Most major US stock market indices ended the first quarter below the peaks achieved at the beginning of 2022. Concerns about high valuations and higher interest rates drove declines in late January. In February, markets fell more following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After bottoming in early March, markets recouped a large part of their losses despite continued high uncertainty. Through March 31, the S&P 500 Index returned –4.6% after being down nearly 13% at its worst. The most speculative, high-priced growth stocks declined the most over the first three months of the year. The Nasdaq Composite, which is weighted toward growthier technology stocks, returned -8.9% after being down close to 21% at its lows.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had another strong year, returning +28.7%. The higher quality Dow Jones Industrial Average returned +21.0%. Mid- and small-capitalization equities were not far behind (see market indicators table to the right). International equities underperformed US equities. The MSCI EAFE Index of developed country stocks returned +11.5%. Dragged down by weakness in Chinese equities, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index returned –3.6%.
Stock prices continued moving steadily up in July and August before faltering in September amid growing predictions of a correction. During 2021’s first nine months, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index continued leading other indexes with a return of 15.9%. The higher-quality Dow Jones Industrials Index returned 12.1%. In general, riskier, “higher beta” stocks performed best. With the notable exception of Chinese stocks, most other non-US equity indexes also produced attractive returns. Chinese stocks suffered as new central government regulations limited some business activities and highly leveraged Evergrande, China’s second-largest real estate developer, teetered on the brink of financial collapse.
US equity markets continued higher in the second quarter with several key indexes setting new highs in late June. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index returned +8.6% during the quarter to bring the year-to-date return to +15.2%. Most other indexes produced more modest returns during the three-month period as investors seemed to rotate between sectors in search of undervalued companies. For example, small-capitalization stocks only returned +4.3% and a popular China index returned –0.4% during the quarter.
The stock market’s upward trajectory moderated as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index returned +6.2% during 2021’s first quarter. Many of the large technology company stocks that led the market’s 2020 rebound sat out the first quarter of 2021. Stocks from the previously underperforming sectors of energy and financials shined. As the Market Indicators chart to the right shows, mid-capitalization and small company stocks had a particularly good quarter. The 12-month performance for all equity indexes is impressive. However, those gains include recovering from the market plunge that preceded the period’s start.
US stocks continued to move higher during 2020’s last quarter, with the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrials returning 12% and 11%, respectively. Small and mid-capitalization stocks were even stronger, returning 31% and 24% during the quarter. All equity indexes produced attractive returns in 2020 (see Market Indicators box). However, those annual returns conceal the story of a rapid, deep bear market and the subsequent 68% S&P 500 rebound.
The US stock market continued to rebound in July and August before declining slightly in September. For the third quarter, the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index returned +8.9% bringing 2020’s year-to-date return to +5.6%. The S&P has outperformed almost all other broad indexes, including the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which returned –0.9% for the year-to-date period. Most other important equity indexes have also produced single digit percentage declines this year (see Market Indicators box).
Interest rates were essentially unchanged during the quarter as global central banks continued to provide economic stimulus through abnormally low rates. Since year-end, the 10-year US Treasury yield has declined from 1.92% to 0.69%.
Equity markets rebounded in the second quarter as COVID-19 infection rates slowed in many of the hardest hit areas. Very low interest rates have encouraged investors to buy stocks. The rebound was uneven, favoring technology companies. The future path of economic growth and equity prices are highly uncertain due to the unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the search for a successful vaccine.
Stocks suffered severe declines during the first quarter as the new coronavirus, Covid-19, spread in China, Iran, Europe and then the US. With “social distancing” as the primary method of fighting the spread of Covid-19, economic activity slowed markedly in the affected areas. No one knows how long it will take to stop the spread of the virus. The medical, research and financial resources of the US and other major nations are focusing on increasing testing, developing treatments and a vaccine, and providing financial support for individuals and companies affected by the economic downturn. The exact course forward is uncertain but we remain convinced that Covid-19 will be contained and eventually eradicated.
Last year was a great year for the stock market, and a good year for bonds. The US economy continued to grow, though its growth was on the slow side. While 2019’s rate of stock market gain is too good to continue, we have a positive outlook as we enter 2020. We believe that many investors are too pessimistic about the stock market.
An uncertain global growth outlook and a briefly inverted yield curve held the US stock market close to flat during the third quarter. Interest rates dropped sharply during the quarter before staging a partial rebound. As fears of a recession increase, the resilient American consumer is keeping the economy moving forward.
US equities started the second quarter by continuing the powerful rebound that began in the last week of December. The market, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, set new highs at the beginning of May. Economic growth concerns led to a market sell-off later in the month followed by a rapid rise and new all-time highs in response to the Federal Reserve’s signals that further interest rate increases were on hold. For the first six-months of 2019, the S&P 500 returned +18.5%. Stocks of smaller and international companies returned somewhat less. Details are found in the near-by Market Indicators chart.
Six Decisions Before Seventy-Five
Research shows that major, complex decisions in later parts of life are particularly difficult. Often the approach is to simply delay until a crisis point. To avoid unnecessary stress on yourself or on loved ones, it makes more sense to prepare for major decisions before a crisis. We suggest there are six major questions that should be addressed before reaching age 75.
In the course of our careers we have had numerous conversations with clients and their children about the advisability of a prenuptial (also known as premarital or ante nuptial) agreement. Often these conversations were after an engagement was announced and a wedding date set, and the client or child of the client was unaware of the concept of such an agreement and found the conversation uncomfortable.
Paying for College
The annual cost of attending many private colleges now approaches or exceeds $60,000. While this cost will be reduced for many families through needs-based scholarships and tuition discounts, families with accumulated financial assets will spend close to the full amount. Here are six basic approaches to saving and paying for college.
Avoiding Inheritance Mistakes
A substantial inheritance can have a life changing financial impact: if handled wisely, the elusive goals of financial security and a comfortable future retirement may become attainable. But sudden wealth can sometimes be overwhelming and, if not guarded carefully, can easily be eroded or destroyed. Avoiding the following common mistakes is key to your future financial wellbeing after receiving a substantial inheritance.