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It Could Be Worse

Mike Zaccardi

FEELING DESPONDENT about your 2022 investment returns? Yes, it’s been a grueling year for almost all stock and bond investors. But some folks have been hit far harder than others.

In the bounce back from 2020’s coronavirus market crash, near-zero-percent interest rates, coupled with consumers flush with cash, made for pockets of irrational exuberance. High-risk growth stocks—like those owned by Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF (symbol: ARKK)—captured the imaginations of Wall Street and Main Street alike.

ARK Innovation rallied from a pandemic low of $33 to its February 2021 peak just shy of $160. But fast forward to today, and the fund’s shares have completed a roundtrip to their March 2020 bottom. The fund has plummeted some 80% from its all-time high and is off 67% this year alone. One fund has capitalized on ARK’s misfortune: AXS Short Innovation Daily ETF (SARK) sells short the entire ARK Innovation portfolio, in a bet those stocks will fall. AXS is up almost 86% in 2022.

 But ARK Innovation is hardly 2022’s only big loser. In 2021, SPACs, short for special purpose acquisition companies, were a popular way for private companies to become publicly traded. But total issuance of new SPACs was down sharply in the first half of 2022 from a year earlier, and that trend has likely continued through the rest of 2022. What about the performance of companies that went public via the SPAC route? Bloomberg reports that the median post-merger SPAC company that debuted this year is down a stunning 70%.

And we can’t leave out cryptocurrencies. Stalwarts like bitcoin and ethereum are down more than 60% in 2022, while smaller “altcoins” have fared even worse. Meanwhile, some stablecoins—tokens thought to be pegged one-for-one to the dollar—left investors with big losses as some crypto lenders went bankrupt in recent months. In all, the total value of cryptocurrencies is down some 65% year-to-date, dropping from nearly $3 trillion in November 2021 to almost $800 billion today.

We shouldn’t expect gains every year in the stock and bond markets. Still, while a 15% to 20% drop feels lousy, it pales next to the crashes we’ve seen in these other assets. Moreover, while it’s debatable whether investors in SPACs, crypto and ARK Innovation will ever make back their losses, 2022’s pain in the mainstream stock and bond markets probably means better returns in the years ahead.

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