The first quarter picked up where the fourth quarter left off, with equity markets celebrating the surprise of a new U.S. administration that global investors perceived to be more business friendly than the previous one. During the quarter, stocks rallied around the world and along with a pullback in the U.S. dollar and signs that global growth was slowly reviving, many international stocks enjoyed gains in excess of the U.S. While the stock market roared, the bond and commodity markets were less enthused, as bonds bounced and commodities gave back some of the gains that accrued towards the end of the year. By the end of the quarter the equity markets were mostly calm, but with tensions that were beginning to build and signal that some of the election-driven luster was beginning to wear off.
2016 began with a thud and ended with a bang. After one of the worst-ever starts to a year, U.S. stocks managed to rebound and ultimately finish the year with solid gains. Much of the rise came in the final few weeks of the year, following the surprising results of the U.S. presidential election. Indeed, there has been an abrupt change in market sentiment, and asset prices have largely taken their cues from a recalibration of economic expectations in the wake of the surprising Trump victory and Republican sweep of Congress.
With the Federal Reserve recently raising interest rates for the first time in many years, the U.S. economy may be at the beginning of a transition away from the ultra-accommodative monetary policy environment that has existed since the global financial crisis. However, central banks in other major developed economies are not following suit—in fact, they are still trying to counteract the current low growth, low inflation economic environment.
The headlines out of Greece are coming fast – deal, no deal, default, referendum, etc. It’s enough to make investors’ heads spin trying to keep up with the news flow. Markets have been volatile this week in reaction to the back and forth, and the rising possibility that Greece may leave the Eurozone. Investors are starting to fear that this could potentially be another “Lehman moment” that results in financial contagion across global markets.
Next Thursday (January 22), the European Central Bank will be hosting an important meeting. Last year, Europe experienced a setback in their recovery from the debt crisis as growth ground to a halt. As a result, the ECB took a series of actions over the past several months in an attempt to support the recovery. Their efforts thus far have been considered lackluster by financial markets, which has led to growing speculation that ECB President Mario Draghi will resort to a large-scale asset purchase program (otherwise known as quantitative easing) in hopes of achieving the desired impact. Indeed, he has stated on more than one occasion that the ECB intends to restore the balance sheet back to its 2012 level, which translates into an expansion of nearly one trillion euros from its current size.
Markets are continuing to react and adjust, mostly in a negative manner, to the Federal Reserve’s announcement about their intention to wind down their quantitative easing program later this year. Volatility, as it is known to do, popped back up in fairly short order after a steady decline through the first five months of the year. The S&P 500 Index is now off by more than -5% from its high on May 21, and interest rates on the 10-Year U.S. Treasury are high by almost 1% from their low on May 2nd. While corrections and pullbacks are always unsettling, the moves so far in the U.S. have been fairly run of the mill. After all, the S&P is still up more than 10% on the year, and bonds, at 2.58%, are still at extraordinarily low levels.
So far in 2013, U.S. investors have enjoyed a steady climb in stocks, with the major market averages surging into record-high territory. There’s been a near absence of any sort of market volatility, with the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) sliding to multi-year lows. Whatever the reasons behind the rally, it’s been gradually bringing back positive vibes on the part of market participants. In other parts of the world, however, the story is different: There’s been a greater degree of volatility in many international markets, and in general, international stocks have lagged behind the U.S.
For U.S. investors, foreign currency fluctuations can be a critically important – but much overlooked — factor to consider when investing in international stock or bond fund. If a foreign currency is appreciating relative to the U.S. dollar, it can provide a boost to returns, but if the currency is weakening, it can detract from them.