The Rollercoaster December to Remember

January 4, 2019 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment


Last month turned out to be a memorable one for stock market investors, but unforgettable for many of the wrong reasons. Santa Claus left more dark coal than shiny gifts, judging by the -9.2% correction last month in the S&P 500 index, making it the worst December since 1931. Overall, the damage for the year was much more palatable, down -6.2% for the 12-month period. This result contrasts with the +9.5% gain in 2016, +19.4% gain in 2018, and +276.0% gain achieved since the March 2009-low.

If I were to compare 2017 and 2018 to an amusement park, 2017 was more like a calm train ride (slow, smooth, and steady), while 2018 was more like a rollercoaster (fast, and rocky with lots of ups and downs). Stock market history tells us that on average stock prices should fall -5% three times per year and -10% one-time per year. Well, 2017 was like a walk in the park if you consider there were no -5% or -10% dips during the year, whereas in 2018, we had -12% and -20% corrections, before bouncing somewhat during the last week of the year. Rollercoaster rides can be fun, but if the bumpy ride lasts too long, park visitors will likely need a sick sack.


The heightened level of volatility can be seen in the Fear Gauge or the Volatility Index – VIX (see chart above), which has been bouncing around like a spiking cardiogram in response to the following news headlines:

  • Government Shutdown
  • Global Trade (China)
  • Federal Reserve Interest Rate Policy
  • Mueller Investigation
  • New Balance of Power in Congress
  • Brexit Deal Uncertainty
  • Recession Fears

While there have been some signs of slowing growth in key areas like automobile and home sales, the overall economy has been doing quite well on the back of consumer spending, which accounts for upwards of 70% of our country’s economic activity (see GDP chart below). In fact, recently released Mastercard consumer retail holiday spending data grew +5.1% to a record level exceeding $850 billion.

Corporations, which are also helping propel continued growth in our $20 trillion economy, are producing record profits, as you can see from the chart below. This in turn has led to an amazingly low unemployment rate of 3.7%, the lowest jobless figure posted in 49 years.


Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Overall, economic fundamentals may remain strong, but in the face of the positive data points, fears of an impending recession overpowered the good news last month, resulting in stock prices that are much more attractively valued right now. For example, if you are shopping at a department store, it’s much more advantageous for the buyer to purchase items on sale versus paying full price. Or as the most successful investor of all-time, Warren Buffett, famously notes, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.” And recently, investors have been very fearful. As you can see from the chart below, prices as measured by the Price-Earnings ratio (P/E) are below the long-term, multi-decade average. This fact is even more relevant in light of the historically low inflation and interest rates (10-Year Treasury Note at 2.69%). Unsurprisingly, during the 1970s and early 1980s, double digit interest rates and inflation were relatively high leading to low, single digit P/E stock ratios over many years.


Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Just because stock prices went down last month, does not mean they cannot go even lower. However, the rollercoaster ride experienced in recent months, coupled with the fresh turn of the calendar year, provide investors a perfect opportunity to revisit their asset allocation and potentially rebalance your portfolios to meet your long-term objectives and constraints. More attractive equity prices improves the timing of this exercise. Regardless, the adrenaline-filled ups and downs may be feel scary now, but the ride will be more enjoyable if you buckle up don’t lose sight of your long-term goals.


Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 4, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

Entry filed under: Behavioral Finance, Earnings, economy, Financial Markets, Fixed Income (Bonds), Government, Interest Rates, International, Politics, Stocks. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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