A World of Pain

Mike Zaccardi

INVESTORS ENDURED a lot in the first quarter, including rising interest rates, high inflation, fears about a recession and news of war. But it’s important not to get caught up in the scary headlines. Consider COVID-19. Not so long ago, it dominated the news, but now it’s hardly discussed because the situation is much improved.

No doubt today’s fears will also abate. Indeed, despite 2022’s dire news, stocks staged an impressive recovery toward the end of the first quarter. Bonds, however, suffered their worst first quarter in decades. Here’s a look at some of the numbers:

  • Stocks vs. bonds. At the quarter’s low point, the S&P 500 was off 13%, but was down just 4.6% as of March 31. Bonds, alas, didn’t offer any buffer for stock investors, with the broad bond market down 5.7%. The good news: Investors can now earn a half-decent yield on bonds. Short-term Treasurys, thanks to an inverted yield curve, feature yields close to 2.5%, while high-grade corporates have a yield to maturity that’s actually above the expected inflation rate for the next 10 years.
  • Value vs. growth. Value investors finally had their quarter in the sun—at least on a relative basis. Value stocks beat growth shares by 7.7 percentage points in the first quarter. High-dividend stocks fared especially well, outpacing the S&P 500 by almost six percentage points. Meanwhile, the continued drop in speculative growth stocks wasn’t surprising, given their meteoric rise off the March 2020 market low. It has a feeling of the 2000-02 dot-com bust, no? In the year through mid-March, Nasdaq stocks had seen an average 47% decline from their 52-week peak, while the Russell 2000 small-cap index featured a remarkable 86% of stocks that had suffered declines of at least 20% from their one-year highs.
  • Large vs. small. Speaking of small-cap stocks, the Russell 2000 has done a whole lot of nothing recently, suffering even more than the S&P 500 in the first quarter. The iShares Russell 2000 ETF (symbol: IWM) peaked last November, before tumbling 21% through late February. The recent spell of lousy returns, however, means small-cap valuations are much cheaper.
  • U.S. vs. developed foreign vs. emerging markets. Like U.S. stocks, foreign shares struggled in the first quarter. Developed foreign markets shed 5.6%, while emerging markets gave back 6.5%. It wasn’t all bad, though. Stock markets in resource-rich regions, such as Latin America, South Africa and Australia, were solidly higher, thanks to a 35% rise in commodity prices. One bonus for those with globally diversified holdings: Foreign markets now offer a dividend yield that’s 1.7 percentage points higher than the U.S.

Indeed, after a rough first quarter, the financial markets look more appealing. We have higher bond market yields and more attractive stock market valuations, though U.S. large-cap shares still look pricey. The Federal Reserve is expected to hike rates nine times in 2022. That may cause further turmoil in the stock and bond markets, but it should also push savings account yields above 2% by year-end.

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