This was the year the long, seemingly endless bull market came to a crashing halt — and U.S. investors finally, for the first time since 2008, experienced the normal definition of a bear market (down 20% from the S&P 500’s all-time high on September 20). The bottom fell out in the final month of 2018, which started with a decent chance of another year of overall annual gains, and ended in disappointment.  

Looking back, it was a strange investment year in many respects. The markets endured two major beatings — from late January to early February, and again from early October through December. Christmas Eve notched the worst market drop on record in terms of actual dollars. The S&P 500 Index registered the worst December performance since 1931. It was the first time since 1948 that the S&P 500 Index rose in the first three quarters and then finished the year in the red.  

Meanwhile, for unlucky investors in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, the year’s investment news may have rivaled the crashing of the famous Dutch tulip mania.  The entirely made-up currency, backed by no government or pool of assets, dropped from a high of $20,000 per “coin” to $3,800.

A breakdown shows that just about every investment asset dropped in 2018. The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index — the broadest measure of U.S. stocks — fell 14.29% in the 4th quarter, finishing the year down 5.27%. The comparable Russell 3000 Index was down 5.24% for the year, after declining 9.31% in December.  

Looking at large cap stocks, the Wilshire U.S. Large-Cap Index lost 13.69% in the fourth quarter, providing a negative 4.64% return for the year. The Russell 1000 Index finished the year with a similar 4.78% loss, while the widely quoted S&P 500 Index of large company stocks lost 13.97% during the year’s final quarter and overall finished down 6.24% in calendar 2018.

Meanwhile, the Russell Midcap Index finished the 2018 calendar year down 9.06%.

As measured by the Wilshire U.S. Small-Cap Index, investors in smaller companies were hit hard, losing 19.67% in the final quarter, to end the year with a negative 10.84% return. The comparable Russell 2000 Small-Cap Index lost 11.01% in 2018. So much for the FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google) stock craze — the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 17.54% in the final three months of the year, to finish down 3.88%.

The pain was even greater for international investors. China’s Shanghai Composite Index fell 24.6% in 2018, the largest drop since 2008, and Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index fell 12.1%. Overall, the broad-based EAFE Index of companies in developed foreign economies lost 12.86% in the final quarter, and ended the year down 16.14% in dollar terms. In aggregate, European stocks were down 17.27% in 2018, while EAFE’s Far East Index lost 13.97%. Emerging market stocks of less developed countries, as represented by the EAFE EM index, lost 7.85% in dollar terms in the fourth quarter, giving these very small components of most investment portfolios a 16.64% loss for the year.

Other investment categories didn’t fare well, either. Real estate, as measured by the Wilshire U.S. REIT Index, posted a 6.93% loss during the year’s final quarter, finishing the year down 4.84%. The S&P GSCI Index, which measures commodities returns, dropped a remarkable 22.94% in the 4th quarter, to finish the year down 13.82%.

In the bond markets, coupon rates on 10-year Treasury bonds rose incrementally to 2.68%, creating the unusual situation of losses in bond investments in the same year as losses in stocks. Similarly, 30-year government bond yields rose slightly to 3.01%. Five-year municipal bonds are yielding, on average, 1.96% a year, while 30-year munis are yielding 3.09% on average.

If you look at the accompanying chart, which shows returns since 2008 in 15 different investment classes, you can see that 2016 and 2017 were extraordinary years — everything went up (as shown in green).  Last year was extraordinary in the opposite direction — everything except cash was in the red. Basically, if you were an investor, you lost money last year. But that also, of course, provides you with a chance to buy investments at discounted prices in the new year.

Many investment professionals had been expecting a bear market much sooner than this. Bear markets tend to occur about every 3.5 years, and there have been 32 of them since 1900. So far, the current decline of just over 20% pales in comparison with the 86% drop in the 1930s, or the 57% drop from 2007 to early 2009. But there is no reason to imagine that we’re at the end of the current down cycle. With the government shutdown, reckless trade wars, a rapidly growing federal deficit, political uncertainty and the ever-looming possibility of a recession, investors are understandably nervous about the near-term future.

Longer term, a recession may be the biggest concern. Most economists are reluctant to predict an economic downturn when unemployment is at record lows, but there are some warning signs. Five Federal Reserve regional factory indexes all dropped in unison in December, the first time that has happened since May 2016. There are increasing signs that many factories are suffering from the uncertainty around U.S. trade policy, including tariffs on imported steel, aluminum and about $250 billion of Chinese products. At the same time, consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest level since July, and a measure of the employment outlook experienced its biggest plunge in 41 years.

Nevertheless, by all measures, the U.S. economy is still growing, and nobody can predict whether the markets will recover in 2019 or experience a steeper decline.  All we know is that, historically, all bear markets in history have, turned around, sooner or later, and investors who rebalance their portfolios on a regular basis — that is, buying stocks when their percentages of the total have gone down — tend to do better than investors who don’t rebalance, and especially better than the many who lose their nerve and sell in a panic during the downturn.

There is an old cartoon that shows the announcer telling the audience what really every stock market report ought to say: “Today, the investment markets provided another interesting day of meaningless white noise.” The day-to-day rises and falls tell us nothing about the future, and the best prediction is that most predictions will turn out to be incorrect. We don’t know what’s coming, but we know it’s always been a good strategy to hang on tight when the roller coaster reaches a crest and takes us down a steep slope for a while.

Sources:
Wilshire index data: http://www.wilshire.com/Indexes/calculator/
Russell index data: http://www.ftse.com/products/indices/russell-us  
S&P index data: http://www.standardandpoors.com/indices/sp-500/en/us/?indexId=spusa-500-usduf–p-us-l–
Nasdaq index data:
http://quotes.morningstar.com/indexquote/quote.html?t=COMP
http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/indices/nasdaq-total-returns.aspx
International indices: https://www.msci.com/end-of-day-data-search
Commodities index data: http://us.spindices.com/index-family/commodities/sp-gsci
Treasury market rates: http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/government-bonds/us/
Bond rates:
http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/corporate-bonds/
General:
https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-stock-bear-markets-and-their-subsequent-recoveries-2388520
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-31/humming-u-s-factories-end-2018-on-a-sour-note-amid-trade-war?utm_source=twitter&utm_content=business&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&cmpid=socialflow-twitter-business&utm_medium=social
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stock-futures-climb-over-trade-deal-hopes-in-last-session-of-2018-2018-12-31?mod=MW_section_top_stories
https://finance.yahoo.com/news/6-investing-lessons-2018-very-135350412.html
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-how-ugly-2018-was-for-stocks-and-other-assets-2018-12-31

It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect investment advisory or other fees that would reduce performance. Returns for indexes are reported on a total return basis (which may be net or gross, depending on the index) with dividends and interest reinvested,

DISCLOSURES

Past performance is no a guarantee of future results. Information in this publication is made as of the date of this publication is published and is subject to change without notice. This publication is general in nature, does not take into account any person’s individual needs, objectives, or circumstances, and is not intended as personalized investment advice for any person. Investing in securities or engaging an investment adviser to manage a portfolio entails risks and is not suitable for all investors. WorthPointe does not guarantee or offer any assurance that its services or strategies will be profitable, will meet a client’s objectives, or prevent or reduce losses. Asset allocation, diversification, or hedging strategies cannot prevent losses in all markets. Investing involves risks and a client may lose money by investing through WorthPointe. This publication is not a recommendation nor an offer to sell (or solicitation of an offer to buy) securities or enter into an agreement for investment advisory services.

INDEX DISCLOSURES
It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect investment advisory or other fees that would reduce performance. Returns for indexes are reported on a total return basis (which may be net or gross, depending on the index) with dividends and interest reinvested.

MSCI Emerging Markets Index (“MSCI EM”) is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index designed to represent the performance of large- and mid-cap securities in 24 Emerging Markets, reported on a net return basis. As of September 2018, MSCI EM had more than 1150 constituents, covering approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country. Published and maintained by MSCI, Inc., www.msci.com.

MSCI EAFE (“MSCI EAFE”) is market-capitalization weighted index designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets outside of the U.S. & Canada. The index includes a selection of stocks from 21 developed markets, but excludes those from the U.S. and Canada. The index has been calculated since 31 December 1969, making it the oldest truly international stock index. It is probably the most common benchmark for foreign stock funds in the U.S. Published and maintained by MSCI, Inc., www.msci.com.

Russell 1000 Index (“Russell 1000”) is a stock market index that tracks the highest-ranking 1,000 stocks in the Russell 3000 Index, which represent about 90% of the total market capitalization of that index. As of 31 December 2017, the stocks of the Russell 1000 Index have a weighted average market capitalization of almost $178 billion; the median market capitalization is nearly $10.5 billion. The index, which was launched on January 1, 1984, is maintained by FTSE Russell, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group. www.ftse.com.

Russell 2000 Index (“Russell 2000”) is a market capitalization-weighted index of smaller company stocks. It is a widely quoted measure of the overall performance of the small-cap to mid-cap company shares. It includes approximately 2000 of the smallest securities in the Russell 3000 Index Published and maintained by FTSE Russell, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group, www.ftse.com.

Russell 3000 Index (“Russell 3000”) is a capitalization-weighted stock market index that seeks to be a benchmark of the entire U.S stock market. It measures the performance of the 3,000 largest publicly held companies incorporated in America as measured by total market capitalization, and represents approximately 98% of the American public equity market. The index, which was launched on January 1, 1984, is maintained by FTSE Russell, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group. www.ftse.com.

Russell Microcap Index (“Russell Microcap”) measures the performance of the microcap segment of the U.S. equity market. It makes up less than 3% of the U.S. equity market. It includes 1,000 of the smallest securities in the Russell 2000 Index based on a combination of their market cap and current index membership and it also includes up to the next 1,000 stocks. The index, which was launched on June 1, 2005, is maintained by FTSE Russell, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group. www.ftse.com.

S&P 500 TR Index (“S&P 500”) is an unmanaged index comprised of the 500 stocks with the largest market capitalizations trading in the United States, and is widely regarded as one of the best measures of the large-cap, equity markets in the United States. The S&P 500 is calculated and published by S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC. Values reflect reinvestment of dividends. Published and maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, www.spdji.com.

S&P GSCI Index (“S&P GSCI”) serves as a benchmark for investment in the commodity markets and as a measure of commodity performance over time. It is a tradable index that is readily available to market participants of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The index was originally developed in 1991 by Goldman Sachs. In 2007, ownership transferred to Standard & Poor’s, who currently owns and publishes it. Futures of the S&P GSCI use a multiple of 250..

Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index (“Wilshire 5000”) is a market-capitalization-weighted index of the market value of all stocks actively traded in the United States. As of June 30, 2018, the index contained only 3,486 components. The index is intended to measure the performance of most publicly traded companies headquartered in the United States, with readily available price data,. Hence, the index includes a majority of the common stocks and REITs traded primarily through New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, or the American Stock Exchange. Limited partnerships and ADRs are not included. Published and maintained by Wilshire Associates, www.wilshire.com.

Wilshire US Large-Cap Index (“Wilshire US Large-Cap”) is a float-adjusted, market capitalization-weighted index of the issues ranked above 750 market capitalization of the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index (Wilshire 5000). Together, the components of the Wilshire US Large-Cap, Wilshire US Small-Cap Index and Wilshire US Micro-Cap Index comprise the Wilshire 5000 without gaps or overlaps. The Wilshire US Large-Cap was introduced in 1996. Published and maintained by Wilshire Associates, www.wilshire.com.

Wilshire US Small-Cap Index (“Wilshire US Small-Cap”) is a float-adjusted, market capitalization-weighted index of the issues ranked between 750 and 2,500 by market capitalization of the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index (Wilshire 5000). Together, the components of the Wilshire US Large-Cap Index, Wilshire US Small-Cap, and Wilshire US Micro-Cap Index comprise the Wilshire 5000 without gaps or overlaps. The Wilshire US Small-Cap was released in 1996. Published and maintained by Wilshire Associates, www.wilshire.com.

Wilshire US REIT Index (“Wilshire US REIT”) measures U.S. publicly-traded real estate investment trusts and is a subset of the Wilshire US Real Estate Securities Index. Designed to offer a market-based index that is more reflective of real estate held by pension funds, these indexes are unencumbered by the limitations of other appraisal-based indexes. They can serve as proxies for direct real estate investing by excluding securities whose value is not always tied to the value of the underlying real estate. Exclusions include: mortgage REITs, net-lease REITs, real estate finance companies, mortgage brokers and bankers, commercial and residential real estate brokers, home builders, large landowners and sub-dividers of unimproved land, hybrid REITs and timber REITs. The rationale for the exclusions listed is that factors other than real estate supply and demand, such as interest rates, influence the market value of these companies. Published and maintained by Wilshire Associates, www.wilshire.com.

 

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