Rising interest rates and the economyOver the past 50 years, real GDP growth has averaged 3.11 percent a year. That growth rate has been stronger in times of a rising federal funds rate than in times when the rate has fallen. In calendar years when the federal funds rate has increased, real GDP growth has averaged 4.08 percent. In years when that rate has decreased, real GDP growth has averaged just 2.14 percent. The severity of the decrease also seems linked to the strength of the economy. When the federal funds rate has dropped by 1 percent or more, real GDP growth has averaged just 1.45 percent, and when that rate dropped by 2 percent or more, growth has been lower still, at 0.19 percent. This underscores the reality that the Fed is likelier to raise rates when the economy is strong, so clearly rising rates is more a symptom of good economic health than it is an obstacle for the economy.
Rising interest rates and the stock marketWhile the economy has thrived when rates were rising, the stock market has not. Stocks have gained an average of 7.80 percent over the last 50 years, but this number drops to 2.36 percent when the federal funds rate has risen by 1 percent or more, and to just 1.70 percent when that rate has risen by 2 percent or more.
What stocks really like is a stable interest rate environment. In years when the federal funds rate has changed by less than 0.5 percent up or down, stocks have gained an average of 17.67 percent. So, the key to the stock market's fate next year may not depend on whether the Fed raises rates, but on how sharply it raises them.