AS INTEREST RATES head higher, where should bond investors turn?
A lot of ink has been devoted to Series I savings bonds—for good reason. The initial yield, which applies to bonds bought through April, is north of 7%. Come May 1, it might go even higher if the inflation rate continues to climb. The recent energy price surge wasn’t fully reflected in February’s Consumer Price Index, so the coming months’ reports could be even more alarming.
INDEX FUND INVESTORS can take a victory lap each time the Standard & Poor’s Index Versus Active (SPIVA) scorecard is published. The results, while they don’t change much, underscore how futile it is to try to pick winning fund managers. The year-end 2021 report concludes what so many of us already know. Still, it’s helpful to be reminded, so we don’t get lured in by the latest hot investment narrative.
The 2021 numbers reveal a dreadful year for investment managers.
ENERGY PRICES ARE NOT a big deal—or, at least, not as huge as everyone, including the financial media, make them out to be. The average cost of a gallon of gas is around $4.30 right now, according to AAA. That’s high compared to what we’re used to seeing during the past eight years. But I recall the 2011 through early 2014 period, when crude oil was well over $100 per barrel. Back then, some of us were also paying close to $4 at the pump.
JUST HOW ROUGH HAS 2022 been for retirees? Vanguard Target Retirement Income Fund (symbol: VTINX) is down nearly 6% so far this year. Barring a strong comeback, this could be among the lousiest years for this conservatively positioned mutual fund since its October 2003 inception.
The pandemic led to a rash of retirements. Soaring stock prices, booming real estate values and flexible work arrangements helped change the employment landscape. Many Americans finally called it quits in recent months.
FOREIGN STOCKS suffered big losses last week. Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (symbol: VEA) dropped 6.2% as fears about Russia’s aggression came to a head. Losses were most sharp in Europe—iShares MSCI Eurozone ETF (EZU) plunged 13.3%. For the year, the U.S. stock market is now slightly ahead of international stocks.
Investors often question whether they should own non-U.S. stocks. The common logic—flawed in my opinion—is that domestic firms offer enough foreign exposure because many are multinational businesses.
EVERYBODY SEEMS to hate bonds right now. Can you blame them? Inflation is at a four-decade high, the Federal Reserve is sure to hike short-term interest rates two weeks from Wednesday, and geopolitical jitters make owning high-yield bonds all the riskier. On top of that, returns have been awful since the start of 2021.
But maybe we should take a contrarian approach. Almost everybody should own at least some bonds. Yields have improved significantly.
A FRIEND TEXTED ME yesterday. He wanted my thoughts on putting cash to work given the big stock market decline over the past few weeks. I took my usual approach, saying it’s always a good time to make retirement contributions, and that he should go ahead and swoop in. That was when the S&P 500 was down roughly 2% in the morning. We texted again in the afternoon before the closing bell—and after the market had rallied big.
NEW YEAR, NEW TRENDS. That theme continues to play out. So far in 2022, the U.S. stock market, as measured by Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (symbol: VTI), is down 9.1%. Brighter conditions are found overseas, despite today’s geopolitical risks. Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (VEA) is down just 4.3% year-to-date, while Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) is up 0.5%.
A sore spot for international investors has been small-cap stocks. Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-U.S.
CATHIE WOOD’S ARK Innovation ETF was the toast of the investing town in 2020 and early 2021. The star portfolio manager picked one winning stock after another—stocks that benefited as much of the world shifted to work-from-anywhere.
Like so many other hot funds, her time in the sun didn’t last. After Wood’s flagship ARK fund returned more than 150% in 2020, plus another 25% to start 2021, the bubble finally popped last February. The peak-to-trough decline was 57.6% through Jan.
TAX SEASON IS HERE. You’ve probably received your W-2 and, if they haven’t arrived already, your investment tax forms may be just days away. If you’re like me, your email inbox has been inundated with tax-filing services pitching their latest deal. I’m no expert on which tax-prep provider is best, but each year I check this page for reviews of the major sites.
I have two other tips that might save you a few bucks.
THERE WAS MUCH hoopla last week about high inflation, surging interest rates and geopolitical turmoil. Sure, these are important macro conditions. Still, stocks took things in stride. If you only pay attention to once-highflying growth companies, especially tech stocks, the market appears dire. Broaden your perspective, though, and things haven’t been all that terrible of late.
Yes, the S&P 500 lost 1.8% last week. Small-caps, however, were up 1.5%. Foreign shares were about unchanged.
JUST HOW CRAZY WERE some of last week’s market moves? The Wall Street Journal detailed how Amazon.com (symbol: AMZN) recorded the biggest-ever one-day market cap gain in stock market history. The largest company in the consumer discretionary sector was valued $191.3 billion higher after posting better-than-expected earnings Thursday evening.
Amazon’s monster move came just a day after Meta Platforms (FB) notched the single-biggest market cap decrease in market history. More widely known as Facebook,
LAST AUGUST, I wrote about the retention bonuses I scored by simply initiating a transfer of assets from one brokerage firm to another. Back then, I said I’d wait six months and then try again to capture this free money.
This time around, one broker offered me a promotion simply to stay put, but two others wouldn’t. I did some quick Google searches and found offers elsewhere, so I initiated the transfers and collected those bonuses.
HOME AFFORDABILITY is finally taking a hit now that mortgage rates have ticked higher. Last May, I wrote that property prices were through the roof but homes were still affordable. The reason: Historically low borrowing rates, coupled with record high median family income, had offset robust home prices.
The National Association of Realtors’ latest figures show housing affordability rivals that of last May. But the figures don’t yet reflect higher interest rates. Freddie Mac posts the latest set of mortgage rates each Thursday.
THE S&P 500 WAS UP 0.8% last week. It was a wild ride, with the Volatility Index climbing to almost 40—the highest level in 15 months—as investors grappled with the threat of rising interest rates. The Federal Reserve is steadfast in its plans to aggressively raise short-term interest rates. Bank of America Global Research was the buzz of Wall Street on Friday morning, with its economic team saying it now expects the Fed to hike rates by a quarter-point at all seven remaining meetings this year.