As fall falls and the temperatures signal a new season, we are reminded why we love this time of year in Wisconsin. We are replacing our shorts and swim trunks with flannel shirts and hooded sweatshirts. Even though most of us have been through the Midwest seasonal pattern for decades, every season feels new and different from last year or the year before. We know that it isn’t different. Leaf colors will change and eventually drop. Snow will fall and temperatures will once again have a minus in front of them.
The investment markets tend to run in similar cyclical patterns. Albeit not as predictable as the seasons, stock and bond markets have a familiar rhythm. Investment markets peak, then fall, eventually bottoming out before rising again. While we all know this and have likely been through the cycle, it is very easy to get lost in the noise, feeling as though this time it is different.
Proper perspective is one of the most essential traits of successful long-term investors. While it is sometimes difficult to deal with freezing temperatures day after day in January and February, we know that by April and May things will improve. It is harder to have a solid perspective when the investment markets fall and show no indication of recovery. The majority of stock and bond markets started 2022 sliding downhill and have continued that negative momentum through the third quarter. If the first nine months of 2022 were an “investment market winter,” we don’t have the luxury of looking at a calendar to tell us when spring will arrive.
Market Perspective: The Last 30 Years in the S&P 500
When I begin to lose sight of the big picture, I tend to look at history as a way to get my bearings. Here is a chart of the S&P 500 annual returns for the last 30 years.
There are two significant takeaways from this chart. First, in the last 30 years, the S&P 500 has only had five years of negative returns of more than 2%. Second, only one of these years occurred in the last 13 years. The first takeaway helps to provide context. Most investors define themselves as long-term, with a time horizon of more than 10 years. Therefore, seeing the last 30 years of returns can give us a useful long view. The second takeaway helps us to better understand the unique nature of the most recent bull market. From 2009 – 2021, there was one meaningful down year over these 13 years. Most bull markets last just under three years. While a market downturn was inevitable, predicting when it would start and the depth of the downturn is impossible. Coming off the down year in 2018, many respected economists and market professionals were predicting a difficult year for the US stock markets in 2019. As we can see from the chart, the S&P 500 index posted a total return of over 28% for 2019 and started a three-year run of double-digit positive returns. This isn’t throwing stones at the economists and market professionals who got it wrong in 2019, simply pointing out that predicting market returns or when markets will fall in any given year is incredibly difficult.
Raising of the Fed Funds Rate and Bond Markets
Now that we have a better understanding of the recent history of the U.S. equity markets, let’s turn our attention to the fixed income or bond markets. As jarring as 2022 has been for the equity markets, it pales compared to what has transpired in the bond market, particularly due to the Fed raising interest rates. The Federal Funds Rate, which is the rate most often adjusted by the Federal Reserve, began the year at .25%. As of Oct. 3, the current Fed Funds Rate sits at 3.25% as a result of three straight .75% increases.
The Fed is raising interest rates to combat soaring inflation. While this is necessary to help contain the current inflationary environment, it is leading to an incredibly challenging bond market. This coalescence of events has led to the worst start to a bond year since 1842. Here are three popular bond indexes to illustrate the negative 2022 performance.
The positive byproduct of the Fed aggressively raising interest rates is that we are finally in a higher-yielding bond environment. Newly issued bonds from the U.S. government and corporations are paying much more attractive interest rates than in the past 15 years.
Perspective is easily lost in light of the turbulent market conditions. Much like the despair you feel when we receive that early March snowfall, it is helpful to keep in mind that the current stage of this cycle will run its course and the markets will grow again. This is the time to review your portfolios and investment strategy to ensure that you are well positioned for your long-term goals.