The stock market is either red-hot, extremely average, or still in recovery depending on your perspective. Let’s torture the data until it tells us what we want to hear.
The red-hot stock market
The S&P 500 is up 18.5% and we’re only halfway through 2019! Unemployment is incredibly low. Inflation can’t seem to stay above 2%. The market expects the Federal Reserve to cut rates and Chairman Powell’s dovish remarks encouraged bulls.
Silicon Valley’s unicorns are frolicking in the public markets. Pinterest, Zoom, and Uber are up from their debuts, but the real story is fake-meat. Beyond Meat, a plant-based meat substitute company has soared since its IPO.
For the third year, Fairway Wealth Management had the privilege of sponsoring the RhizoKids Ohio annual fundraiser on May 11th, 2019 at St. Adalberts in Berea, Ohio. Rhizokids supporters enjoyed a dinner followed by an evening of raffles, horse races, and auctions. The fundraiser was a great success, hosting around 300 attendees and raising more than $40,000 in support of the RhizoKids cause. Fairway was represented at the event by Chris Martin, who has been involved with the organization since 2015.
RhizoKids International is a charitable organization originally established in 2008 to support research in pursuit of a cure for Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata (RCDP). Mindy Lee, President of RhizoKids Ohio, established the extension chapter of RhizoKids International in 2008 to further the regional presence of the organization. RCDP, a genetic disorder, is a form of dwarfism that brings with it very serious complications. It is very rare, with fewer than 100 children known to be living with condition worldwide. Currently, there is no treatment and no cure for RCDP. Over the years RhizoKids has grown into an organization that provides vital advocacy and support for families of children with RCDP. Each year, the organization hosts a conference in Alabama to bring together leading doctors in the field with the families of children with RCDP. Additionally, RhizoKids International provides grants for research projects, sponsors the RCDP Registry and A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, and works to bring national awareness.
The month of May was not kind to equity markets as the S&P 500 dropped 6%. International stocks were down for the month, too. The EAFE lost 5% while Emerging Markets were down 7%. Sell in May and go away? We don’t think so. The timing of the drop is luck more than anything else. Fingers have been pointed at the so-called trade war, various tweets, and the ever-present market “jitters”. All of these issues (real or imagined) have been part of the investing environment for over a year.
The truth is that no one really knows why the market moves one way or the other on a day-to-day basis. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Global Fund Manager Survey listed the following fears as the biggest tail risks going back to 2011: central bank policy mistakes, political populism, a Chinese hard landing, geopolitical crisis, a different Chinese hard landing, the US fiscal cliff, and EU sovereign debt funding. Despite that, the S&P 500 is up 14% over the last ten years, annualized, and almost 10%, annualized, over the last five years.
Most investors, and certainly all our clients, know that market timing (i.e. trying to move in and out of the stock market based on a prediction of the future) is a bad idea. I recently read an article with some data that really illustrates the risk:
Over the last 92 years (1927-2018), the S&P 500 has returned 10.1%/year
If we remove the best 92 months over that period, the return of the S&P 500 would be almost exactly 0% (0.01% to be precise)
So, if an investor was invested on average 11 out of every 12 months, but happened to miss that one best month, they got no return…while the buy and hold investor got over 10% per year
The numbers were very similar in the international markets as well, with almost all the return coming in short bursts
We’ve recently had what will likely be one of those top 92 months. In the month of January 2019, the S&P 500 returned approximately 8%. Yet according to Morningstar, there were $83B of net outflows from mutual funds and ETFs in December 2018, making it the worst month of net flows since the financial crisis in October 2008. So right before one of those “best” months…and right after the worst quarter since the financial crisis… money was flooding into cash. Ugh!
2019 is off to a hot start as the S&P 500 gained 13.7%. Will the market keep up this pace for the rest of the year? It’s unlikely, but the “pace” is also a bit misleading. We have not yet made up the ground lost in last quarter’s sell-off. This is setting up to be a good calendar year, but the market is at about the same place it was six months ago. On Christmas Eve we were on the cusp of a bear market. Today, the media is back to searching for the downside of an upward trend.
It has been 10 years since the bottom of the Great Financial Crisis. The S&P 500 gained over 400%, including dividends, for an annualized return of 17.6%. The numbers don’t tell the whole story. While the total return sounds great, the first three years of that rally were spent just getting back to zero. The S&P 500 had lost half its value and needed a return of over 100% just to recover. A moderate portfolio would have recovered in about half the time, but the early years of the rally were not easy for anyone, regardless of asset allocation. Negativity was the baseline.
This Commentary Brought to You in Part by Macaroni and Cheese
The latest earnings report for Kraft Heinz was a shocker. Operating results were flat, there was a huge impairment ($15.4 billion) of goodwill, and the dividend was cut by 40%. On top of it all, the SEC is investigating accounting irregularities. The most surprising piece of the story is that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns a big (26.7%) chunk of Kraft Heinz. This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen under Uncle Warren’s watchful eye. What happened?
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Mark Twain’s famous quote may provide all the explanation needed. America’s taste for processed cheese and ketchup just isn’t what it used to be, but investors didn’t catch on (revenues had even been flat for a couple of years). Beyond the numbers, this is also a marking to market of the Kraft Heinz brand. For a deeper dive, I suggest Aswath Damodaran’s write-up. He’s a professor of finance at NYU and has a great way of unwrapping stories like this.
The S&P 500 seemed destined for bear territory (a fall of at least 20%) at the end of last year. It was down 17% when the US government shut down on Saturday December 22nd. On Monday, the 24th, a frenzied half-day of trading left the market down more than 19% from its high. The bull run was all but over. Bears were breaking out the honey and vying for gloomiest forecast on TV. After all, there was a government shutdown, continued China trade disputes, and confidence in the Federal Reserve was shaken.
Just as the bear was about to move in, the door was slammed in its face. The market ignored pundit opinions and rallied hard. The S&P 500 was up over 10% during the shutdown, popping up over 15% from the December low through the end of January.
Hail to the King – Cash was king in 2018, up 1.87%. Chances are your savings account outperformed your portfolio this year, as 2018 was a highly unusual year where virtually every other broad asset class lost money. Keep in mind that inflation probably outperformed your savings account, so cash is still not a good long-term protector of your capital. Speaking of cash, have you shopped around for a higher-yielding (about 2%+) savings account?
December ended with a Bear Kiss. The S&P 500 dropped 19.4% from its all-time high. While not officially a bear market drop of 20%, watching the market’s daily moves (not recommended) left many investors wiping off bear slobber. This was followed by a sizable post-Christmas rally. If you were asleep all year and just woke up to look at 2018’s numbers, you might think it was a sleepy year for US Large Cap stocks (down 4.4%), too. Day-to-day, the markets were much noisier. The S&P 500 dropped over 10% twice in 2018, once in January/February (followed by a 15% rally) and once from September through Christmas Eve. Domestic Small Cap stocks dropped 10.3%. Taxable bonds ended the year flat while Municipal bonds were slightly up. International anything had a rough year. International bonds were down 0.9%, Developed International stocks dropped 13.8%, and Emerging Markets were off 14.6%. Real Estate was down 4%.
The S&P 500 finished November with the largest weekly gain in 6 years. What does this tell us about the market? Maybe it tells us that the October sell-off was an overreaction. More likely it tells us the same thing the October sell-off told us: No one can predict short-term market movements. Further, ascribing a rationale to past market movements hinders our ability to make sound investment decisions going forward.
If we assume a past cause and effect relationship, we will be tempted to expect the same going forward. This is ridiculous, of course. You could conclude any number of relationships out of the recent market movements. Buy on dips of 10%? Sell the hawkish Fed and buy dovish remarks? Trade on trade negotiation news or auto plant closings (or possible openings if BMW is to be believed)?
Our message to remain true to your financial plan and focus on long-term goals rather than today’s headlines is a familiar one. Cynics may wonder why our commentary is so plain and treats common sense as not-so-common. We don’t forecast GDP. We’re not trading in reaction to Tweets. You don’t see sector rotation, charting, or Greek letters in our communications.
It’s tough to write in reaction to short term market movements as each client’s situation is different. We truly design every client’s portfolio according to their individual needs. We are not trading wholesale in and out of positions. We do not have model portfolios. When we do make changes to asset allocation, they are thoughtful (not reactionary) and executed with an eye to controlling what we can control (taxes and fees) for each and every portfolio. Our commentary is intentionally broad as we have a diverse set of clients.