After a historically calm September in which the S&P 500 didn’t drop 1% on a single day for the entire month, the S&P 500 dropped more than 1% on consecutive days to start the month of October. This certainly wasn’t the start of the fourth quarter investors were looking for. In fact, this is the first time in history the S&P 500 fell at least 1% on consecutive days to start the fourth quarter and represented the worst start to the fourth quarter since 2009.
Stop me if you have heard this before. Uncertainty regarding trade and monetary policy are weighing on markets and the economy. These issues have held investors hostage for a number of quarters, and just when we think a resolution is within reach, there is a new disruption that serves to further increase uncertainty. I’ll address each one of these issues individually and explore how both are impacting markets and the economy.
In a widely anticipated, yet highly debated, move, the Federal Reserve (Fed) announced this past Wednesday it is cutting interest rates. The Fed lowered the federal funds target rate range by 0.25%, from 2.25%-2.50% to 2.25%-2.00%. This marks the first time the Fed has cut interest rates since 2008. So, why was the Fed’s decision so controversial?
Markets had a great first half of the year. Major stock indexes, including the S&P 500, reached new highs. However, global economic growth is slowing. Investor concerns about a recession have increased and unresolved trade negotiations with China have created even more uncertainty. Slowing economic growth, rising recession risk, and tariff uncertainty doesn’t sound like a recipe for a stock and bond rally, does it? So, what has spurred stocks and bonds higher?
Things can change quickly. If I was writing this post one month ago, it would be a completely different topic with a much different tone.
Following four straight months of positive performance to start the year, the S&P 500 posted a -6.35% return in May. This was the third time in eight months the S&P 500 had a monthly loss of more than 6%. Fears of a full-blown trade war were reemerging as trade negotiations with China soured and it looked like fresh tariffs would be imposed against Mexico. The trade wars would put downward pressure on an already slowing global economy, putting even more pressure on central banks to ease monetary policy.
For the past 18 months, two hot button issues for investors have been the Fed and trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. These two issues were the catalysts for two market corrections in 2018, the latter of which nearly approached bear market territory. However, for the first five months of this year fears of a Fed misstep were alleviated and reported positive progress towards a trade deal between the U.S. and China spurred markets to new all-time highs.
On Friday, Uber went public in the what is the biggest initial public offering (IPO) so far this year. Earlier this month, Beyond Meat went public with less hype and saw its price skyrocket 163% in its first trading day, making it the best-performing first-day IPO in nearly two-decades. Beyond Meat is a producer of plant-based meat substitutes founded in 2009. The company’s Beyond Burger is sold at Whole Foods and restaurants chains around the country.
At HIGHLAND, one of the cornerstones of our investment approach is that securities offering higher expected returns share particular attributes, which we refer to as the dimensions of higher expected returns (or dimensions for short). These dimensions are based on economic theory, backed by Nobel Prize winning academic research, and supported by decades of real-world historical data. Dimensional Fund Advisors is an investment management firm with a long history of applying academic research to practical investing and is one of our preferred investment managers. Dimensional Fund Advisors defines a dimension as a return difference between two assets or portfolios “that is sensible, empirically robust in the data, and cost-effective to capture in well-diversified portfolios.”
When Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters earlier this month, it capped off one of the greatest comebacks in golf history, if not one of the best comebacks in the history of all sports. Woods’s last Masters tournament victory came in 2005 and his last major tournament win was back in 2008. In this 11-year span between major wins, Woods faced a very public divorce, was arrested for driving under the influence, and battled a number of injuries. With his latest Masters win, Woods has 15 major tournament wins and is now three behind Jack Nicklaus for most of all time.
In closing 2018, the S&P 500 posted its worst December since 1931, during the Great Depression, and its worst quarter since 2008, during the Great Recession. The good news is we didn’t have to wait long for the bounce back. To start 2019, the S&P 500 posted its best January since 1987. As of Friday’s market close, the S&P 500 is 5.0% below its high on September 21, 2018, but is 19.0% above its low on December 26, 2018.
Over the past few weeks most of our posts have focused on putting the recent stock market volatility in perspective and subduing concerns about the strength of the U.S. economy.
One of the important points we have stressed is the importance of remaining disciplined to your investment strategy because capital markets have rewarded long-term investors. One of the graphics we often show to illustrate this point is the chart included below. This chart shows the growth of $1 from January 1, 1926 through December 31, 2018 had you invested in US small cap stocks, US large cap stocks, long term corporate bonds, long term government bonds, and cash.
Over the past few months, market participants have focused on the yield curve and its history of predicting an economic recession. As the chart below shows, the yield curve has inverted prior to every recession dating back to 1962. With predictive power like this, it’s no wonder investors have been vigilantly monitoring its movement in an attempt to gauge when a recession may occur.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year we were highlighting a picture-perfect year for global stocks. In 2017, both the S&P 500 and the MSCI All Country World Index ex USA were positive for all twelve calendar months. This was the first time either index accomplished this feat and it happened with near-record low volatility while enduring geopolitical tensions, political dysfunction, massive natural disasters, and tighter monetary policy. 2017 was defined by synchronized global expansion whereby most global economies were getting stronger, with the United States leading the charge.
In the 1950s psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform. Asch’s experiments were simple vision tests. A group of eight male college students were placed in a room, shown a card with a line segment on it, and then shown another card with three line segments labelled A, B, and C. One of the line segments on the second card was the same length as the line segment on the first card, while the other two line segments were clearly of a different length. Participants were asked to write down their answers and then give their answers aloud. Seems like a pretty straight forward experiment, but there was a twist.
After a long stretch of relatively calm and steady stock market gains, volatility has reared its ugly head over the past four weeks. Last week we detailed how interest rates have contributed to the recent stock market slump. While interest rates may be the driving force behind the quick and dramatic drop in stock prices, there are other factors at play. Trade tensions between the U.S. and its global trade partners are running high. There is uncertainty around the upcoming midterm elections. There is nervousness as companies are beginning to announce third quarter earnings. Housing sales are starting to slow. Geopolitical pressures are mounting in light of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia. All of these issues have played a role in the recent market volatility that has seen the S&P 500 decline in 15 of the 19 trading days in October.
Last Wednesday, October 10th, U.S. stocks suffered their worst losses in eight months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 3.2% and the S&P 500 declined 3.3%, both notching their worst losses since February 8th. The S&P 500 also posted its first six-day losing streak since November 2016, although a bounce back on Friday stopped that slide.
On September 21, 2018, the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) sector structure will experience the biggest change in its history. Specifically, the Telecommunication Services sector will be broadened to include companies from the Consumer Discretionary and Information Technology sectors and renamed Communication Services.