Volatility may best describe the equities markets for the majority of 2015, as they were impacted by economic stress in China and Greece, coupled with underwhelming corporate earnings reports, falling oil prices, and terrorist attacks here and abroad. While some economic sectors, such as housing and labor, offered favorable news, others, including exports and wages, showed little in the way of positive movement. Nevertheless, despite inflation running below the Fed’s target rate of 2.0%, there were enough signs of overall economic growth to prompt the Federal Open Market Committee to raise interest rates in December for the first time since 2006.
Of the indexes listed here, only the Nasdaq posted a year-on-year gain. Not even a fourth quarter rally could bring the other indexes into positive territory for the year. Nevertheless, the fourth quarter saw gains in large caps as the S&P 500 finished up 6.45%, while the Dow closed the quarter up 7.0%. Even the Global Dow gained a little over 4.0% for the quarter.

The Markets

  • Equities: It was a roller coaster ride in the equities markets in 2015. After a lackluster start, domestic equities spent much of the year riding a wave of peaks and valleys, to ultimately close the year short of where they started. Anticipation of a federal interest rate hike influenced the markets, as did global economies, particularly in China and Greece. Favorable labor and unemployment figures pushed the markets higher, only to see them recede with news of poor exports, stagnant inflation, mediocre earnings reports, and falling oil prices. While the close of 2014 saw several of the major indexes listed here post double-digit returns, 2015 found only the Nasdaq finishing ahead of its 2014 close–up 5.73%. The Dow lost 2.2% (the first time it posted negative annual returns since 2008), while the S&P 500 fell 0.7% following three straight years of double-digit gains. The Russell 2000 and the Global Dow took the biggest year-on-year hits, finishing down 5.71% and 6.60%, respectively.
  • Bonds: Long-term bond yields ticked up only moderately at the close of 2015, confounding those who expected the yield on 10-year Treasuries to rise toward 3.0% by the end of the year, especially with the interest rate increase announced by the Fed early in December. Instead, the yield on 10-year Treasuries closed 2015 at 2.26% compared to the 2014 closing yield of 2.17%. A strong dollar, continued uncertainty surrounding the global economy, and low inflation made Treasury debt an appealing investment choice, keeping bond prices up and yields down.

The volatility we saw in 2015 emphasizes three points:

  1. The need for a long term outlook
  2. Diversification
  3. Working within your risk tolerance

At DirectAdvisors we can help with all of the above. Call us for a consultation on your 401(k) account. We are happy to guide you through this process.