There’s an alarming trend that has historically occurred each time the Federal Reserve has raised rates significantly: Something always breaks. While the recent banking mini-crisis appears well-contained, the risk of further turmoil increases with each subsequent rate hike, and investors should brace their portfolios to minimize vulnerability to these macro-driven threats.

History of Fed Funds rate hikes and subsequent crisis events
Effective Federal Funds rate, 1966–present

Graph indicating crisis events in relation to rate hikes from 1966 to present.

Source: Federal Reserve, Bloomberg, Principal Asset Management. Data as of March 24, 2023.

In the space of 12 months, the Federal Reserve (Fed) has raised policy rates by 475 basis points, taking the Fed Funds rate up to 4.75%-5.00%. Not only has this been the most aggressive pace of Fed tightening since 1980, policy rates are now the highest since 2007, just before the Great Financial Crisis. Historically, whenever the Fed has raised rates significantly, it has resulted in some type of crisis.

In the current cycle, there have been several mini-crises including the UK LDI crisis last October which threatened the UK pension system and, more recently, the collapse of two U.S. banks. Both triggered sharp market turmoil but were rapidly contained by policymaker liquidity intervention, enabling central banks to continue raising policy rates. Unfortunately, each additional rate hike increases economic and financial pressures, raising the chances of further crises.

While today’s Fed could respond by cutting policy rates, with inflation still elevated, an aggressive Fed response may be delayed. Even then, by the time the Fed pivots, historically, the damage is usually done, and risk assets continue to struggle even as rates fall.

Economic activity has been resilient, and unemployment sits near historic lows, so it’s possible markets could shrug off any additional turmoil during this hiking cycle. However, investors should adjust their exposures to help minimize vulnerability to macro-driven threats—just in case history repeats itself. Again.


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