It was just the 2nd down-week of the year, but below the surface many individual names have been consolidating since mid-February. The S&P500 gave back -2.1%, but the more cyclical and strongest YTD performing areas are pulling back more sharply with transportation stocks down -3.3% and small-caps off -4.3% (Russell 2000). This weakness should embolden the somewhat consensus call that that the rally since the Christmas eve low was too strong for such a short-period of time and without any retesting.
Two months and so far, a very Happy New Year!!! February added +3.2% to a very strong January, making this a great start to 2019 for investors with the stock market jumping a cumulative +11.5%. Wow!! We appreciate the Fed again communicating economic data dependency rather than an autopilot path of raising interest rates, plus tariff talk between the US and China is showing promise of moving toward a resolution. These items are propelling markets higher.
US financial markets continued their rebound during the President’s Day shortened trading week ended Friday the 22nd. The S&P500 added another +0.7% and international markets also responded with the MSCI EAFE improving by +1.6% (now up +9% YTD). Whereas January was fueled by a softer, more comforting tone by the US Federal Reserve and other foreign central banks, progress in February is being supported by increasing optimism over a trade/tariff resolution being finalized between the US and China. On that front, talks continue to carry a deal-seeking tone; a stark contrast from the war of words and relentless lobbing of verbal grenades that characterized 2018.
Major US indexes added to already impressive gains last week with the Dow, S&P500 and Nasdaq each adding between +2.4% – 3.0%. Just eight trading weeks into the new year, the Dow and S&P500 are up roughly +11% from where they entered; and higher-beta corners of the market (such as small-caps and cyclical transportation stocks) are enjoying even stronger recoveries in the neighborhood of +15%. The numbers are even more impressive if one begins their count from the Christmas Eve low. Interestingly, as equities have improved back to, and even through, the most obvious levels of technical resistance the pace does not seem to be slowing despite what remains a quite lengthy list of items that need to “go right” for the US economy to manage a soft economic landing.
Thank the Fed for the surge! The S&P500 posted its best January performance in 30 years (since 1989). Following a nasty 4th quarter and very difficult December which ruined the year, the Fed offered numerous reassurances in January that it was not inclined to make a policy error. Fed Chairman Powell shared that policy action would be more data dependent; rate increases and tightening monetary policy would not be on “auto pilot” in 2019; this was a stark difference from the tone conveyed in December. We believe January market action was mostly a reaction to a pause in rate hikes. It provided tremendous “fuel” for the strong rebound of +8.0% in the last month. Hey, that’s a bit stronger than the January 2018 performance start of +5.6%. Yet, there is one notable difference…last January, 51% of investors expected higher stock prices which did not materialize for the year; today, only 31% expect higher prices. Domestic and foreign stocks rebounded, and client portfolios benefited from the market boost in January (note the difference a month makes).
After an impressive 4-week rally, US equities appear to be butting up against arguably their first formal area of technical resistance being near the 200-day moving average. The broad-based strength that began the day after Christmas is in recent days turning decidedly more sideways; for the week ending January 25 the Dow managed to finish slightly higher and extend its weekly winning streak to 5, but the S&P500 (considered to be broader and more representative of the overall market) slipped slightly.
US equities capped a 4th consecutive week of gains, bringing US equities back roughly +13% thru this past Friday from its Christmas-eve lows. As one might anticipate, the markets are also off to an extraordinarily strong New Year start with the S&P500 up +6.6%; encouraging, more economically sensitive areas of the market like small-size companies are faring even stronger over that period with gains of roughly +10% (Russell 2000). Most of that strength is being attributed to a more collaborative narrative surrounding trade negotiations between the US and China, as well as a more data-dependent and cautious Federal Reserve as it relates to normalization of monetary policy. The only missing element of full improvement from a domestic policy perspective at this point is that the US government remains partially shut down and there is little sign of either side appearing willing or desirous of reaching compromise. In any event, the stock market’s strong rebound serves valid reminder of how quick and suddenly direction can reverse course in financial markets, even as worries are not fully resolved.
Following the worst performance for the S&P500 since 1931, the tone so far in these early weeks of 2019 is more hopeful. This is evidenced by broad and strong consecutive-day winning streaks; the S&P for instance was up +2.6% last week and +3.6% month-to-date. Even stronger are some areas of the market traditionally considered risk-seeking; the small-cap Russell 2000 climbed +4.8% last week and +7.4% in January. Key commodities viewed as a bellwether to economic growth including oil are also seeing their price recover notably off stressed December lows and international equities are participating in-line with the S&P. The cause? From a fundamental perspective, very little. But Fedspeak turned decidedly more dovish from the worrisome pre-disposed and not-so-data-dependent (toward additional hikes) tone that Chairman Powell conveyed with the rate decision in December.
Below, we submit our latest quarterly installment of Nvest Nsights. The first article reviews how chaotic, volatile, and disappointing was the market’s performance during 2018. But more important from our perspective is how swift selloffs like witnessed during the 4Q can cause one to suddenly feel confused and uncertain about the future; in these times it is most critical to step back and consider facts and fundamentals to avoid short-term action based on emotion. The article “Shilly-Shally Prone” reminds how long-term investment success accrues to those who remain steadfast to a repeatable and disciplined process. There are two remarkably similar historical backdrops which suggest it is very possible that present-day concerns could resolve or fade quickly against a still-sound economy, providing swift relief to recent market volatility here in 2019. Finally, “We Work With Rock Stars” provides insight into our investment selection philosophy with rationale motivating several portfolio adjustments being executed over recent weeks and as we enter the New Year.
The full printer-friendly version of our newsletter, including data tables for selected mutual fund and ETF performance as well as portfolio benchmarking, can be downloaded here: NVEST NSIGHTS 4Q.
According to a recent study, 90% of Americans will spend more time planning for vacation than they spend planning for retirement. Similarly, we often observe firsthand how many do not truly know where their money is spent; and they do not devote time to gain more clarity about it. Life becomes a foggy trip without rich meaning.
No one purposely sets out to have an undefined financial life… it just happens to us as we become a part of the culture in which we live. It’s human nature which spans all of time; we repeat actions generation after generation. One of the wisest men to ever live, Solomon, offers sage points in the Bible’s Ecclesiastes which can be simplified to these thoughts: