Following what was easily the sharpest and most stressful drawdown the markets experienced in the last two years, foreign and domestic equity markets are managing to fight their way back in recent weeks, dramatically narrowing the loss that was built in early-February. Volatility, remains more elevated than witnessed during virtually all of 2017 due to bond yields that have risen materially on the worry about rising inflation. But since February 9, the S&P500 is up almost +5%. With the rebound so sharp though and the pullback relatively short-lived, the biggest questions in our mind are: was that really the extent of the correction (seemed too short, even if it was panicky and nerve wracking); and secondly, will the market actually manage to finish roughly flat for the month? Writing today with the markets again notably higher, it seems the race is on, but barring a sharp selling between here and Wednesday it would seem the market has achieved a highly unexpected and HUGE moral victory and seeming credibility to participants such as us who believe the pullback was largely an overdue technical correction rather than a meaningful change to the positive underlying economic fundamentals.
As bad as the prior week felt, the 5 trading days ending Friday February 9 were even worse with the S&P500 experiencing two selloffs approaching of around -4% each on Monday and Thursday; the 2nd brought the peak-to-trough giveback from January 26 to more than -10% and crossed the threshold for what is technically defined as a correction. It is crazy to think it was just Jan 26 when the major US indexes and client portfolios hit fresh all-time highs and retail investors seemed to be charging head-first into equities for apparent fear of missing out. How different the mood suddenly feels. Still, we are not in any way surprised to be seeing the market finally experiencing pressure. It was overdue and arguably healthy; weve been de-risking client portfolios in anticipation of such via some tactical adjustments and rebalancing efforts; those adjustments are helping as client portfolios are off nowhere near as much as the major indexes.
It was both long overdue and arguably healthful that the market experienced a noticeable pullback last week (and that appears to be bleeding into another). The S&P500 skidded -2.1% on Friday and ended the week roughly -4% below its January 26 highpoint. In virtually all our writings and conversations over much of the last 6 months, we have conveyed that investors should at some point anticipate a rise in volatility as periods of extended calm like enjoyed since late-2016 are rare. But as much as one tried to emotionally condition themselves for the possibility, pullbacks are never fun, and the magnitude with which Friday capped an already difficult week likely creates anxiety for those who have enjoyed seeing their portfolio values steadily climbing to new heights on almost a daily basis in the early days of 2018. So what many may find most interesting then is that this overdue reversal comes amid economic news that is actually quite strong.