Investing in stocks is always hard. You are looking at data about the past but you are betting on an individual stock in the future. In addition, there has been huge correlation among stocks and markets and the impact of currencies and central bankers (often inter-twined) has given various world markets boom and bust qualities.
In the US, there are two markets, the NASDAQ and NYSE. NASDAQ has traditionally been more technology focused, meaning that when these stocks go up, the NASDAQ soars. Here is a quote on “the only six stocks that matter” about the NASDAQ from the Wall Street Journal:
Six firms— Amazon.com Inc.,Google Inc.,Apple Inc.,FacebookInc.,Netflix Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc.—now account for more than half of the $664 billion in value added this year to the NasdaqComposite Index, according to data compiled by brokerage firm JonesTrading.
Thus the bottom line is that if you don’t have these stocks in your portfolio, the overall index may be rising (and our benchmark for performance), but your own returns will be worse. We do have some of Amazon and Facebook in portfolio 2, but not much of it overall.
Outside the USA, foreign markets have been hurt by the rising US dollar, which makes their market values lower for us here in the USA (where the dollar is our currency). This hurts stock investments in Europe (the Euro), Canada (the Loonie), and Australia (the Australian dollar) if you are denominated in US dollars (which we are). The dollar is up significantly vs. almost every other currency in the world with the exception of the Chinese Yuan.
The Chinese market went crazy this year, in what appears to be a major bubble, that recently started crashing and was accompanied by strong intervention from the central authorities, who went after short sellers and even stopped stocks from trading for various reasons. At one point almost the entire Chinese stock market by valuation (over 80%) was not trading. The rationale is that if stocks are heading down, and you can stop trading, then this gives the market participants time to stop panicking. This type of intervention stops the market from functioning efficiently, however, and will have many other unforeseen impacts down the road.
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity also soared in 2015, which is a sign of bullishness and also likely a sign of a market peak. A Wall Street Journal article recently summed it up:
Companies are merging at a pace unseen in nearly a decade. Halfway through the year, about $2.15 trillion in M&A deals or offers have been announced globally, according to Dealogic. That puts 2015 on pace to challenge the biggest year on record, 2007, when companies inked deals worth $4.3 trillion… In industries ranging from health care to technology to media, chief executives are rushing to make acquisitions, often either in anticipation of takeover moves by rivals or in response to them.
When acquisitions occur, you as a stock market investor typically want to be the “acquired” company, not the “acquirer”. The “acquired” company receives a premium price to their current market value but the burden of “earning” that higher price falls on to the acquired company, and typically M&A does not pay off long term for most companies (as opposed to internal or “organic” growth). While there have been many acquisitions, most notably in the health care / insurance / pharma industry which is consolidating under Obamacare, our portfolios had few of these acquired companies in the mix.
Finally, you had a decimation of the commodity indexes. Commodities such as oil, some foodstuffs, natural gas, iron ore, copper, gold, etc… have seen their prices collapse, which in turn damages the stocks of mining companies, oil companies, and many other participants in the commodity value chain. Per Bloomberg:
Almost all commodity markets have taken a severe beating lately. The aggregate Bloomberg Commodities Index is down 61 percent from its 2008 peak and 46 percent from the 2011 post-crisis high
These are severe reductions. They impact entire economies particularly the Arab countries (which make all their export income in oil), Russia (many commodities), Australia and Canada. There are large “secondary” impacts as well – reduced commodity prices hurt service demand in Canada and Australia and put their housing boom at risk.
So what does this mean for us and our portfolios? We’ve been hurt by the commodity bust, the rise of the US dollar (on our foreign stocks), and we’ve missed some of the booming stocks because they were narrowly concentrated in a few names and some of the largest M&A was in sectors where we had few investments.
We are now going to look at some of the stocks and cull some prior to our next round of purchases which will occur in August – September as the beneficiaries of the various portfolios head off to school for the year, and will tie new purchases (of the cash) with additional investments that will be made soon.