It’s all perspective: If you had fallen into a deep sleep on December 31 and woken up March 31 and looked up your portfolio balance, it was like nothing really happened. Maybe up one or two percent. Decent start to the year…
But for those of us that woke up every day and are required to watch along closely, you know that 1Q16 was anything but tame.
January and the start of February were downright ugly for the stock markets with the Dow Jones having its worst start ever and the S&P500 torpedoing into correction status. But things turned on a dime in mid-February and markets rallied. The big catalysts being: monetary easing by central banks, firming of oil prices & other commodities, a healthy US labor market and a weakening dollar.
Let’s take a look at the scoreboard:
Equities: The MSCI AC World Equity Index registered +0.2%, essentially unchanged (or “unched” in trader lingo). Value lead growth for the first time in a while. In another show of turning tides, the S&P500 didn’t take top billing this time, up a modest +1.3%. Mid Cap stocks as represented by the S&P MidCap 400 Index fared quite well, up 3.8%. The equity markets abroad were rather mixed: more developed international equities had a rough showing, -3.0% as represented by the MSCI EAFE Index; while emerging markets proved to the big winner, up 5.0% as represented by the MSCI Emerging Markets Investable Market Index.
Alternatives: The big standout in alts: Gold – as represented by the iShares Gold Trust ETF, up 16.1% – had its best quarterly gain in three decades. Then again, some absolute return strategies were challenged by the whipsaw and fell into the red. In general, as a group, alternatives were also about “unched” using the Credit Suisse Liquid Alt Beta Index, -0.6%, as a proxy. More importantly, they played their role this quarter: They did a decent job protecting the first several weeks of the quarter when the equity markets were swooning. From empirical studies, we know that by minimizing the overall portfolio’s downside during times like these, the portfolio can sooner recover and achieve new highs that much quicker.
Fixed Income: We saved the strongest asset class on the quarter for last. Fixed income powered by dovish central bankers and declining yields had a pretty remarkable quarter. The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, the most popular bond benchmark, was up 3.0%. And like with equities, emerging markets stood out as evidenced by the JPMorgan Emerging Markets Bond Index, +5.3%. Fixed Income really hasn’t been the first pick from the litter for many asset managers in a long while, but this quarters shows why it deserves a place in everyone’s portfolio, even if it’s just a small allocation.
Here are some general comments looking forward denoted by negative (“-“) or positive (“+”) influence:
- (-) Economies around the globe remain sluggish.
- (-) Some areas within equities seem expensive. For example, the S&P500’s TTM P/E is 18.2, higher than its 10-year average of 15.8. Other areas, particularly emerging markets are the opposite – they’re downright cheap even after this quarter’s rally.
- (+) The U.S. Fed in this quarter communicated that they are dialing back their pace of raising rates, which the markets definitely welcomed. Probably only one more, if any, tightening this year.
- (+) Energy has bounced off lows. The market has already beaten up those companies that rely on higher oil prices. All the while, the consumer still is enjoying this “gasoline holiday”.
- (?) Upcoming Presidential election hasn’t seemed to scare the market much so far, but volatility could increase as time marches on and uncertainty remains.
Probably the biggest thing is the change in tone: there is a much better tone of the markets than when we wrote our last market commentary. There’s hardly any recession talk now compared to a lot of it then. However, we still have a lot of the same uncertainty. And our markets are more correlated – meaning they move more in tandem – than ever. One big geopolitical or some strange unforeseen event or maybe an altercation of a current event can switch the tone immediately…at least for the short term. And, folks, anything can happen in the short-term.
So for those that like action, strap on the seat belt and enjoy the ride. Or for those that would rather relax, enjoy a nice long sleep and check your portfolio account balance next quarter. You may just sigh another breath of healthy fresh air and go back to bed. Sorry, long-term disciplined investing can be quite boring, but can be quite profitable.
To finish – and in another sign of positivity – Go Cubs! This is the year!