Investment Lessons of 2016

Contributed by: Jaclyn Jackson Jaclyn Jackson

As we embrace the fresh start of a new year, it is important that we retrace our steps to learn from our investment victories and missteps during 2016. I’m optimistic that reflection can help us become better investors in 2017.

A Look Back on 2016 Market Performance:

  • First Quarter: US large equities beat US small and mid-equities (SMIDs) in the first quarter as both had positive runs. We witnessed value stocks shifting to outperform growth stocks and commodities make a comeback. Meanwhile, gold became one of the best performing assets. 
  • Second Quarter: All three domestic market caps continued to have positive returns with U.S. SMIDs beginning to overtake U.S. large equities. Taking advantage of an improved energy sector, high yield bonds performed well. Emerging markets had both ups and downs, but rebounded by June. Yet, the unexpected BREXIT vote shook the MSCI EAFE and MSCI EAFE Small Cap indices emphasizing a flight to safety. Gold benefited from the flight as demand increased and the US dollar slightly upped the Euro. 
  • Third Quarter: Domestic equities continued their success into the third quarter. Driven by the rising prices of crude oil, energy was up. Concurrently, high yield bonds also continued to recover. The price of gold fell, but ended the quarter positive overall. Internationals had positive returns. A weaker US dollar supported international fixed income returns. 
  • Fourth Quarter:  The beginning of the fourth quarter was rough all around, but US equities rebounded by November. Election results helped US equity index funds see their largest monthly inflows in two years. Anticipated policy changes brought gains to commodities and financials, but hurt interest rate sensitive stocks. International investments for US investors were negatively impacted by a strengthened dollar.

Asset Flows: What Investors Did in 2016

  Source: Morningstar Direct 2016

Source: Morningstar Direct 2016

After an equity selloff in January 2016, investors flocked to fixed income most of the year. In a year of sluggish growth for the US, Europe, and Japan, bonds provided hope for those seeking modest but relatively predictable returns. As the inflow/outflows graph shows, taxable and municipal bond fund flows dominated without waiver. Apart from commodities (gold) and sector equity, all other categories were out of favor for most of the year. A post-election U-turn helped November bring in inflows for U.S. equity index funds, but it remains that the 2016 investor theme was seeking predictability (through bonds) in an unpredictable environment (populism, political uncertainty, and looming fiscal and monetary policies concerns).

Lessons Moving Forward

  • Fear of the unknown can’t guide our investment decisions.  It is understandable to seek refuge when things are uncertain, but we may miss out on opportunities hiding under our shells. Buying bonds in 2016 may have helped limit negative exposure to curveball events, but if you used some of your portfolio’s equity budget to purchase them, you also missed the US equity run that persisted throughout the year. Similarly, portfolios placed on the sidelines after the US elections missed the equity surge that began shortly after. People who remained invested in equities in 2016 felt the hit of BREXIT as well as its fast recovery. They also experienced value stock comebacks. A diversified portfolio can help you maintain market participation and mitigate bumps in the road (market volatility) over time.
  • 2016 reminded us that the world is unpredictable. No matter how smart, how informed, how technological, or well-researched - nobody can predict the future. In other words, we can’t allow predictions about the markets or economy change our long term, comprehensive investment plan. Admittedly, it is important to pay attention to what is happening in the world. Our gaze, however, should be focused on the long-term implications of that news. Multiple portfolio changes based on short-term noise undermines our investment strategy. We need to give ourselves the time to really understand and unravel the true long term risks/threats to our portfolio before modifying our strategy. 

Jaclyn Jackson is a Portfolio Administrator and Financial Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

This information does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material, it has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Opinions expressed are those of Jaclyn Jackson and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. Investing involves risk, investors may incur a profit or loss regardless of the strategy or strategies employed. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss. Investing in oil involves special risks, including the potential adverse effects of state and federal regulation and may not be suitable for all investors. International investing involves special risks, including currency fluctuations, differing financial accounting standards, and possible political and economic volatility. Gold is subject to the special risks associated with investing in precious metals, including but not limited to: price being be subject to wide fluctuation; the market being relatively limited; the sources being concentrated in countries that have the potential for instability; and the market being unregulated. The MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, and Far East) is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the United States & Canada. The EAFE consists of the country indices of 21 developed nations. The MSCI EAFE Small Cap Index is an equity index which captures small cap representation across Developed Markets countries around the world, excluding the US and Canada. Please note that direct investment in an index is not possible. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.