Coming off the worst December performance in 80 years, and the first negative total annual return for domestic markets since 2008, investor sentiment had turned decidedly negative. Add to the December swoon a government shutdown, escalating trade tensions with China and Europe, concerns over monetary policy and a synchronized global slowdown and the outlook was indeed bleak. With fears of an impending worldwide recession and associated bear market forecasts, stocks did what they do best and began to climb the proverbial wall of worry. One by one, threats that had sent the market into a year-end tailspin failed to materialize or were resolved positively – leading stocks higher each successive month. The quarter ended a few percentage points below last year’s all time highs. With fears of a recession off the table, growth stocks resumed their dominance over value stocks. Concerns over US growth dented small-cap stocks in March, but they still bested their larger peers for the quarter. International stocks were mixed; growth concerns were an overall weight while bellwethers like China roared higher in the quarter. US stocks again outpaced the rest of the world.
As the fourth quarter opened, despite the turmoil roiling international markets, domestic stocks were enjoying healthy gains and seemed on their way to a tenth straight positive year. In the next three months, we witnessed a quarterly decline worse than any seen since the depths of the Great Recession; it wiped out gains and turned annual returns decidedly negative. Money streamed out of equities and into cash and bonds, causing waterfall declines due to an imbalance of buyers and sellers. Growth stocks, which had handily and persistently outpaced their value peers, were hit particularly hard in the quarter. The risk off tone pervaded further down the capitalization scale, with small cap stocks posting a quarterly decline of over 20%. International stocks continued to pile on their losses from earlier in the year. Emerging markets were hammered by falling commodity prices and the higher US dollar. Developed international was confronted by slowing growth and the continued economic and political uncertainty throughout Europe.