curve and the concurrent return for stocks.

Annualized total returms by yield curve levels graph4

In the lowest decile for the yield curve (-3.07% to -0.27%), stocks have generated an annualized return of 6.9%, a higher return than in the second decile (4.5%). At the current yield curve level of 0.66%, stocks have annualized at 18.9%.

S&P 500 returns by yield curve decile (1953 to 2018) chart5

But since the yield curve is a longer leading indicator than stocks, what we really want to focus on is future returns.

Does the stock market perform worse after flatter or inverted levels for the yield curve?

There does seem to be some evidence of that, with the weakest forward stock market returns occurring in deciles 9 and 10 (yield curve range of -3.07% to 0.09%).

Decile yield curve range and forward S&P 500 total returns from 1953 to 2018 list

The odds of a positive return are lower as well.

Image of Forward S&P 500 positive total returns from 1953 till 2018

We’re still a ways off from entering the bottom two deciles today, but this is something to keep in mind. As the yield curve flattens towards inversion, the odds suggest a more difficult period for stocks awaits. It is important to remember, though, that this is by no means a prerequisite; stocks can decline sharply irrespective of the curve.


Related Posts:

Inverted Yield Curves and Recessions



Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts. He is the co-author of four award-winning research papers on market anomalies and investing. Charlie is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors and previously held positions as a Credit, Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms.

Charlie holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University. He has also done a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.

In 2017, Charlie was named the StockTwits Person of the Year. He has been named by Business Insider and MarketWatch as one of the top people to follow on Twitter. His work has also been featured in Barron’s, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal.

You can follow Charlie on twitter here.


Pension Partners, LLC is a federally registered investment adviser under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The oral and written communications of an adviser provide you with information about which you determine to hire or retain an adviser. For more information about Pension Partners please visit: and search for our firm name.

The information herein was obtained from various sources. Pension Partners does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information provided by third parties. The information given is as of the date indicated and believed to be reliable. Pension Partners assumes no obligation to update this information or to advise on further developments relating to it.

Past performance is not indicative nor a guarantee of future results.


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