The year 2019 served up many examples of the unpredictability of markets.
Interest rates that US policy-makers expected to rise fell instead. American consumers’ confidence weakened as the year began,1 and news headlines broadcast fears of an economic slowdown. But investors who moved onto the sidelines may have missed the gains in the US stock market. As of the end of October, the S&P 500 was up more than 20% for the year on a total-return basis. That puts it on course for the best showing since 2013 should that gain hold through December.
Outside the US, Greece—the site of an economic crisis so dire some expected the country to abandon the euro earlier this decade, and a country whose equity market lost more than a third of its value last year—has had one of the most robust stock market performances among emerging economies in 2019. On top of that, Greece issued bonds at a negative nominal yield, which means investors paid for the privilege of lending the government cash.
Taken as a whole, it’s a reminder that the prediction game can be a losing one for investors.
Up or Down?
A closer look at interest rates and the bond market shows just how unpredictable asset performance can be. Going into 2019, Federal Reserve officials expected economic conditions to support raising a key interest rate benchmark twice. Instead, policy-makers lowered it three times.
In the market for US Treasuries—where market participants set interest rates—the yield curve that tracks Treasuries inverted for the first time in more than 10 years, as seen in Exhibit 1. Some long-term yields fell below some short-term yields over the summer. What’s more, yields on medium- and long-term bonds were at historically low levels at the start of the year, but they fell even lower by the end of October. Investors who made moves based on the expectation yields would rise in 2019 may have been disappointed in how events ultimately transpired.
Yields on US Treasuries of various maturities since the end of 2018
Events weren’t any easier to anticipate in the global equity markets, where no evident link appears between markets that performed well last year and those that have excelled this year, as Exhibit 2 shows.
Among the 23 developed market countries,2 only one country was a Top 5 performer for 2018 and 2019: the US. Last year’s strongest performing market— Finland—ranked 22nd this year through the end of October. Among emerging markets, Greece swung from a 37% decline last year to a 37% advance this year through the end of October.
Changes in the Ranks
Performance of equity markets in 23 developed and 24 emerging economies
History has shown there’s no compelling or dependable way to forecast stock and bond movements, and 2019 was a case in point. Neither the mainstream prognostications nor the hindsight of recent strong performance predicted outcomes in 2019.
Rather than basing investment decisions on predictions of which way debt or equity markets are headed, a wiser strategy may be to hold a range of investments that focus on systematic and robust drivers of potential returns. Investors who were broadly diversified across asset classes and around the globe were in a position to potentially enjoy the returns that the markets delivered thus far in 2019. Last year, this year, next year—that approach is a timeless one.
- 1Based on readings from the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey and the University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment.
- 2Markets designated as developed or emerging by MSCI.
IF YOU ARE A RETAIL INVESTOR IN UK, IRELAND, GERMANY OR NETHERLANDS, THIS DOCUMENT HAS BEEN PROVIDED TO YOU BY YOUR FINANCIAL ADVISER, WHO CAN HELP EXPLAIN ITS CONTENTS.
WHERE ISSUED BY DIMENSIONAL IRELAND LIMITED
Issued by Dimensional Ireland Limited (DIL), with registered office 10 Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2, D02 T380, Ireland. DIL is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland (Registration No. C185067).
WHERE ISSUED BY DIMENSIONAL FUND ADVISORS LTD.
Issued by Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd. (DFAL), 20 Triton Street, Regent’s Place, London, NW1 3BF. Company Number 02569601. DFAL is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – Firm Reference No. 150100.
Neither DIL nor DFAL as applicable, (each an “Issuing Entity”, as the context requires) give financial advice. You are responsible for deciding whether an investment is suitable for your personal circumstances, and we recommend that a financial advisor helps you with that decision. Information and opinions presented in this material have been obtained or derived from sources believed by the Issuing Entity to be reliable and the Issuing Entity has reasonable grounds to believe that all factual information herein is true as at the date of this document.
The information in this material is intended for the recipient’s background information and use only. It is provided in good faith and without any warranty or, representation as to accuracy or completeness. Information and opinions presented in this material have been obtained or derived from sources believed by the Issuing Entity to be reliable and the Issuing Entity has reasonable grounds to believe that all factual information herein is true as at the date of this document. It does not constitute investment advice, recommendation, or an offer of any services or products for sale and is not intended to provide a sufficient basis on which to make an investment decision. It is the responsibility of any persons wishing to make a purchase to inform themselves of and observe all applicable laws and regulations. Unauthorised reproduction or transmitting of this material is strictly prohibited. The Issuing Entity does not accept responsibility for loss arising from the use of the information contained herein.
The Issuing Entity issues information and materials in English and may also issue information and materials in certain other languages. The recipients continued acceptance of information and materials from the Issuing Entity will constitute the recipient’s consent to be provided with such information and materials, where relevant, in more than one language.
“Dimensional” refers to the Dimensional separate but affiliated entities generally, rather than to one particular entity. These entities are Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd., Dimensional Ireland Limited, DFA Australia Limited, Dimensional Fund Advisors Canada ULC, Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd, Dimensional Ireland Limited, Dimensional Japan Ltd., and Dimensional Hong Kong Limited. Dimensional Hong Kong Limited is licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission to conduct Type 1 (dealing in securities) regulated activities only and does not provide asset management services.
Investments involve risks. The investment return and principal value of an investment may fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original value. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee strategies will be successful.