Two Different Quarters, Two Different Results
Patience was rewarded in the first quarter of 2019. After significant declines during the fourth quarter of 2018, stocks worldwide rebounded during the first three months of this year. Bond prices, which were low during most of 2018, continued a recovery that began in November.
The contrast with the last quarter of 2019 was dramatic.
2018 was a volatile year for stocks. S&P 500 Index Funds (with reinvested dividends) peaked in September, up 11% for the year. They then declined 19%, hitting bottom on December 24. That decline was seen by some analysts as the beginning of a “Bear Market” (stock market decline of 20% or more from a previous high). That didn’t happen but it was not a Merry Christmas.
The last Bear Market for the S&P 500 Index ended 10 years ago, perhaps the longest stretch without one in US stock market history. So it was tempting to bail out of stocks during the fourth quarter declines, which many investors thought was the beginning of the Bear. Instead, the fourth quarter was another example of the difficulty of trying to time the markets.
Explanation for these moves are always numerous, even when the actual reasons are not clear. The Wall Street Journal (March 30, page A1) said “Much of this year’s rally was fueled by investor’s relief that central banks were willing to back off their rate-increase campaigns after growth cooled from the Eurozone to China…The rebound was also fueled by investors stepping back into stocks after a selloff that many considered overdone.”
Other reasons mentioned include positive feedback from US-China trade negotiations, strong job growth and low inflation.
Whatever the reason, investors should like first quarter results.
The usual warnings apply: These short-term trends are not indicative of what will happen next; past performance is no guarantee of future performance; investments involve the risk of loss of principal and earnings; "Average annual return" evens out variations in the actual year-to-year returns; ETFs, mutual funds and individual stocks and bonds fluctuate in value and there will always be times when they lose value; and the S&P 500 Index is still overdue for a "Bear Market," a 20% or greater decline.