The very beginning of 2018 promised to be more of the same from 2017, as stocks initially propelled themselves higher on tax cuts and a business-friendly environment in Washington. But the year has been a surprising disappointment for many. Instead of continuing on their steady upward trajectory, stocks had a turbulent 2018, rocked by rising interest rates, economic slowdowns in China and elsewhere, and trade tensions and political uncertainty at home. The markets whipsawed, rising to a record in January, then correcting through the spring only to rebound to more record highs and then finish off the year in a downward spiral.
Economic growth in the U.S. and around the world gained momentum throughout 2017, fueling some eye-popping gains in global stock markets and encouraging optimism for consumers. Despite the political turbulence and early legislative failures by the Trump administration, December's passage of the tax plan was seen as a key victory that will propel the economy solidly into 2018.
We can call 2016 the year of "contrarian surprises". The market had one of the worst starts to the year ever. By mid-February, the S&P 500 had fallen over 10% and the Russell 2000 was down nearly 16%. These losses were on top of what was a lackluster and very narrow market in 2015, where most of the gains came from a handful of large growth stocks. But by the end of the year, the market had rallied in a big way, with the small-caps and value stocks that had performed so poorly in 2014 and 2015 leading the way.
Overall, 2015 was a mixed year for stocks, and while the S&P 500 came in essentially flat for the year, there was a lot of damage underneath the surface in small- and mid-caps and value stocks. Based on our own internal figures, 56% of all stocks in our investable universe fell in price during the year. Many of the large-gaining positions came from a handful of stocks. In 2015, we saw the term FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) get introduced, and if you didn’t have exposure to these growth names or some of the high-flying biotechnology firms, your portfolio may have been left in the dust.
When 2014 began, most forecasters were expecting another year of tepid US growth. Most believed interest rates finally would rise, and oil prices would also push higher. And, given the huge gains in US markets in 2013, it seemed most were predicting that stocks would pull back, or perhaps eke out meager gains. Top performing strategies were the John Neff and Momentum-based models, two very different fundamental approaches
If you were listening to some pundits, you might've mistaken the opening bell of 2013 for a death knell. When the year started, we were staring at a looming budget sequestration, a lingering debt crisis in Europe, and a slowdown in China. Many viewed the challenges as insurmountable, or close to it, for stocks. But the market didn't get the message. For the full year, the Peter Lynch and Martin Zweig inspired guru portfolios lead the pack.
In 2012, the "Wall of Worry" was steep for the market -- and stocks climbed it with a stubbornness that surprised many. In fact, while there was significant volatility at times, the index didn't have one day where its closing price put it in the red, year-to-date. That's the first time that's happened since 1979, and just the ninth time it's happened since 1928. At the top of the list performance wise was the Ben Graham value investor model and the portfolio based on Warren Buffett's approach.
As the late, great Benjamin Graham said, in the long term, the stock market is a weighing machine, judging stocks based on measurable criteria like earnings, sales, debt, profit margins, and return on equity. But in the short term, as Graham also noted, it is a voting machine -- that is, it is highly subject to the whims and moods of investors. And for much of 2011, fear was driving most investors' votes, thanks to a number of macroeconomic issues around the globe. Growth models excelled in 2011, with the Validea Momentum strategy and the model based on James O'Shaughnessy coming in in the #1 and #2 slots for the year.
Heading into 2010, a myriad of potential problems confronted the economy and stock market -- problems that had many pundits predicting a tough year, and many investors waiting on the sidelines. But despite growing debt woes in Europe, a burgeoning U.S. deficit, and an unemployment rate that remained stubbornly high, both the economy and stock market proved remarkably resilient. The best performers for the year were the Book/Market portfolio, based on the work of Joseph Piotroski, followed by the James O'Shaughnessy growth/value model.
The contrast between the stock market at the start of 2009 and at the end of 2009 was about as stark as it gets, and not just in terms of price level. When the year started, fears of financial Armageddon hovered over equities. But by year end, stocks surged, with the S&P 500 gaining about 65% from its March low through the end of the year, and the Nasdaq Composite jumping close to 80% over that span. Two of our models more than doubled the S&P 500 in 2009. The strategy based on Joel Greenblatt's Magic Formula and the Warren Buffett-based model each had a blowout year.
2008 was one of the worst in the history of the U.S. stock market. While investors and analysts entered 2008 hoping that the subprime mortgage mess could be contained, it quickly became clear that the problem's tentacles reached much farther than many thought. The Ben Graham model portfolio and the Small-Cap Growth investor portfolio, based on a strategy by The Motley Fool, had losses far less than the market in what was a gut-wrenching year for most stocks.
In 2007, the solid gains made by most major stock indexes belied some significant disparities in the market's performance. One of the major disparities during the year involved the gap between growth and value stocks. While extensive research shows that value stocks tend to outperform growth companies over the long term, the opposite occurred in 2007. Momentum and growth stocks were in favor this year, and that helped the Validea Momentum and Small-Cap growth investor portfolios lead the pack in terms of relative performance.