Footnotes

  1. 1Source: MSCI World Index
  2. 2Source: Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index

Disclosures

This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale.

Diversification neither assures a profit nor guarantees against loss in a declining market.

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Hindsight Is 20/20. Foresight Isn’t.

History shows there’s no compelling or dependable way to forecast stock and bond movements. The year 2019 has been a case in point.

The year 2019 served up many examples of the unpredictability of markets.

Interest rates that US policy makers expected to rise fell instead. American consumers’ confidence weakened as the year began,1 and news headlines broadcast fears of an economic slowdown. But investors who moved onto the sidelines may have missed the gains in the US stock market. As of the end of October, the S&P 500 was up more than 20% for the year on a total-return basis. That puts it on course for the best showing since 2013 should that gain hold through December.

Outside the US, Greece—the site of an economic crisis so dire some expected the country to abandon the euro earlier this decade, and a country whose equity market lost more than a third of its value last year—has had one of the most robust stock market performances among emerging economies in 2019. On top of that, Greece issued bonds at a negative nominal yield, which means investors paid for the privilege of lending the government cash.

Taken as a whole, it’s a reminder that the prediction game can be a losing one for investors.

Up or Down?

A closer look at interest rates and the bond market shows just how unpredictable asset performance can be. Going into 2019, Federal Reserve officials expected economic conditions to support raising a key interest rate benchmark twice. Instead, policy makers lowered it three times.

In the market for US Treasuries—where market participants set interest rates—the yield curve that tracks Treasuries inverted for the first time in more than 10 years, as seen in Exhibit 1. Some long-term yields fell below some short-term yields over the summer. What’s more, yields on medium- and long-term bonds were at historically low levels at the start of the year, but they fell even lower by the end of October. Investors who made moves based on the expectation yields would rise in 2019 may have been disappointed in how events ultimately transpired.


Exhibit 1: Shifting Curves
Yields on US Treasuries of various maturities since the end of 2018

Source: ICE BofAML fair value government spot yield. ICE BofAML index data © 2019 ICE Data Indices, LLC.

Trading Places

Events weren’t any easier to anticipate in the global equity markets, where no evident link appears between markets that performed well last year and those that have excelled this year, as Exhibit 2 shows.

Among the 23 developed market countries,2 only one country was a Top 5 performer for 2018 and 2019: the US. Last year’s strongest performing market— Finland—ranked 22nd this year through the end of October. Among emerging markets, Greece swung from a 37% decline last year to a 37% advance this year through the end of October.


Exhibit 2: Changes in the Ranks
Performance of equity markets in 23 developed and 24 emerging economies

Source: MSCI country indices (net dividends) in USD for each country listed. MSCI data © MSCI 2019, all rights reserved. 2019 YTD as of 10/31/19. Note: Emerging economies do not include Argentina and Saudi Arabia, which MSCI classified as frontier and standalone, respectively, prior to May 2019.

Perennial Wisdom

History has shown there’s no compelling or dependable way to forecast stock and bond movements, and 2019 was a case in point. Neither the mainstream prognostications nor the hindsight of recent strong performance predicted outcomes in 2019.

Rather than basing investment decisions on predictions of which way debt or equity markets are headed, a wiser strategy may be to hold a range of investments that focus on systematic and robust drivers of potential returns. Investors who were broadly diversified across asset classes and around the globe were in a position to potentially enjoy the returns that the markets delivered thus far in 2019. Last year, this year, next year—that approach is a timeless one.

1Based on readings from the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey and the University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment.
2Markets designated as developed or emerging by MSCI.


How Markets Work and the FAANG Mentality

Is the market getting by with a little help from the FAANGs? And does their performance stand out historically? Investors may be surprised that it’s common for a subset of stocks to drive a sizable portion of market returns.

The stocks commonly referred to by the FAANG moniker—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (now trading as Alphabet)—have posted impressive gains through the years, with all now worth many times their initial-public-offering prices. The notion of FAANG stocks as a powerful group holding sway over the markets has sunk its teeth into some investors. But how much of the market’s recent returns are attributable to FAANG stocks? And does their performance point to a change in the markets?

Over the 10 years through December 31, 2018, the US broad market1 returned an annualized 13.4%, as shown in Exhibit 1. Excluding FAANG stocks, the market returned 12.6%. The 0.8-percentage-point bump resulted from the FAANGs collectively averaging a 30.4% yearly return over the decade.

Exhibit 1: A Little Help from the FAANGs
Annualized US market compound returns with and without Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet (Google), 2009–2018

Source: Dimensional using data from the Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP) covering the 10 calendar years since the financial crisis. With FAANGs portfolio formed each month including common stocks listed on NYSE, NYSE MKT, and NASDAQ. Stocks are weighted by market capitalization. Without FAANGs formed similarly but excluding Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet (Google). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Investors may be surprised to learn that it is actually common for a subset of stocks to drive a sizable portion of the overall market return. Exhibit 2 shows that excluding the top 10% of performers each year from 19942 to 20183 would have reduced global market performance from 7.2% to 2.9%. Further excluding the best 25% of performers would have turned a positive return into a relatively large negative return.

Exhibit 2: Weighing the Impact
Global stock market performance excluding top performers, 1994–2018

“All stocks” includes all eligible stocks in all eligible developed and emerging markets at their market cap weights. Eligible stocks are required to meet a minimum market capitalization requirement. REITs and investment companies are excluded. Compound average annual returns are computed as the compound returns of the value-weighted averages of the annual returns of the included securities. “Excluding the top 10%” and “Excluding the top 25%” are constructed similarly but exclude the respective percentages of stocks with the highest annual returns by security count each year. Individual security data are obtained from Bloomberg, London Share Price Database, and Centre for Research in Finance. The eligible countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the UK, and US. Diversification does not eliminate the risk of market loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

This lesson also applies to capturing the premiums associated with a company’s size and its price-to-book ratio. Research by Eugene Fama and Kenneth French (“Migration,” 2006) provides evidence that these premiums are driven in large part by a subset of stocks migrating across the market.

Research has shown no reliable way to predict the top-performing stocks. Looking at the top 10% of stocks by performance each year since 1994, on average less than a fifth of that group has ranked in the top 10% the following year.

The tendency for strong market performance to be concentrated in a subset of stocks is therefore also a cautionary tale about the importance of diversification—investors with concentrated portfolios may actually miss out on the very stocks that deliver the best of what the market has to offer. An investment approach built around broad diversification can help achieve a more reliable outcome for investors over the long term—sharp acronym or not.


What Happens When You Fail At Market Timing?

It’s hard to predict the best days in the markets, and the cost of missing them can be high.

The impact of missing just a few of the market’s best days can be profound, as this look at a hypothetical investment in the stocks that make up the S&P 500 Index shows. A hypothetical $1,000 turns into $138,908 from 1970 through the end of August 2019. Miss the S&P 500’s five best days and that’s $90,171. Miss the 25 best days and the return dwindles to $32,763. There’s no proven way to time the market—targeting the best days or moving to the sidelines to avoid the worst—so history argues for staying put through good times and bad. Investing for the long term helps to ensure that you’re in the position to capture what the market has to offer.

The missed best day(s) examples assume that the hypothetical portfolio fully divested its holdings at the end of the day before the missed best day(s), held cash for the missed best day(s), and reinvested the entire portfolio in the S&P 500 at the end of the missed best day(s). Annualized returns for the missed best day(s) were calculated by substituting actual returns for the missed best day(s) with zero. Performance data for January 1970-August 2008 provided by CRSP; performance data for September 2008-August 2019 provided by Bloomberg. S&P data provided by Standard & Poor’s Index Services Group. Indices are not available for direct investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.