Stocks Open Lower On New York Stock Exchange
Historically speaking, the list of winners is short and the list of losers long in a rising interest rate investing climate.
Add in the damage from the unwinding of the most aggressive monetary intervention in the history of mankind and money could have a hard time finding a place where it's well-treated.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's statements Wednesday that the central bank will begin paring back its $85-billion-a-month bond-buying program should the economic data continue to improve hit financial markets like a gut-shot.
The stock market sold off aggressively Thursday, interest rates surged and commodity prices tanked even as the U.S. dollar strengthened.
(Read More: Taper Tipoff? Bernanke Hints Easing End Is Nearing )
There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to the selling, indiscriminately hitting all asset classes as investors wrestled with what a post- quantitative easing world will look like.
"This is not normal. It is not normal for all markets to move in the same direction at the same point in time due to the same development," said Dick Bove, vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets. "If hard assets are expected to decline in value, interest rate-driven investments should increase in value. Plus, the reverse is true when hard assets are rising in value."
Yet those seemingly logical trends did not take hold, indicating that a panic trade was in full vigor.
(Read More: Global Markets Feel the Sting of Fed's Tapering )
However, once the initial illogical selling fades, history has taught lessons about what usually happens in a rising-rate climate, and the news usually isn't good for Bove's beloved banking stocks.
Energy Gets a Boost, Financials Fall
Bernstein Research has quantified the trends the equity market has exhibited when rates rise.
Energy is the only sector "that has exhibited a significant positive sensitivity" to rate increases over the past 40 years, said Vladim Zlotnikov, Bernstein's chief market strategist.
Foreign markets also have done well, as rising rates have strengthened the dollar and made global equities more attractive. Brazil, Taiwan, India, Mexico and Finland's markets have performed best, while Israel is the only country to show a negative relationship to rising U.S. rates.
(Read More: Stocks Going Higher Despite Taper Talk: Pros )
Financials have fared poorest, with bank stocks usually falling 3.8 percent in the ensuing three months. That runs counter to the thought that banks would benefit from rising rates because they can charge more for services.
Tighter interest rate margins and bond losses will be headwinds for banks, which are due for a fall after surging 17 percent this year.
Utilities also have done poorly under rising rates, falling 3 percent.
Watch the Treasury-Stocks Gap
Investors should be careful, though, because fears of rising rates can produce jumpy markets, as evidenced Thursday.
"The impact of interest rate increases on overall equity market returns is not predictable with even a modest level of accuracy," Zlotnikov said. "The last 40 years show a slight but inconclusive negative correlation with concurrent market returns. The relationship of interest rate increases with subsequent performance of U.S. market is even weaker."
The potential Fed move comes at a time when the performance of the S&P 500 (^GSPC) vs.Treasurys has spread to its widest level 1987, according to Bespoke Investment Group.
The stock index has beaten the Merrill Lynch Treasury Master Index by 18.2 percentage points this year, which is also the third-largest gap since 1978.
(Read More: Cramer: Stock Strategies Just Changed )
However, Bespoke's Paul Hickey cautioned against assuming that investors might rebalance out of stocks and into Treasurys, or for that matter figuring that stocks will continue a momentum ride higher.
In fact, over time Treasurys generally have a slightly better performance in the near term over stocks.
"There is no clear evidence that managers have rebalanced into fixed income following prior periods where equities outperformed US Treasurys by such a large margin in the first half," Hickey said. "However, within the equity market (as shown in the table above), the risk/reward proposition has not been in favor of the bulls."
Don't Go for the Gold
One area that has not been shaping up well for the bulls has been gold .
The metal tumbled nearly 6 percent Thursday as potential unwinding of the Fed's version of money printing greatly pared the ranks of gold bugs, with the commodity hitting its lowest level in nearly three years.
"What we see is that the market is kind of in a panic where they're responding emotionally," said Adam Grimes, chief investment officer at Waverly Advisors. "Whether it's order flow or liquidation or purely investor emotion, that seems to be what's driving the bus today."
(Read More: Gold Plunges to 2 1/2 Year Lows on Stimulus Fears )
Emerging Market Bottom?
With the tendency of global markets to rise when the dollar gains, many investor eyes will be on the emerging market trade.
The iShares MSCI BRIC Index (BKF), an exchange-traded fund that tracks equities in Brazil, Russia, India and China, got clobbered as well Thursday, losing about 2.5 percent by midday during a year in which it has fallen more than 17 percent.
John Higgins, chief markets economist at Capital Economics, was one of the few to sound a hopeful tone that the EM trade might reverse.
Emerging markets have been hit by a major slowdown in capital inflows as China has weakened and the vital export market for smaller countries has dried up.
A bottom may be in sight, Higgins said.
"The worst may now soon be over for emerging markets, although some key commodity prices probably have further to fall," he said. "We suspect that once things settle down, the general pattern is likely to be one of reduced inflows rather than heavy outflows."
_ By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him @JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter.
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