Conflicting Signals

by Jeremy Bryan, CFA

Investors would be forgiven for being a little confused at stock and bond markets this year. There are many conflicting signals that, when combined with the very recent and exceedingly difficult experience of 2022, can give investors a sense that it is far worse than the actual stock and bond performance would indicate.  

The US economy currently is near 50 year lows of unemployment but there are increased discussions about layoffs and pauses in hiring. Inflation, while still elevated, is coming down in certain areas but is frustratingly persistent for consumers in areas such as food and travel. The most recent GDP report reflected continued growth of the US economy, but the degree of growth is slowing and leading economic indicators are reflecting worsening conditions.

Businesses are also providing conflicting data.  Corporate earnings trends have been better than expected during March and forward outlooks have been resilient with no evidence of significant decline.  On the other side, we have now experienced the collapse of three relatively large US banks which has elevated concerns for depositors as well as the need for financial companies to better understand their investment and lending risks.   

With these conflicting signals, investors could expect that markets have been volatile and potentially in negative territory.  Even market volatility gives conflicting signals depending on the asset class. Year to date, the S&P 500 is well into positive territory and stock market volatility has been relatively low since March.  On the other side, bonds are in positive territory year to date, but bond rates have been more volatile than at any time since 2008 and the yield curve is inverted (a widely viewed signal of future recession). 

During times of confusion, it can be tempting to avoid risk and wait for more clarity. While the temptation is real and the avoidance of risk can feel good in the short term, investing to achieve goals means focusing on long term objectives over short term comfort.

There are always concerns for investors – and when one concern is resolved it usually just leads to a new critical issue to fret over. Over the last 5 years, investors have had to weather the storm of highly contested elections, the beginnings of new wars, a global pandemic that severely affected the world economy, a significant bout of inflation, rapidly rising interest rates, and the threat of a potential global recession.  During those same 5 years, the S&P 500 has provided an annualized return of over 10%.

It can be tempting to try to time investing based on reactions to these concerns. In our experience, these actions usually hurt more than help long term performance. It is quite easy to say, “buy low, sell high.”  Buying low, however, typically involves purchasing when it feels extremely uncomfortable to do so.  Selling high usually means reducing exposure during times of high optimism where it feels like everyone is getting rich. In theory, these are easy actions to undertake. In real life, this practice is extremely difficult.

This is the main reason we advocate for planning based on your goals and not solely on a market forecast. By allocating to both safety and growth assets that fit your personal risk tolerance and the objectives for your money, it can be easier to avoid the pitfalls of reacting based on emotion.

To expand on these Market Commentaries or to discuss any of our investment portfolios, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 775-674-2222.

Posted on May 2, 2023 Read More

Returns Based on Market Construction

by Tyler Ellegard

There are several stock market indexes that we can use to determine how well U.S. stocks have performed, but the S&P 500 is one of the most popular measurements for the performance of U.S. large cap stocks. However, past performance of the S&P 500 may not be a perfect assessment of how the overall market is performing.  This is due to index construction and concentration differences that can significantly influence how indexes perform (especially in the short term). 

Stock market indexes can be structured in a variety of ways but the three most common are:

  • Market-cap weighted index (larger market caps have higher weightings)
  • Equally weighted index (all holdings are the same weight)
  • Price weighted index (weighted by price of the stock)

The S&P 500 Index is weighted by company market capitalization, meaning the larger the company, the greater the weight in the index. Currently, Apple Inc. (AAPL) holds a 7.1% weight in the index versus the smallest company in the S&P 500, Dish Network Corp (DISH), has a weight of 0.01%. Based on this structure, larger companies will have a greater impact on performance of the index. The table below shows the top 10 companies in the S&P 500 Index every five years dating back to 1980.1,2

The level of concentration, or the percentage of the entire index held by the top companies, is also important to understand and monitor.  Currently, the top 10 companies make up almost 30% of the entire index.  For context, the aggregate weight of the top 10 companies is equal to the bottom 394 companies in the S&P 500 index (28.8%).2

Analyzing index construction can provide greater insight into what is actually driving market performance.  A popular way of determining if a market rally is broad based or led by the larger companies is to compare the S&P 500 index versus its equally weighted version (where all 500 stocks have the same weight).  The table below shows the performance of the S&P 500 index and the equally weighted index.  Additionally, it shows the YTD performance of a few of the largest companies in the index.3

This data shows that, in 2022, the larger companies in the index significantly underperformed compared the overall S&P 500 index.  Because of this underperformance, the S&P 500 market weighted index underperformed the equally weighted index. Conversely, the opposite has occurred thus far in 2023.  Large companies in the S&P 500 have significantly outperformed, and as a result, the market weighted index is outperforming an equal weight version of the same stocks.  

Although there may be dispersions in performance from time to time, this trend tends to normalize.  As shown in the graph below, the market capitalization weighted S&P 500 performs inline with the equally weighted S&P 500 over longer periods of time.4

Lastly, it is important to know how the various market indexes are constructed as it will allow for a deeper understanding of what is driving the performance.  As an index, like the S&P 500, becomes more concentrated, the less diversified the returns will become.  This is not dissimilar to having a diversified plan for or in retirement.  Holding a diversified set of securities may not allow you to perform with the broader market on the upside, but will hopefully give you some protection on the downside and those sticking to that plan overtime will be rewarded.


To expand on these Market Commentaries or to discuss any of our investment portfolios, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 775-674-2222.

Posted on April 11, 2023 Read More

Bonds are Interesting Again

We’ve been experiencing a stock market with higher-than-average volatility since January of 2022.  While this has garnered a lot of deserved attention, something else has happened along the way.  For those looking to earn a recurring level of income, bonds (and even relatively safe bonds) are now providing a worthwhile yield which provide a level of income not seen in many years.

When we talk about investing, we don’t often start with bonds and that has been for good reasons up until recently. Most bonds weren’t providing a level of income sufficient to take either interest rate risk (as interest rates rise, bond prices fall) or default risk (companies failing to return the principal on their bonds).  This was the main reason for our stance that bonds were unattractive for most of 2021 and into 2022. 

Fast forward to now:  2-year treasuries, which are considered relatively safe investment assets, now have yields approaching 5%.  This level hasn’t been seen 2007, or stated another way, it has been 16 years since we had shorter term treasuries paying these levels of interest. 

Now, investors certainly had to experience a lot of pain to get to this level of yield.  In 2022, aggregate bonds experienced their worst year since at least the 1970s.  The US Federal Reserve, and other monetary policy makers across the globe, have had to increase their respective interest rates significantly to battle the global high level of inflation experienced in the post-COVID world.  These actions created difficult returns for existing holders of bonds.  New savers and purchasers of bonds, however, are now benefiting from much higher returns for similar risk levels.  As a result, the biggest adjustment we have made to our asset allocation outlook is that bonds represent a more attractive alternative now compared to the last few years. 

This doesn’t mean that bond investors are not facing risks.  Bonds are still susceptible to interest rates rising, and until we get better data reflecting inflation is under control, interest rates may continue to rise.  It is our expectation, however, that inflation will continue to decline even though we don’t expect “normal” inflation of 2% to happen this year.  If we see continual improvement, we could see interest rate stabilization or potential declines, which would be tailwinds for current bond buyers. 

From a stock perspective, higher interest rates tend to be a general headwind, but the degree of influence can be dependent on the sector as a whole and the financial health of the company.  A viable bond yield, however, can act as a negative influence on the market as investors rotate toward bonds for a less risky way to earn their returns.  While higher bond yields, and relative bond attractiveness, can be headwinds, there are simply too many variables to actual stock market performance to say with certainty since bonds are attractive, stocks are not.

The stock market declined in February after a very strong January.  Stocks were digesting higher interest rates, inflation data that was a bit higher than hoped or expected, as well as earnings results and future outlooks that reflected some level of caution among US companies.  It is our opinion that over longer periods of time corporate earnings growth drives stock market returns.  This is difficult to time with precision, but until investors are more comfortable that future earnings growth is stabilizing or increasing, it will be difficult for markets to rally significantly. 

With all this in mind, what are investors to do?  In our opinion, understand your return needs and objectives.  For some investors, incorporating a higher portion to bonds now could make more sense as the income level is higher now with a lower level of risk compared to stocks.  For other investors, with longer timelines and higher tolerance for risk, stocks still represent the best investment for long term growth.  That is why the blend of assets, and our recommendations, are more personalized and tailored to the specifics of our clients.

There is no blanket answer on stock or bond allocation and certainly no timing strategy that can perfectly adjust to maximize returns with minimal risk.  Usually, the best answer is to own a portion of both that is suitable for your ability and tolerance for risk that meets the needs in the short term combined with your objectives for the long term. 

To expand on these Market Commentaries or to discuss any of our investment portfolios, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 775-674-2222.

Posted on March 1, 2023 Read More
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