The US stock market was on an absolute tear this summer. S&P 500 went up by 7.65% and completed its best 3rd quarter since 2013. Despite the February correction, the US stocks managed to recover from the 10% drop. All major indices reached a series of record highs at the end of August and September.
|Index||Q1 2018||Q2 2018||Q3 2018||YTD 2018|
|S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY)||-1.00%||3.55%||7.65%||10.37%|
|S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR)||0.57%||8.69%||4.87%||14.64%|
|MSCI EAFE (VEA)||-0.90%||-1.96%||1.23%||-1.62%|
|Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG)||-1.47%||-0.18%||-0.08%||-1.73%|
The US Economy remains strong
Markets have largely shrugged off the trade war fears benefiting from a strong economy and high corporate earnings.
US Unemployment remains low at 3.9% in July and August, levels not seen since the late 1960s and 2000.
Consumer sentiment is at a multi-year high. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index hit 100.1 in September, passing 100 for the third time since the January of 2004.
Business optimism hit another record high in August. The National Federation of Independent Business’ small business optimism index reached the highest level in the survey’s 45-year history. According to NFIB, small business owners are planning to hire more workers, raise compensation for current employees, add inventory, and spend more on capital investments.
A hypothetical 60/40 portfolio
A hypothetical 60/40 index portfolio consisting of 30% US Large Cap Stocks, 10% US Small Cap Stocks, 20% International Stocks, 33% US Fixed Income and 7% Gold would have returned 3.06% by the end of September.
|Barclays USAgg Bond||33%||-0.57%|
I expect a strong Q4 of 2018 with a record high holiday consumer and business spending. While stock valuations remain elevated, robust revenue and consumer demand will continue to drive economic growth.
After lagging large-cap stocks in 2017, small-cap stocks are having a comeback in 2018. Many domestically focused publicly traded businesses benefited massively from the recent corporate tax cuts, higher taxes on imported goods and healthy domestic demand.
This year’s rally was primarily driven by Technology, Healthcare and Consumer Discretionary stocks, up 20.8%, 16.7%, and 13.7% respectively. However, other sectors like Materials, Real Estate, Consumer Staples, Financials and Utilities are either flat or negative for the year. Keep in mind of the recent reshuffle in the sector classification where Google, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter along with the old telecommunication stocks were added to a new sector called Communication services.
|Sector||Performance||Price per||Price to||Dividend|
|as of 10/3/2018||(TTM)||(TTM)||(%)|
I believe that we are in the last few innings of the longest bull market. However, a wide range of sectors and companies that have largely remained on the sidelines. Some of them could potentially benefit from the continued economic growth and low tax rates.
The performance gap between US and foreign stocks continues to grow. After a negative Q1 and Q2, foreign stocks recouped some of the losses in Q3. Furthermore, emerging market stocks are down close to -9% for the year.
Bad economic data coming from Turkey, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and China along with trade war fears put downward pressure on foreign equity markets. Additionally, rising right-wing sentiments in Italy, Austria, Sweden, Hungary, and even Germany puts doubts on the stability of the European Union and its pro-immigration policies.
In my view, the risk that the financial crisis in Turkey, Argentina, and Italy will spread to other countries is somewhat limited. However, the short-term headwinds remain, and we will continue to monitor these markets.
Another major headline for European stocks is the progress of the Brexit negotiation. While soft Brexit would benefit both sides, a hard exit could have a higher negative impact on the UK.
I remain cautiously positive on international stocks. According to WSJ, foreign stocks are trading at a 12% discount over US equity on price to earnings basis. This year created value opportunities in several counters. However, the issue with European and Japanese stocks is not so much in valuations but the search for growth catalysts in conservative economies with an aging population.
Rising Fed rates and higher inflation have driven bond prices lower so far this year. With inflation rate hovering at 2%, strong employment figures, rising commodity cost, and robust GDP growth, the Fed will continue to hike interest rates. I am expecting one more rate hike in December and three additional hikes in 2019.
I will also continue to monitor the spread between 2-year and 10-year treasury. This spread is currently at 0.23%, the lowest level since 2005. Normally, a negative spread, i..e 2-year treasury rare higher than 10-year is a sign of a troubled economy.
While modest, individual pockets of the fixed-income market are generating positive performance this year. For instance, short duration fixed income products are now yielding in the range of 1.5% to 2%. The higher interest is now a compelling reason for many investors to keep some of their holdings in cash, CDs or short-term instruments.
With 10-year treasury closing above 3% and moving higher, fixed income investors will continue to see soft returns on their portfolio.
Gold is one of the big market losers this year. The strong dollar and robust US economy have led to the precious metal sell-off. While the rise cryptocurrency might have reduced some of the popularity of Gold, I still believe that a small position in Gold can offer a buffer and reduce the overall long-term portfolio volatility. The investors tend to shift to Gold during times of uncertainty.
Navigating market highs
With S&P 500, NASDAQ and Dow Jones hitting all-time highs, how should investors manage their portfolio?
End of the year is an excellent opportunity for reconciliation and rebalancing to your target asset allocation. S&P 500 has returned 16.65% in the past five years, and the chance that equities are taking a big chunk of your portfolio is very high. Realizing some long-term gains and reinvesting your proceeds into other asset classes will ensure that your portfolio is reset to your desired risk tolerance level as well as adequately diversified.
In late January and early February, we experienced a market sell-offs while S&P 500 dropped more than 10%. Investors in the index who did not panic and sold at the bottom recouped their losses and ended up with 10% return as of September 30, 2018. Taking a long-term view will help you avoid the stress during market downturns and allow you to have a durable long-term strategy
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About the author:
Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families. To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.