While 2015 had its share of volatility and ended with virtually no gains in stocks, 2016 sprinted to the downside with volatile global markets, a bifurcated U.S. economy, and the first rate hike in a decade.
The third quarter came in like a lamb and went out like a lion, as the return of volatility hit risk assets hard across the globe. As in previous quarters, emerging market stocks and commodities suffered double digit declines as markets continue to deal with the end of the commodity super-cycle and the mix of structural and cyclical problems reverberating throughout the emerging market complex. But the big news of the quarter was a catch up in developed markets that had previously appeared impervious to the problems that were festering in the developing world.
With markets moving and volatility picking up, the investment team has had some lively discussions recently. When turbulence breaks out there is often a tangled web of items to sort through in determining what is the major driver. Our summary view is that we’ve had a collision between complacent markets that have lost momentum as the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program winds down, and a European growth scare that has moved to the forefront. Negative daily news headlines don’t help either (e.g., Ebola), though these are likely temporary factors.
The second quarter started in somewhat choppy fashion as small cap and other high flying momentum stocks continued to face pressure as investors decided to shed stocks with swollen valuation multiples. The major averages fared better than their risky counterparts, and after a brief dip stocks began their ascent towards record breaking highs on the back on improving economic data, decent earnings growth, and continuing liquidity support from global central banks.
Meanwhile commodity markets appeared to work off some of their overbought readings from earlier in the year as they treaded mostly sideways during the quarter. Within fixed income, the bond market also fared well as investors continued to flock towards anything with a yield, foreign bond markets bubbled, and a number of technical factors came together to keep bond investors satisfied despite meager nominal yields.
First quarter market performance was as whippy and volatile as the weather. Unusually cold temperatures in the U.S. not only froze much of the country’s population, but it also wreaked havoc on the quality of economic data, and kept markets on edge regarding how investors should be positioned. Geopolitical issues also rose from the ashes as various emerging markets had currency issues and Russia showed poor sportsmanship and invaded the Ukraine shortly after the conclusion of the Olympic Games.
By the end of the quarter, the markets showed mixed results, with U.S. stock and bond markets logging roughly equal returns, and international markets showing large variations depending on country and region. Commodities appeared to benefit the most from the weather and geopolitical environment, and they bounced to a very strong quarterly return.
If you are looking for a movie about power, money, sex, drugs, yachts, Lamborghinis, high-pressure sales tactics, stock manipulation, sex, and drugs (did I mention sex and drugs?) then go see the new Martin Scorsese movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, the founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, which functioned as a boiler room selling penny stocks in the 1990s. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that if you enjoy watching unimaginable amounts of corruption and debauchery, you are going to love it.
All of which gets me thinking about the admittedly boring world of our Pinnacle investment analysts.
If you could return to May 2012, would you invest your money in Europe or the United States? It may come as a surprise, but Europe is actually outpacing the S&P 500 with returns of 40% and 33% respectively. Headlines continue to beat the negative drum that ‘problems still loom in Europe;’ that may be true, but those problems also might be hiding the strong gains realized in those markets. The markets still look healthy from a technical perspective, and I’m particularly intrigued by the financial shares.
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.