A Tale of Two Years: Happy & Not-So-HappyInvesting Caffeine
Happy New Year! If you look at the stock market, 2019 was indeed a happy one. The S&P 500 index rose +29% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up +22%. Spectacular, right? More specifically, for the S&P 500, 2019 was the best year since 2013, while the Dow had its finest 12-month period since 2017. Worth noting, although 2019 made investors very happy, 2018 stock returns were not-so-happy (S&P 500 dropped -6%).
Source: Investor’s Business Daily
As measured against almost any year, the 2019 results are unreasonably magnificent. This has many prognosticators worrying that these gains are unsustainable going into 2020, and many pundits are predicting death and destruction are awaiting investors just around the corner. However, if the 2019 achievements are combined with the lackluster results of 2018, then the two-year average return (2018-2019) of +10% looks more reasonable and sustainable. Moreover, if history is a guide, 2020 could very well be another up year. According to Barron’s, stocks have finished higher two-thirds of the time in years following a +25% or higher gain.
With the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note declining from 2.7% to 1.9% in 2019, it should come as no surprise that bonds underwent a reversal of fortune as well. All else equal, both existing bond and stock prices generally benefit from declining interest rates. The U.S. Aggregate Bond Index climbed +5.5% in 2019, a very respectable outcome for this more conservative asset class, after the index experienced a modest decline in 2018.
What contributed to the stellar financial market results in 2019? There are numerous contributing factors, but here are a few explanations:
Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog
- Federal Reserve Cuts Interest Rates: After slamming on the brakes in 2018 by hiking interest rates four times, the central bank added stimulus to the economy by cutting interest rates three times in 2019 (see chart above).
- Phase I Trade Deal with China: Washington and Beijing reached an initial trade agreement that will reduce tariffs and force China to purchase larger volumes of U.S. farm products.
- Healthy Economy: 2019 economic growth (Gross Domestic Product) is estimated to come in around +2.3%, while the most recent unemployment rate of 3.5% remains near a 50-year low.
- Government Shutdown Averted: Congress approved $1.4 trillion in spending packages to avoid a government shutdown. The spending boosts both the military and domestic programs and the signed bills also get rid of key taxes to fund the Affordable Care Act and raises the U.S. tobacco buying age to 21.
- Brexit Delayed: The October 31, 2019 Brexit date was delayed, and now the U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union on January 31, 2020. EU officials are signaling more time may be necessary to prevent a hard Brexit.
- Sluggish Global Growth Expected to Rise in 2020: Global growth rates are expected to increase in 2020 with little chance of recessions in major economies. The Financial Times writes, “The outlook from the models shows global growth rates rising next year, returning roughly to trend rates. Recession risks are deemed to be low, currently standing about 5 per cent for the US and 15 per cent for the eurozone.”
- Potential Bipartisan Infrastructure Spend: In addition to the $1.4 trillion in aforementioned spending, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, said she is willing to work with the Republicans and the White House on a stimulative infrastructure spending bill.
2018-2019 Lesson Learned
One of the lessons learned over the last two years is that listening to the self-proclaimed professionals, economists, strategists, and analysts on TV, or over the blogosphere, is dangerous and usually a waste of your time. For stock market participants, listening to experienced and long-term successful investors is a better strategy to follow.
Conventional wisdom at the beginning of 2018 was that a strong economy, coupled with the Tax Reform Act that dramatically reduced tax rates, would catapult corporate profits and the stock market higher. While many of the talking heads were correct about the trajectory of S&P 500 profits, which propelled upwards by an astonishing +24%, stock prices still sank -6% in 2018 (as mentioned earlier). If you fast forward to the start of 2019, after a -20% correction in stock prices at the end of 2018, conventional wisdom stated the economy was heading into a recession, therefore stock prices should decline further. Wrong!
As is typical, the forecasters turned out to be completely incorrect again. Although profit growth for 2019 was roughly flat (0%), stock prices, as previously referenced, unexpectedly skyrocketed. The moral of the story is profits are very important to the direction of future stock prices, but using profits alone as a timing mechanism to predict the direction of the stock market is nearly impossible.
So, there you have it, 2018 and 2019 were the tale of two years. Although 2018 was an unhappy year for investors in the stock market, 2019’s performance made investors happier than average. When you combine the two years, stock investors should be in a reasonably good mood heading into 2020 with the achievement of a +10% average annual return. While this multi-year result should keep you happy, listening to noisy pundits will make you and your investment portfolio unhappy over the long-run. Rather, if you are going to heed the advice of others, it’s better to pay attention to seasoned, successful investors…that will put a happy smile on your face.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 2, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
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