As the Danish proverb says, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” The year 2019 has provided many new examples. Let’s take a quick look at a few memorable market moments from the past year and see what they might suggest about what we can expect in 2020.
1. Interest rates were supposed to rise; they fell instead.
As the year opened, the Fed was widely expected to continue its gradual tightening of interest rates. Instead, in response to weakening consumer confidence and an economic slowdown perhaps fueled by trade uncertainties, rates dropped, leading to the first inverted Treasury yield curve in over 10 years. Rates were historically low at the start of the year, but they fell even lower by the end of October. In other words, investors who were betting on higher rates in 2019 were likely disappointed by the way things turned out.
2. The inverted yield curve and the recession that didn’t happen.
Speaking of interest rates, the inverted yield curve — what happens when longer-term maturities have a lower yield than shorter-term ones — provided a flashing signal to many investors that the long-running bull market in the US was over and that we were likely headed into a recession. As of the date of this writing, however, that hasn’t happened. Also, the S&P 500 has advanced almost 9% from late August, when the recession predictions were at their height, to their reading of 3,245.49, as I write this — just slightly off its high for the year. Those who bailed out of equities due to recession panic left significant money on the table.
3. From the cellar to the stars.
Greece, a nation that was the site of one of the most dire economic crises since the global market meltdown of 2007–08, saw its equity market go from a negative 37% return in 2018 to a 37% advance in 2019. Last year’s hottest emerging market — Qatar, with a 29.84% total return in 2018 — fell to 22nd place in 2019, with a decline of 4.95%. These are just a couple more indications of how difficult it is to predict the performance of any particular market during any particular time period.
So, what is 2019 trying to teach us about 2020?
First of all, it reminds us that there is no reliable way to forecast the movement of the financial markets, whether we are talking about stocks or bonds. The mainstream prognosticators and the media pundits were off the mark; neither accurately predicted the outcomes for 2019. In fact, thousands of experts have tried to predict market movements, and none have shown that they can do it consistently, any more than the “gizzard-squeezers” in the Roman Empire could predict when the Huns would attack. Investors, whether they are thriving retirees, women in transition, or family stewards, should avoid being distracted by sensationalistic headlines.
It’s also worth remembering that basing investment decisions on such predictions is typically not a strategy for long-term success. As I’ve said before, the reason that every investment prospectus contains the sentence “Past performance is not a guarantee of future results” is because it is true.
Finally, the markets in 2019 are telling us, once again, to focus on the things we can control: asset allocation, diversification, disciplined rebalancing, and maintaining a patient, long-term strategy. These fundamentals may not sound as exciting as the latest financial headlines, but over time they will deliver the most reliable results.
Stay Diversified, Stay YOUR Course!