The S&P 500 had its worst year since 2008 and bonds just wrapped up their worst year ever. However, inflation seems to have rolled over and employment remains robust. Has the market bottomed? Is the Fed going to pivot shortly? Are better days ahead for investors? Perhaps. But for truly long-term investors, it probably doesn’t matter.
Last year may not have been so great for the stock market, but it was a solid year for our firm. We were gratified to see our performance remain fairly strong, at least relative to the overall stock and bond markets. This was thanks largely to our data-driven approach that led us to value stocks, conservative bonds, and alternative investments, all of which performed admirably.
As most of you know, we tend toward the technical side of the investment business and aren’t so great at prospecting for new clients and selling. That results in slower growth and likely reduced revenue for our firm, but we’re quite happy focusing more on delivering a solid service than being an advisor to the masses. Even with moderate growth last year, we still finished up with around $700 million in client assets entrusted to us. We started out fourteen years ago as a very small firm and are now solidly mid-sized. I doubt we’ll ever be a behemoth, even in our local market, but we expect to continue to grow in measured fashion over the years.
Stock and bond markets enjoyed some relief to close out 2022 after dismal returns for most of the year. The S&P 500 gained 7.6% for the fourth quarter while the Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index rose 1.9%. Despite the rebound, 2022 was one of the worst years for both bonds and the traditional 60% stock/40% bond portfolio in recent history.
Nancy Pelosi famously said we needed to pass Obamacare legislation so we could find out what is in the bill. Well, the SECURE Act 2.0 has now been passed, but there are still a lot of details that need to be fleshed out, likely by the Treasury Department in the coming years. Here’s what we know so far:
The SECURE Act 2.0 was approved by Congress and signed by President Biden in late December 2022 and is now officially law as of January 1, 2023. It is an extension of the SECURE Act of 2019 which was intended to help strengthen the retirement system and ensure participants’ financial readiness for retirement…
Over the past almost 15 years, diversification was a fool’s errand. Simply buying the largest, techiest, US-based stocks would have yielded the largest rewards. Why bother with small-cap stocks, international diversification, or Warren Buffett’s precious value stocks (what does that old coot know anyway)? FAANG stocks were all that were necessary to earn market-beating returns.
The field of economics is often referred to as the dismal science. Today’s environment certainly helps us understand that moniker. Inflation is running amok, interest rates are moving aggressively higher, stock and bond markets are both down considerably, and we may already be in a recession. It is not hard to paint a picture of more downside ahead. All eyes have been on the Fed lately to cure these problems.
Today, market sentiment is about as bad as it gets. The black line in the chart below shows how individuals and institutional investors feel about the prospects for the stock market. It is almost as low as it was in 2008. That is not terribly surprising given how both stocks and bonds have performed so far this year. However, sentiment tends to be a contrary indicator.
The stock market fell for a third consecutive quarter, adding to its losses for the year. After a slight rebound to start the quarter, gains reversed sharply in September as the S&P 500 fell by more than 9%, making it the worst month for the index since the Covid downturn of March 2020.
The first half of 2022 has been challenging for both stock and bond investors as persistently high inflation, anticipation of further Fed interest rate hikes, and negative GDP growth weighed on returns. The S&P 500 experienced its worst first half of the year since 1970, while bonds have experienced a loss of more than 10%.
Alternative investments, as we define them, include funds that focus on more esoteric strategies such as investments in catastrophe bonds, small private loans, currencies, commodities, private real estate, and may involve reasonable shorting or leverage. These are all things that sound risky.