2018 was a shocking Year

Well its official, 2018 was a shocking year in which to make money. Not for some time, 1972, has so many asset classes failed to deliver 5% or more in value.

In terms of absolute loses, e.g. Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns than 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, 2018 is historical.


Here is a run through the numbers:

International Equities were down around 7.4% in local currency terms in 2018:

  • The US was one of the “better” performing markets, yet despite reaching historical highs in January and then again in September, had its worst year since the GFC, December was is its worst December return outcome since the 1930s.
  • The US market entered 2018 on a record run, experiencing it longest period in history without incurring a 5% or more fall in value.  This was abruptly ended in February.
  • During the year the US market reached its longest period in history without incurring a Bear market, defined as a fall in value of more than 20%. Albeit, it has come very close to ending this record in recent months.
  • Elsewhere, many global equity markets are down over 20% from their 2018 peaks and almost all are down over 10%.
  • Markets across Europe and Japan fell by over 12% – 14% in 2018
  • The US outperformed the rest of the world given its better economic performance.
  • The New Zealand sharemarket outperformed, up 4.9%!

Commodities, as measured by the Bloomberg Index, fell over 2018. Oil had its first negative year since 2015, falling 20% in November from 4 year highs reached in October. Even Gold fell in value.

Hedge Fund indices delivered negative returns.

Global credit indices also delivered negative returns, as did High Yield

Emerging Market equities where negative, underperforming developed markets.

Global listed Property and Infrastructure indices also returned negative returns.

Fixed Interest was more mixed, Global Market Indices returned around 1.7%:

  • US fixed interest delivered negative returns for the year, as did US Inflation Protected fixed interest securities. US Longer-term securities underperformed shorter-term securities.
  • NZ fixed interest managed around +4.7% for the year.

The US dollar was stronger over 2018, this provided some relief for those investing outside of their home currency and maintained a low level of currency hedging.

The above analysis does not include the unlisted asset classes such as Private Equity, Unlisted Infrastructure, and Direct Property investments.


Two last points:

  • Balance Bear, under normal circumstances, fixed interest, particularly longer-term securities, would perform strongly when equity markets deliver such negative returns as experienced in 2018. This certainly occurred over the last quarter of 2018 when concerns over the outlook for global economic growth became a key driver of market performance. Nevertheless, over the year, fixed interest has failed to provide the usual diversification benefits to a Balanced Portfolio (60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income). Many Balanced Portfolios around the world delivered negative returns in 2018 and failed to beat Cash.
  • Volatility has increased. Research by Goldman Sachs highlights this. In 2018 the US S&P 500 Index experienced 110 days of 1%+ movements in value, this compares to only 10 days in 2017.


Happy investing.


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Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.


US Equity Market 9 Years of Advancement

The US equity market recently celebrated 9 years of advancement without a bear market (a Bear market is defined as an equity market decline of greater than 20% from its peak).

This 9 year Bull market is closing in on the historical record of 9 years and five and half months.  The longest post-war Bull market stretched from 11 October 1990 to 24 March 2000.  To break that record the current Bull market will have to continue until the last week of August 2018.

The US equity market experienced a “correction” in February 2018 (a correction is defined as a fall in market value of between 10 and 20%) on inflation and higher interest rate concerns.  I wrote about this in this blog and also put into historical perspective here and here.  


Bull markets end with a Bear market.  Bear markets usually coincide with recession.  Very rarely has there been a Bear Equity Market without recession.  Nevertheless, there have been bear markets without a recession.

Fortunately the global economy has good momentum and recession does not look imminent. Most economic forecasts are for economic growth throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Albeit, the current Bull market does face some risks.  Key amongst those risks are:

  • Earnings disappointment in 2019. Earnings momentum is vulnerable this late in the economic cycle
  • Economic data disappoints – global equity markets are priced for continuation of the current “Goldilocks” economic environment, not too hot and not too cold.
  • Inflation data surprises on the upside
  • Policy mistake by a Central Bank given the extraordinary policy positions over the last 10 years of very low interest rates and Quantitative Easing, e.g. US Reserve Bank needs to raise short term interest rates more quickly than currently anticipated
  • Longer term interest rates rise much higher than currently expected


Therefore, lots to consider as the year progresses.


I enjoyed this quote from Howard Marks “there are two things I would never say (since they require far more certainty than I consider attainable): “get out” and “it’s time.”  It’s rare for the market pendulum to reach such an extreme that views can properly be black-or-white.  Most markets are far too uncertain and nuanced to permit such unequivocal, sweeping statements.”

Well worth thinking about when making portfolio investment decisions.


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Equity Markets Keep Falling

The equity market volatility from last week continued into this week.

The Dow Jones has experienced its worst week in two years. US equity markets reached “correction” territory (a decline of 10% from the peaks in January).

Concerns over higher longer term interest rates and a more aggressive Federal Reserve Fed Funds Rate tightening path than expected are the backdrop to the recent downturn in markets.

It also appears that the short VIX (volatility) products significantly added to market volatility. A good explanation of how these inverse volatility products impacted on market volatility can be found at $XIV Volpocalypse – A Sea of Disinformation and Misunderstanding

The US inflation number on February 14th has taken on heightened importance and will be the focus of markets this week i.e. a likely source of volatility

What has changed? Not much.

As expected prior to the “market melt-down” volatility was expected to pick up from historical lows and that interest rates would rise over coming months. Albeit the volatility has occurred more abruptly and violently than anticipated (as it often does).

US longer dated interest rates have reached 4 year highs but remain near historically low levels.

The global economy is characterised by synchronised economic growth. It is expected that all 45 of the larger economies monitored by the OECD will experience growth in 2017 and 2018. It has been a while since this has occurred. In the US unemployment remains at near historical lows and financial conditions remain supportive of ongoing economic activity. US equity markets are still up over 10% for the last 12 months.

It is a good idea to go back to what was being said prior to a large market event.

The comments by Mohamed El-Erain, the chief economic advisor at Allianz, at the Inside ETFs conference 23 January 2018 are a good reference point for the current market situation.

El-Erain told the conference we are not in an asset bubble but that we should expect a higher level of market volatility in 2018. Mohamed El-Erain: We’re Not in a Bubble

His comments focussed on the fact that the US Federal Reserve (Fed) would continue to normalise monetary Policy in 2018 e.g. lift interest rates over the year to more normal levels while also reducing the size of the Fed’s Balance Sheet.

El-Erain noted 3 key risks for 2018:

  1. Geopolitics e.g. Korea and the Middle East
  2. What happens if the four major Central Banks try to normalise monetary at the same time i.e. Fed, China, Japan, and Europe
  3. A market accident e.g. a liquidity event in say an ETF given an over promise to deliver

The last risk is very insightful given the events of the inverse volatility products over the last 10 days. I am quite sure El-Erain did not expect that risk to materialise so quickly!


So if things change, you change your mind, to badly paraphrase Keynes. Not sure that things have changed that much but maybe a realisation interest rates are actually heading higher and the very low level of market volatility experienced cannot last for ever. The US equity market is still trading on high valuations.

Whatever you do don’t panic. The Topic of my next post.


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