Market Commentary – December 2018

Market Commentary – December 2018

Key Takeaways

  • Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (S&P 500 -4.38%)(1), investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%.) International stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE(2) index were down -8.96%, giving up just over half of 2017’s gains (16.84%), and the Barclays Aggregate U.S. bond index ended the year flat at +0.01% after a very strong November and December.
  • Though market turbulence in the 4th quarter felt extreme, volatility over the year didn’t approach the peaks seen after the Dot Com bubble burst in 2001-2002 or during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
  • Global financial markets tend to exhibit a ‘sector rotation’ pattern of recent losers becoming the next period’s winners. If the pattern holds true, international stocks are poised for a strong year in 2019.
  • 2018’s poor performance followed an unusually steady 10-year period of growth. Investors bold enough to put their money at risk after the market plummeted in 2008 were handsomely rewarded. Investors willing to do the same in 2019 may be rewarded once again.




It wasn’t pretty, but the year is finally over and we already see indications of better times ahead in 2019.

Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (-4.38%) , investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%) and the previous 9 years of recovery post the 2008 financial crisis. Though European stock markets fell behind the U.S. last summer and never caught up, these markets also ended 2018 well ahead of where they started in 2017. International stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE index were down -8.96% in 2018 compared to +16.84% in 2017, and U.S. bonds ended the year flat after recovering strongly late in the 4th quarter.


Market sectors which lagged in the strong quarters, especially bonds (AGG) and gold (GLD), provided welcome relief during the 4th quarter downturn. International stock markets avoided some of the December tumble and rebounded into January 2019, easing some of the pain from lagging the robust U.S. market earlier in the year.

The return of stock market volatility in the 4th quarter surprised investors, especially compared to an unusually stable 2017.

Volatility in 2018 was more than double that of 2017, though did not approach the peak volatility seen during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and post the Dot Com bubble/credit crisis in 2001-2002. The pattern seems to be that periods of unusual stability are often followed by a spike in volatility. We know that the past isn’t always reflective of the future, but as Mark Twain is reported to have said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Just as periods of stability are often followed by turbulence, extreme market moves are commonly followed by reversion toward the mean (average).

This tendency is illustrated by the two charts below. The first chart shows the drop in the SPY and EFA ETFs in the period between July-November 2011. Notice the jagged ups and downs just after the drop, followed by a fairly steady up-trend through 2013, though not without some negative surprises along the way.

We see a similar pattern in the 4th quarter of 2015 before the start of the bull market of 2016-2017.

And while the downturns are painful, they tend to be relatively brief compared to the recovery period.


  • Dot Com bust lasted from early 2000 to early 2003, followed by 5 years of positive returns
  • Financial crisis crash lasted from late 2007 to early 2009, followed by 9 years of mostly positive returns
  • Less dramatic declines in 2011 and 2015 were followed by 3 years of positive returns

Asset class returns tend to follow a ‘sector rotation’ pattern with prior period winners commonly falling in the rankings in subsequent periods, and prior period losers tending to rise in the rankings.

Source: Morningstar Direct

Though historical context is helpful, we need to face forward when making investment decisions. Following the crowd and expecting history to repeat itself without considering the underlying drivers of returns isn’t likely to be a successful strategy in the coming year.

Though market conditions vary from year to year, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors believes international stocks in particular have been hit by political and economic ‘headline risk’ more than actual financial distress. Many European companies such as BNP Paribas (one of the largest banks in Europe), Daimler (maker of Mercedes Benz), and Lloyds Banking Group (a leading U.K. financial service firm) are poised for a strong rebound in 2019. In emerging countries, stalwart firms such as Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor remain solid global players, with disruptors such as Alibaba and Tencent making their presence felt beyond their home base in AsiaPacific.

Another important thing to remember is that the stock market is not the real economy. Fundamental strength in corporate balance sheets should keep the global economy, and the markets, positive in 2019.

GDP reflects the value of goods and services produced in a country – ultimately, GDP reflects corporate earnings. Robust U.S. GDP growth early in 2017 led to tight labor markets and rising inflation, supporting the Federal Reserve’s plan to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates(3). Though GDP growth is expected to slow in 2019, the Federal Reserve forecasts a positive growth rate of approximately 2%. Not stellar, but certainly not in recession territory. And not so strong as to require the Fed to increase their pace of raising short-term interest rates, since modest GDP growth is unlikely to spark inflation. The International Monetary Fund is projecting similar modest positive growth for developed nations, and near 5% growth for emerging economies.



Growth Projection for U.S. GDP

Source: Factset



Growth Projection for the World

Source: International Monetary Fund


Economic fundamentals should ultimately find their way into stock prices, but the markets often become overly optimistic or pessimistic along the way.

As we mentioned in our November commentary, S&P 500 corporate profits were very strong in the 4th quarter of 2018. And for the calendar year, growth in corporate profits was 20.3% due in part to the reduced corporate tax rate(4). This is the highest growth rate we’ve seen since 2010 when profits jumped nearly 40% coming out of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. All 11 sectors of the S&P 500 reported positive growth for the year, with 9 of the 11 sectors reporting double-digit growth.



You might be surprised to see that Energy companies reported the highest calendar year earnings growth of all the 11 sectors. Despite the 4th quarter fall in oil prices, oil has actually increased when compared against the prior year-end. Materials and Financials also posted strong earnings growth in 2018, a fact not reflected in their December closing stock prices.

As shown in the chart above from Fidelity Research(5), the biggest losers in the S&P 500 were not Technology companies which were grabbing most of the news headlines, but rather Industrials, Financials, Materials, and Energy firms. Industrials and materials were hard hit by concerns over trade tariffs and a slowing, though still strong, pace of new home building(6). Energy equipment and services firms suffered from falling oil prices hurting profit margins. Financial firms also struggled as increasing short-term funding rates squeezed investors’ profit expectations.

Conclusion: Though we can’t predict the future, periods of extreme market movements are often followed by reversion toward the mean. The underlying economic data remains solid and sooner or later investors will incorporate this reality into global stock and bond prices. In the meantime, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors is watching the data, rebalancing into weakness, and looking forward to a smoother ride in 2019.




Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA
Senior Research Analyst
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 







  1. All returns retrieved from Morningstar Direct
  2. EAFE = Europe, Australasia, Far East


End-of-the-Year Money Moves

End-of-the-Year Money Moves

Here are some things you might want to do before saying goodbye to 2018.  

What has changed for you in 2018? Did you start a new job or leave a job behind? Did you retire? Did you start a family? If notable changes occurred in your personal or professional life, then you will want to review your finances before this year ends and 2019 begins.

Even if your 2018 has been relatively uneventful, the end of the year is still a good time to get cracking and see where you can plan to save some taxes and/or build a little more wealth.  

Do you practice tax-loss harvesting? That is the art of taking capital losses (selling securities worth less than what you first paid for them) to offset your short-term capital gains. If you fall into one of the upper tax brackets, you might want to consider this move, which directly lowers your taxable income. It should be made with the guidance of a financial professional you trust. (1)  

In fact, you could even take it a step further. Consider that up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains can be deducted from ordinary income, and any remaining capital losses above that can be carried forward to offset capital gains in upcoming years. When you live in a high-tax state, this is one way to defer tax. (1)

Do you want to itemize deductions? You may just want to take the standard deduction for 2018, which has ballooned to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers because of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. If you do think it might be better for you to itemize, now would be a good time to get the receipts and assorted paperwork together. While many miscellaneous deductions have disappeared, some key deductions are still around: the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, now capped at $10,000; the mortgage interest deduction; the deduction for charitable contributions, which now has a higher limit of 60% of adjusted gross income; and the medical expense deduction. (2,3)

Could you ramp up 401(k) or 403(b) contributions? Contribution to these retirement plans lower your yearly gross income. If you lower your gross income enough, you might be able to qualify for other tax credits or breaks available to those under certain income limits. Note that contributions to Roth 401(k)s and Roth 403(b)s are made with after-tax rather than pre-tax dollars, so contributions to those accounts are not deductible and will not lower your taxable income for the year. They will, however, help to strengthen your retirement savings. (4)

Are you thinking of gifting? How about donating to a qualified charity or non-profit organization before 2018 ends? In most cases, these gifts are partly tax deductible. You must itemize deductions using Schedule A to claim a deduction for a charitable gift. (5)

If you donate publicly traded shares you have owned for at least a year, you can take a charitable deduction for their fair market value and forgo the capital gains tax hit that would result from their sale. If you pour some money into a 529 college savings plan on behalf of a child in 2018, you may be able to claim a full or partial state income tax deduction (depending on the state). (2,6)

Of course, you can also reduce the value of your taxable estate with a gift or two. The federal gift tax exclusion is $15,000 for 2018. So, as an individual, you can gift up to $15,000 to as many people as you wish this year. A married couple can gift up to $30,000 in 2018 to as many people as they desire. (7)

While we’re on the topic of estate planning, why not take a moment to review the beneficiary designations for your IRA, your life insurance policy, and workplace retirement plan? If you haven’t reviewed them for a decade or more (which is all too common), double-check to see that these assets will go where you want them to go, should you pass away. Lastly, look at your will to see that it remains valid and up-to-date.   

Should you convert all or part of a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA? You will be withdrawing money from that traditional IRA someday, and those withdrawals will equal taxable income. Withdrawals from a Roth IRA you own are not taxed during your lifetime, assuming you follow the rules. Translation: tax savings tomorrow. Before you go Roth, you do need to make sure you have the money to pay taxes on the conversion amount. A Roth IRA conversion can no longer be recharacterized (reversed). (8)

Can you take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit? The AOTC allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less (and joint filers with MAGI of $160,000 or less) a chance to claim a credit of up to $2,500 for qualified college expenses. Phase-outs kick in above those MAGI levels. (9)

See that you have withheld the right amount. The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act lowered federal income tax rates and altered withholding tables. If you discover that you have withheld too little on your W-4 form so far in 2018, you may need to adjust your withholding before the year ends. The Government Accountability Office projects that 21% of taxpayers are withholding less than they should in 2018. Even an end-of-year adjustment has the potential to save you some tax. (10)

What can you do before ringing in the New Year? Talk with a financial or tax professional now rather than in February or March. Little year-end moves might help you improve your short-term and long-term financial situation.

Justin D. Rucci, CFP®
Wealth Advisor
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Justin is an Investment Advisor Representative of Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Changes in investment strategies, contributions or withdrawals may materially alter the performance, strategy, and results of your portfolio. Historical performance results for investment indexes and/or categories, generally do not reflect the deduction of transaction and/or custodial charges or the deduction of an investment-management fee, the incurrence of which would have the effect of decreasing historical performance results. Economic factors, market conditions, and investment strategies will affect the performance of any portfolio and there are no assurances that it will match or outperform any particular benchmark. Nothing in this commentary is a solicitation to buy, or sell, any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. We may hold securities referenced in the blog and due to the static nature of the content, those securities held may change over time and trades may be contrary to outdated posts.



1 – [4/16/18]
2 – [10/15/18]
3 – [10/10/18]
4 – [2/2/18]
5 – [10/1/18]
6 – [9/27/18]
7 – [6/28/18]
8 – [9/15/18]
9 – [3/17/18]
10 – [10/16/18]