The market conniptions of recent days are a direct result of several developments that point to the brightening prospects of economic recovery. Vaccinations are rising, retail sales and industrial production have been surprisingly solid and, perhaps most important, the Biden administration is expected to push its $1.9 trillion stimulus plan through Congress in the coming days.
One clear consequence is expected to be strong growth. Wall Street economists now expect output to rise by nearly 5 percent in 2021. Such robust growth — it would be the best year for the economy since 1984 — would seem like a good thing for stocks.
But growth brings with it the possibility of rising inflation, which in turn could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates — and that’s what investors are reacting to, with different consequences for the stock and bond markets, Matt Phillips reports for The New York Times.
Few economists see a significant risk of runaway inflation, but investors say that the mere possibility of painful price growth might drive the Fed to raise interest rates to tamp down the economy.
That would be bad for bond owners. If the Fed raised rates, rates around the bond market would climb. Then the price of bonds that investors hold would have to fall until they produced yields that were comparable to the new, higher rates in the market.
In expectation of that, investors are demanding a higher return now in the form of a higher yield on their bonds. Higher rates can be a problem for the stock market’s performance. One reason is that high interest rates make owning bonds more attractive, coaxing at least some dollars out of the stock market. Higher rates can also make borrowing more expensive for companies, especially smaller ones that have potential but lack a track record of profitability.