2019 is off to a turbulent start. The first couple trading days of the year were the worst in 18 years, only to be eclipsed by a huge rally today that left equity investors a bit richer for the week, albeit whipsawed in the process.
As we look back on 2018, we can summarize the year as one where volatility emerged at the same time equity markets and the economy diverged enormously. In fact, 2018 is estimated to produce the strongest economic growth since the Global Financial Crisis at 3.0 percent.
With a week subdued by a day of mourning, traders hoped market volatility would follow suit: it did not. In less than three trading sessions the S&P 500 traded down five percent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 1,400 points and small cap stocks lost 6 percent.
This weekend, many world leaders will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a meeting of the Group of Twenty, also known as, “G20.” Although the G20 does not have the power to enforce policies, the outcomes of G20 summits have been highly influential to global policy.
It was a busy week in Washington with a highly anticipated midterm election followed by the Federal Reserve meeting. The results of both came in as expected although it seems the markets were not synced to that result.
As we expected at the beginning of the year, S&P 500 valuations have contracted year-to-date. Typically during an economic expansion, we see stocks move higher with earnings. Investors are willing to pay more for those earnings with the assumption that growth will continue.
On Wednesday this week the S&P 500 plunged by 3 percent on cumulative fears of slowing economic and earnings growth as well as concerns of a slowdown in China and the Federal Reserve being too aggressive in increasing short-term interest rates.
In recent weeks, the 10-year U.S. Treasury rose to three-and-a-quarter percent—a level not seen since 2011. In addition, the stock market sold off five percent from all-time highs, volatility has risen and the Chinese and European markets dipped. All this amid a backdrop of good corporate earnings and moderate-to-good economic news.
U.S. investors who enjoyed strong fourth quarter equity returns were dealt a change in market landscape this week. While history has demonstrated a low correlation between equities and U.S. government bonds – exactly the reason why Treasuries are such an important diversifier of equity risk -- this week proved to be an exception. Stock and bond prices both fell following news that the U.S. and Canada had reached agreement about modifying trade terms in North America.