Q3 2016 Market Update: Watch and Wait as Economic Growth Continues

Over the last few years, our quarterly reports held a reassuringly simple theme: if you properly set your risk tolerance and remain invested in the markets through its ups and downs, you will be rewarded.

 

This advice was undoubtedly challenging to follow over the last twelve months, especially while the U.S. stock market experienced an intraday drop of 7% last August and a 14% decline in February. Throughout the period, though, we have stressed that investors are wise to remain invested as the fundamentals of our present economic growth have not changed.

 

Most recently, in the wake of the British decision to leave the European Union or “Brexit” vote, we wrote that “markets will adjust and recalibrate.” Though the vote to leave was unexpected, we did not see fundamental economic changes, though we anticipated increased volatiltiy and a short-term decline. In the months since, international and domestic markets have bounced back and then some; in fact, US markets are at all-time highs.

 

As the accompanying chart of the S&P 500 shows, the U.S. markets have experienced significant ups and downs since 2014, but the patient investor who ignored most of the news and remained focused on the long-term is up a total of 18.6%, or approximately 6.7% per year.

sp500since2014

The U.S. economy has plenty of positive indicators: restaurants and shopping malls are filling up;  unemployment is down to 4.9%, and inflation of 0.8% remains well below the Fed’s 2.0% target. Meanwhile, wages are increasing faster than inflation, meaning that workers have more real dollars to spend, save, and invest. Oil prices rebounded to $50 per barrel after sinking below $30 in the winter, with varying impacts on consumers and different industries; for example, energy companies are typically more profitable with higher oil prices, while airlines fare worse given their reliance on fuel. We expect the Federal Reserve will continue its patient approach to interest rate hikes, though that could nonetheless include an additional quarter point hike before the end of the year.

 

Internationally, developed economies continue to search for solid economic footing. Though interest rates in several major developed countries are negative, Japanese and European stock markets have bounced back from the spike immediately following the British EU exit vote. There are also bright spots; emerging markets have bounced back on renewed strength of commodities and currencies, as this chart of the FTSE Emerging Market Index ETF, VWO, illustrates.

VWO(Chart illustrates the price history of the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets Index ETF, VWO; source: Google Finance)

 

Our guidance remains constant: continue to stay steady over the near term. Confirm your portfolio’s risk is well matched to your investment horizon. (Retake our risk questionnaire to make sure your risk tolerance is set correctly!) Uncertainty will always be a part of investing; we watch some predictable events with interest, though we also remain alert for the unexpected. As election season progresses here in the United States and we move into the fall, we anticipate investors will price in expectations about the election’s outcome while the economy continues its steady growth. At SigFig, we remain committed to delivering a globally diversified, strategic portfolio that provides exposure to many asset classes.
Aaron Gubin
Aaron Gubin leads research for SigFig’s Wealth Management team. He holds a Ph.D. in Finance and taught investments and portfolio management to graduate and undergraduate students before coming to SigFig. His research focuses on asset allocation, behavioral finance, and investment management.