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2023 stock market graph

2022 was a challenging year for investors. Markets fell into bear market territory and experienced the worst annual performance since 2008. The S&P 500 (Growth / Growth & Income), Russell 2000 (Aggressive Growth) and Nasdaq (Growth) declined 19.4%, 21.6% and 33.1%, respectively, last year. Interest rates swung wildly, with the 10-year Treasury yield jumping from 1.51% at the start of the year to a high of 4.24%, before ending at 3.88%. This mirrored inflation as the Consumer Price Index climbed to a 40-year high of 9.1% in June. As a result, the Fed hiked rates seven consecutive times from 0% last March to 4.25% in December. Along the way, a myriad of other events impacted markets, from the war in Ukraine to China's zero-Covid policy, affecting everything from oil prices to the U.S. dollar. Probably the most event-driven year I can remember since 2008 and 2009.

These market swings can cause whiplash for even the most experienced investors. Much of what drove markets last year was the result of the pandemic and its rapid recovery over the past three years. Like an earthquake that then causes a tsunami, the sudden drop and resurgence in business and consumer demand, fiscal and monetary stimulus, and global supply chain capacity created shock waves across the financial system. While they do cause immediate damage, even the largest shocks eventually settle.

Despite these historical shifts in the economy and markets over the past year, the principles of long-term investing haven't changed. Dave Ramsey and our team still recommend Aesops Fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare," when mimicking your investment strategy. Have a plan (the seven baby steps) and stick with it. Proverbs 21:5 reminds us that having a plan and sticking with it, is Biblical and wise, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want". Keeping one's footing as markets rock back and forth is still the best way to achieve financial goals.

Below, we review five thoughts on what drove the markets from this past year that can help investors to maintain a proper long-term perspective in 2023.

1. The historic surge in interest rates impacted both stocks and bonds

stock and bond annual returns chart

Beneath all of the headlines and day-to-day market noise, one key factor drove markets: the surge in interest rates broke their 40-year declining trend. Since the late 1980s, falling rates have helped to boost both stock and bond prices. Over the past year, the jump in inflation pushed nominal rates higher and forced the Fed to hike policy rates. This led to declines across asset classes at the same time.

While this has created challenges for diversification, there is also reason for optimism. Most inflation measures are showing signs of easing, even if they are still elevated. This has allowed interest rates to settle back down in recent months even as the Fed continues to hike rates. While still highly uncertain, most economists expect inflation and rates to stabilize over the next year rather than repeat the patterns of 2022.

2. The Fed raised rates at a historically fast pace

federal funds rate chart

The Fed hiked rates across seven consecutive meetings in 2022 including four 75 basis point hikes in a row. At a range of 4.25% to 4.50%, the fed funds rate is now the highest since the housing bubble prior to 2008. In its communication, the Fed has remained committed to raising rates further and keeping them higher for longer in order to fight inflation.

If you've watched my weekly What We Learned in the Markets This Week videos, you've heard me discuss the CME Groups FedWatch Tool. This gives us real-time probabilities of what the Fed will do to their rates. As of the writing of this article (January 31st, 2023) they currently predict the Fed will move rates up 0.50% tomorrow (97% probability) and an 81% probability they'll move them up 0.25% in March. Then the highest probabilities are them staying put until November 2023 when CME Group gives more of a chance of a rate cut than any additional increases. Much could happen in between tomorrow's meeting and year end, which is why you should subscribe to our weekly video's if you don't already.

Last year when the markets felt like the Fed could start to ease on rates we started to rally, only to be disappointed. The market rallied from June to August and again in October and November when investors believed the Fed might begin loosening policy. When these hopes were dashed, markets promptly reversed, causing several back-and-forth swings during the year. These episodes show that good news supported by data can be priced in quickly but that investors should not get ahead of themselves.

3. Inflation reached 40-year highs but has improved

consumer price index chart

While inflation has not been "transitory," it may still be "episodic." This is because the factors that drove these financial shocks were, for the most part, one-time events. Many of these are already fading as supply chains have improved, energy prices have fallen, and rents have eased. Still, the labor market remains extremely tight and wage pressures could fuel prices that remain higher for longer.

At this point, the direction of inflation may matter to markets more than the level. Investors have been eager to see signs of improvement across both headline and core inflation measures, and good news has been priced in rapidly. There are reasons to expect better inflation numbers over the course of 2023.

4. The rallies in tech, growth and pandemic-era stocks have reversed

US growth vs value performance chart

The past year also experienced a reversal of the rallies in 2020 and 2021 that were concentrated in the tech sector, Growth style, and pandemic-era stocks. For the first time in years, Growth & Income Stocks outperformed Growth as former high-flying parts of the market crashed back to Earth as the economy slowed and interest rates jumped.

As you know, at Whitaker-Myers Wealth Managers we believe in a diversified approach to investing, just as the team at Ramsey Solutions recommends. This includes different size categories (large companies like those funds in growth and growth & income funds and smaller companies like those found in aggressive growth funds), styles (Growth & Income and Growth), geographies (U.S. vs. International), sectors, and more. It's also a reminder that rallies can extend for long periods, during which investors experience FOMO and pile in with little thought to risk management. Staying disciplined during these periods, which occur periodically, is important to achieving long-term success.

Last year, a client called the Ramsey Show to shout out his Financial Advisor, Jake Buckwalter. Jake, just as you would expect an Advisor with the heart of a teacher to do, spelled out very clearly that there are times when International investments outperform US-based investments. The client appreciated this thorough education because he, in his mind, couldn't justify investing in the international market because of its recent underperformance to US stocks. Well, guess what we've seen through the first month of 2023? International stocks are up 7.66%, while the S&P is up a cool 6.18%.

5. History shows that bear markets eventually recover when it's least expected

bear markets and recoveries charts

While 2022 was challenging, history shows that markets can turn around when investors least expect it. While it can take two years for the average bear market to fully recover, it's difficult if not impossible to predict when the inflection point will occur.

Last year I wrote an article called Bear Markets - Normal Not Fun, where I spell out how long each bear market has taken to recover.

Many investors have wished that they could go back to mid-2020 or 2008 and jumped back into the market. If research and history tell us anything, it's that it's better and easier to simply stay invested than to try to time the market. This could be true again in 2023, just as it was during previous bear market cycles.

The bottom line? While the past year was difficult, those investors who can stay disciplined, diversified and focused on the long run will be on a better path to achieving their financial goals in 2023 and beyond.

5 Key Insights to Guide Investors in 2023

January 31, 2023

John-Mark Young

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