With inflation still high, the US Federal Reserve (Fed) continuing to ratchet up interest rates and both stocks and bonds well into negative territory so far this year, is there any respite or sanctuary? We asked Vanguard Chief Investment Officer Greg Davis to give his perspective on the markets.
If only we had a reliable crystal ball. It’s always difficult to identify the bottom. But if history is any indication, investors trying to time the market are unlikely to come out ahead. And I’m counting professional money managers among those investors. Think of the challenge: Not only do investors have to be right on when to get out of the market, they have to be right on when to get back in. Successfully timing the stock market is near impossible, partly because the best trading days tend to cluster around the worst ones.
The best and worst trading days happen close together
S&P 500 Index daily price returns, 1980–2021
Sources: Vanguard calculations using data from Refinitiv from 1 January 1980 to 31 December 2021.
Notes: Returns shown in USD, with income not reinvested.
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. The performance of an index is not an exact representation of any particular investment, as you cannot invest directly in an index.
And missing just a few of those rally days has a surprisingly outsized impact. Looking at market data going back much further, to 1928, being out of the stock market for just the best 30 trading days would have resulted in half the return over that period1. It pays to remain invested and balanced precisely when it is most difficult to do so.
We do not believe that the major economies are in recession today, though we believe Europe is likely to enter a mild one toward the end of 2022 and into early 2023. We still expect the UK to enter a recession in 2023 but believe it will be milder than previously anticipated due to the recently announced mini budget. Our base case for the US involves a relatively mild recession in the next 24 months.
It is unlikely that conditions in China would fit the formal definition of recession, but growth is likely to come in below consensus. Chinese policymakers’ willingness to enact stimulus programmes and, at some point, soften their zero-Covid policy will have implications for lingering supply-chain constraints and ultimately domestic and global growth. Even before the odds of recession increased, we forecast historically low returns for stocks and bonds in coming years.
All that said, because financial markets tend to be forward-looking, a recession may already be priced in. None of this negates the benefits of staying the course with an investment approach focused on low cost, balance and diversification.
Everything I said earlier would apply to this question as well. Over the long run, maintaining a steady, strategic approach has proven itself time and again—through periods of high inflation, low inflation, bull markets, bear markets and a variety of business cycles.
That said, trepidation is only human during periods of volatility like this. And each individual is unique in their circumstances, finances, time horizons and risk temperaments.
The correlation between stocks and bonds rose this year, negating some of the diversification benefits. But that has happened on occasion in the past. More frequently and over the long run, bonds have tended to play a stabilising role in a portfolio during periods of stock market turmoil. This has tended to remain the case independent of the level of bond yields, so proclaiming the death of the traditional balanced portfolio is, we believe, premature.
Besides the diversification benefit, investors hold fixed income securities in their portfolios for a number of reasons, including income. Given the rise in interest rates, our expected returns for global bonds over the next decade have increased by almost 2 percentage points since September 2021. Holding bonds makes even more sense now, and they still play an important role in a well-diversified portfolio.
There is one big upside to this down market and it’s particularly favourable for younger investors. With the recent sell-off, equity markets are now near fair value. In the fixed income markets, while rising interest rates cause near-term pain for investors, higher rates have raised return expectations.
If you’re still in the accumulation phase of your investment life, you want to be buying at cheaper prices. Which is why, when the markets get challenging, like they are now, it’s essential that investors stay focused on their long-term goals and not get obsessed with their account balance today.
Maintaining broad diversification using low-cost mutual funds and ETFs to stay on track would be an appropriate way to take advantage of the power of compounding. Einstein is said to have called compound interest the eighth wonder of the world. The cumulative impact of little incremental gains over time is astounding. But you won’t get that compounding if you’re not invested.
1 Source: Vanguard calculations using S&P data from Macrobond, Inc., as at 31 December 2021. Based on daily price returns, the US stock market returned an annualised 6.2% for the period from 1928 to 2021. If you missed the 30 best trading days, the annualised return would be 3.3%. The S&P 90 Index was used as proxy for the US stock market from January 1928 to March 1957, and the S&P 500 Index thereafter to 2021. The returns did not include reinvested dividends which would make all figures higher.
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