Market Reviews 2009

Big Sur Coast 1

Market Reviews 2009

FOURTH QUARTER – 2009

In the fourth quarter the US stock market continued the remarkable rally that began during the spring. Corporate earnings and economic data continued to indicate a modest economic recovery, and the Federal Reserve signaled that it would likely keep short-term interest rates low for some time. For months, market observers had noted a connection between US dollar weakness and US stock market strength. Low rates support this connection by providing fuel for a large carry trade, with traders borrowing in US dollars to buy risky assets. The rally stalled from mid-November to mid-December, as the dollar strengthened and the price of gold, which had reached $1200 per ounce, eased. Stocks also suffered a reversal around Thanksgiving, as news emerged that Dubai World, the financing entity behind the emirate’s over-the-top real estate development, would seek a six-month interest holiday on $60 billion of its debt. Over a nervous weekend, some market participants feared that financial troubles in Dubai could ripple through the European banking system and then into the broad world economy. However, authorities in neighboring Abu Dhabi hinted that they may be willing to help stabilize Dubai’s finances, and markets again found their footing. The S&P 500 ended the year near its highs, having returned +6.04% for the quarter, and +26.46% for the year. Mid- and small-cap stocks were especially strong in December, but lagged slightly for the quarter. The S&P Midcap 400 index returned +5.56% for the quarter (+37.38% for the year), while the S&P Small Cap 600 returned +5.12% (+25.57% for the year). Growth out-performed value among large- and small-caps; the two were nearly equal in the mid-cap range. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Overseas stocks again performed much like their US counterparts. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +3.33% in local currencies for the quarter (+24.72% for the year). The US dollar strengthened against the yen and euro, staying about steady against Sterling. It ended December at $1.6167 to the pound (from $1.6004 at 9/30), 93.08 yen (from 89.49 at 9/30), and $1.4332 to the euro (from $1.4630 at 9/30). As a result, EAFE returned +2.18% for the quarter (+31.78% for the year) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release]

Benchmark US Treasury interest rates jumped markedly during the quarter, particularly in December. The two-year US Treasury yield ended the year at 1.14%, from 0.95% at the end of the previous quarter. The ten-year yield rose to 3.85%, from 3.31% at 9/30). The Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +0.20% for the quarter, (+5.93% year-to-date). [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

December 2009

The US stock market’s broad advance, underway since mid-March, continued in December, although at a measured pace. For much of the summer and fall, the market’s rise seemed coupled with a steady fall in the value of the US dollar, suggesting that very low interest rates were inducing at least some traders to borrow dollars and buy riskier assets, including stocks. The rally did seem to stall from mid-November through mid-December as the dollar firmed, and US interest rates began to drift higher. At the same time, the price of gold finally began to subside. Nevertheless, the market moved higher during the last two weeks of the year, as the Federal Reserve signaled that it is likely to keep short-term interest rates low for some time to come, and economic data became somewhat more encouraging. The S&P 500 finished near its high for the year, having returned +1.93% for December, and +26.46% for the year. That result is especially remarkable since the index was down more than –25% at one point in March. Mid- and small-capitalization stocks were very strong for the month; the S&P Midcap 400 returned +6.28% (+37.38% for the year), and the Small Cap 600 returned +8.63% (+25.57% for the year). Growth performed a bit better than value in all capitalization ranges for the year, and in all but mid-cap for December. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

International stocks rallied more strongly than the US market, at least in local currencies. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index ended December with a return of +5.54% in local currencies for the month (+24.72% for the year). The return was weaker for US investors, as the dollar rose sharply against other currencies. At the end of December, the dollar stood at 93.08 yen, up from 86.12 yen at November 30, and 90.79 a year earlier. It ended December at $1.4332 to the euro, compared to $1.4994 at November 30, and $1.3919 on 12/31/08. $1.6167 bought one pound Sterling at the end of December, better than the November 30 rate of $1.6409, but much weaker than the $1.4619 of the end of 2008. As a result of the dollar’s strength, EAFE returned +1.44% (+31.78% year to date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Exchange rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release]

US Treasury interest rates rose sharply across the yield curve during December. The yield on the two-year US Treasury note ended the year 1.14% (from 0.67% on 10/31, and 0.76% at 12/31/08), and the yield on the ten-year jumped to 3.85% (from 3.21% on 11/30 an 2.25% on 12/31/08). The overall performance of the US bond market reflected this rise in rates — the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond index returned –1.56% for December (+5.93% for the year). [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

November 2009

The US stock market advanced strongly in November, resuming the rally that has now added nearly +65% the S&P 500 index since it reached the lows of March 6, 2009. The market had taken sort of a breather during October, but the first two weeks of November saw strong gains, as generally firmer data continued to emerge from the broad economy, and the Federal Reserve signaled its intent to keep interest rates very low for some time. Stock prices suffered a bit of a reversal around Thanksgiving, as news emerged that Dubai World, the primary financing entity behind the emirate’s over-the-top real estate development, would seek a six-month interest holiday on some $60 billion of its debt. Over a nervous weekend, some market participants feared that financial troubles in Dubai could ripple through the European banking system and then into the broad world economy. However, authorities in neighboring Abu Dhabi hinted that they may be willing to help stabilize Dubai’s finances, and markets again found their footing. The S&P 500 index returned +6.00% for November, giving it a gain of +24.07% year to date. Mid- and small-capitalization stocks did not perform quite so well; the S&P Midcap 400 returned +4.05% (+29.27% year-to-date), and the Small Cap 600 returned +2.61% (+15.59% year-to-date). Value performed a bit better than growth in all capitalization ranges. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Fears about Dubai’s finances affected markets more strongly overseas than in the US. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index gave up earlier gains to end November with a return of just +0.18% in local currencies for the month (+18.17% year to date). The strength in the US stock market continued to seem tied to weakness in the US dollar. The dollar fell sharply against the yen and the euro, and kept pace with the pound Sterling. At the end of November, the dollar stood at 86.38 yen, down from 90.50 yen at October 31. It ended November at $1.5022 to the euro, compared to $1.4755 at October 31. $1.6481 bought one pound Sterling at the end of November, nearly the same as the October 31 rate of $1.6479. The dollar’s weakness also showed up in some commodity prices; gold rose to nearly $1200 an ounce during the month. As a result of the dollar’s weakness, EAFE returned +2.00% (+30.56% year to date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Exchange rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release]

US Treasury interest rates fell across the yield curve during November. The yield on the two-year US Treasury note ended November at 0.67% (from 0.90% on 10/31), and the yield on the ten-year fell to 3.21% (from 3.41% on 10/31). The overall performance of the US bond market reflected this drop in rates — the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond index returned +1.29% for October (+7.61% year-to-date). [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

October 2009

After climbing for seven months practically without interruption, US equity markets seemed to run out of momentum about halfway through October. While a number of corporate earnings reports continued to surprise to the upside, the general economic news was mixed during the month. Remarks by market participants and government officials took on a more cautious tone as well. President Obama, for example, welcomed news that the US Gross Domestic Product grew faster than anticipated during the third quarter, but at the same time expressed his concern about the ongoing weakness in employment data. Still, the US stock market showed mild gains until about the last week of the month, when it gave up its gains, and then some. The S&P 500 index returned –1.86% for October, leaving it with a gain of +17.05% year to date. Mid- and small-capitalization stocks performed quite a bit worse; the S&P Midcap 400 returned –4.54% (+24.23% year-to-date), and the Small Cap 600 returned –5.70% (+17.42% year-to-date). Growth performed significantly better than value in all capitalization ranges. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

The pattern of global equity markets moving in tandem continued in October, as the MSCI Barra EAFE International Equity index returned –2.27% (+17.96% year to date) in local currencies. The US dollar slipped against the euro and Sterling, although it improved slightly against the Japanese yen. At the end of October, the dollar traded at 90.115 yen (against 89.49 on 9/30), $1.4732 to the euro (against $1.463 on 9/30), and $1.6447 to the pound Sterling (against $1.6004 on 9/30). In US dollars, EAFE returned –1.25% for the month (+27.36% year to date). A number of market observers have noted an unusually strong association between dollar weakness and US stock market strength in recent months. If there is a connection, it may indicate that very low US interest rates have induced traders to borrow heavily in dollars (shorting the dollar and perhaps driving it even lower) to buy higher-yielding, risky assets around the world. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Exchange rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release and Yahoo! Finance]

US Treasury interest rates moved just a bit during October. The yield curve steepened, rotating around the five-year point. The yield on the two-year US Treasury note ended October at 0.90% (from 0.95% on 9/30), and the yield on the ten-year rose to 3.41% (from 3.31% on 9/30). The five-year yield remained unchanged at 2.31%. Overall, the US bond market basically earned its coupon without much price change — the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond index returned +0.49% for October (+6.24% year-to-date). [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

THIRD QUARTER – 2009

The stock market rally that began during the spring gathered strength during the third quarter. Market participants took comfort from indications that the worst of the financial crisis may have passed. In addition, investors regarded most corporate earnings reports released during July favorably, although some notable exceptions such as Microsoft (MSFT) and ExxonMobil (XOM) provided disappointments. As the market moved steadily upward during the quarter, however, traders became increasingly nervous about how far the market has recovered in just six months. In its September 23 statement, the Federal Open Market Committee expressed what seems to be the market consensus that economic activity is beginning to pick up, but the improvement is from depressed levels. In its statement, the FOMC softened its language a bit, saying that it would continue to use “a wide range of tools to promote economic recovery,” where previously it had said that it would “employ all available tools.” For the quarter, the S&P 500 rose +15.61%, bringing its return for the year to date to +19.26%. Mid-cap stocks performed particularly well, with the S&P Midcap 400 index returning +19.98% for the quarter (+30.14% year-to-date). The S&P Small Cap 600 returned +18.66% for the quarter (+19.48% year-to-date). Value out-performed growth in all capitalization ranges by a modest margin. Generally speaking, the market has nearly recovered to its level of a year ago — for the past 12 months, the S&P 500, for example, has returned –6.91%. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Overseas stocks again performed much like their US counterparts. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +14.82% in local currencies for the quarter (+20.70% year to date). The US dollar weakened significantly against the yen and euro, though it improved against Sterling. It ended September at $1.5983 to the pound (from $1.6452 at 6/30), 89.91 yen (from 96.42 at 6/30), and $1.4637 to the euro (from $1.4020 at 6/30). As a result, EAFE returned +19.47% for the quarter (+28.97% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release and Yahoo! Finance]

Benchmark US Treasury interest rates eased markedly during the quarter. The two-year US Treasury yield ended September at 0.95%, from 1.11% at the end of the previous quarter. The ten-year yield also fell to 3.31%, from 3.53% at 6/30). The Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +3.74% for the quarter, (+5.72% year-to-date). [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

September 2009

The stock market rally that began during the spring continued in September, even as traders became increasingly nervous about how far the market has recovered in just six months. In its September 23 statement, the Federal Open Market Committee expressed what seems to be the market consensus that economic activity is beginning to pick up, but the improvement is from depressed levels. In its statement, the FOMC softened its language a bit, saying that it would continue to use “a wide range of tools to promote economic recovery,” where previously it had said that it would “employ all available tools.” The market seemed to regard the FOMC statement as a non-event, more validating the recent rally than encouraging a further advance. During September, the S&P 500 rose +3.73%, bringing its return for the quarter to +15.61% and year to date to +19.26%. Mid-cap stocks performed particularly well, with the S&P Midcap 400 index returning +5.72% for the month (+19.98% for the quarter and +30.14% year-to-date). The S&P Small Cap 600 returned +5.15% (+18.66% for the quarter, and +19.48% year-to-date). Value out-performed growth in all capitalization ranges by a modest margin. Generally speaking, the market has nearly recovered to its level of a year ago — for the past 12 months, the S&P 500, for example, has returned –6.91%. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Overseas stocks again performed much like their US counterparts. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +2.16% in local currencies (+14.82% for the quarter, and +20.70% year to date). The US dollar weakened significantly against the yen and euro, though it improved against Sterling. It ended September at $1.5983 to the pound (from $1.6314 at 8/31 and $1.6452 at 6/30), 89.91 yen (from 92.82 at 8/31 and 96.42 at 6/30), and $1.4637 to the euro (from $1.4354 at 8/31 and $1.4020 at 6/30). As a result, EAFE returned +3.83% for September (+19.47% for the quarter and +28.97% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release and Yahoo! Finance]

Benchmark US Treasury interest rates eased a bit further during the month. The two-year US Treasury yield ended September at 0.95%, from 0.97% at the end of August and 1.11% at the end of the previous quarter. The ten-year yield also fell to 3.31% (from 3.40% at 8/31 and 3.53% at 6/30). The Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +1.05% for September (+3.74% for the quarter, and +5.72% year-to-date). [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

August 2009

The stock market rally that began during the spring continued for most of August. Continuing signs of economic recovery, including a moderating of the worst pressures on employment and home sales, helped support the market. During August, the S&P 500 rose +3.61%, bringing its return year to date to +14.97%. Nevertheless, market participants are now energetically debating the durability of the stock market’s rally. In fact, the month’s advance was a bit deceptive. The Financial sector, which has been extraordinarily volatile for nearly two years, was by far the strongest performer in the S&P 500, at +12.86% for the month. Institutions that have had the most serious problems in the recent past were among those with the highest returns. High-volume trading drove Citigroup (C) up +58%, while AIG spiked up more than threefold and Bank of America (BAC) rose +19%. In contrast, Goldman Sachs (GS) added just +1.5% for the month. Mid-cap stocks also performed well, with the S&P Midcap 400 index returning +4.37% for the month (+23.10% year-to-date). The S&P Small Cap 600 returned +2.29% (+13.61% year-to-date). Value out-performed growth in all capitalization ranges — not surprising, since most financial stocks now fall into the value category. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Overseas stocks again performed much like their US counterparts. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +4.40% in local currencies (+18.14% year to date). The US dollar weakened a bit against the yen and euro, though it improved against Sterling. It ended August at $1.6291 to the pound (from $1.6713 at 7/31), 92.875 yen (from 94.54 at 7/31), and $1.4341 to the euro (from $1.4279 at 7/31). As a result, EAFE returned +5.44% for August (+24.21% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release and Yahoo! Finance]

Benchmark US Treasury interest rates moved lower during the month. The two-year US Treasury yield ended August at 0.97%, from 1.13% at the end of July. The ten-year yield also fell to 3.40% (from 3.52% at 7/31). Credit instruments continued to echo the strength of the equity markets, so the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +1.04% for August (+4.63% year-to-date) in spite of the quiet Treasury market. [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

July 2009

US equity markets moved substantially higher during July, as market participants became increasingly comfortable that the worst of the financial crisis may be behind us, and signs of economic recovery, or at least bottoming, became more prevalent. The market received most corporate earnings reports favorably, though some notable exceptions, including Microsoft (MSFT) and ExxonMobil (XOM), disappointed investors. July was strong overall, and the S&P 500 index returned +7.56% for the month, bringing its year-to-date result to +10.97%. Smaller stocks performed even better, with the S&P Midcap 400 index returning +8.74% for the month (+17.95% year-to-date) and the S&P Small Cap 600 returning +10.32% (+11.49% year-to-date). Value out-performed growth in all capitalization ranges. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

As has been the pattern for the past couple of years, overseas stocks performed much like their US counterparts. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +7.65% in local currencies (+13.16% year to date). The US dollar weakened a bit against other major currencies. It ended July at $1.6712 to the pound (from $1.6452 at 6/30), 94.675 yen (from 96.42 at 6/30), and $1.426 to the euro (from $1.402 at 6/30). As a result, EAFE returned +9.13% for July (+17.81% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release and Yahoo! Finance]

Benchmark US Treasury interest rates remained virtually unchanged for the month. The two-year US Treasury yield ended July at 1.13%, from 1.11% at the end of June. The ten-year yield held steady at 3.52% (from 3.53% at 6/30). Credit instruments continued to echo the strength of the equity markets, so the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +1.61% for June (+3.55% year-to-date) in spite of the quiet Treasury market. [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

SECOND QUARTER – 2009

After bouncing strongly off the recent bottom it reached on March 9, the US stock market continued its unexpectedly strong advance through April and into May. The economic news of the first part of the quarter, while not great, was generally less awful than many market participants had expected, so the tepid readings on corporate earnings and economic activity helped lift the market in those two months. The tone of the market improved as well; the market took even the announcements of GM’s and Chrysler’s bankruptcy filings in stride. The economic news, and hence the stock price action, took on a more mixed character during June, and June was nearly flat. Even so, equity markets had a strong advance for the quarter. The S&P 500 returned +15.93% for the second quarter, more than regaining the ground it lost during the first. For the first half of 2009, the index returned +3.17%. The S&P Midcap 400 index returned +18.75% for the quarter (+7.80% year to date), and the Small Cap 600 returned +21.08% (but –0.72% year to date). Growth and value were not much different for the quarter, but growth has generally done a bit better year to date. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Broadly speaking, international stocks mirrored their US counterparts, though with a bit less volatility. They, too, recovered sharply from March lows. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index rose +16.92% in local currencies for the quarter (+5.12% year to date). The US dollar weakened against other currencies, particularly the pound Sterling. At the end of the quarter, the dollar bought 96.42 yen (against 99.15 on 3/31). It also slipped to $1.402 against the euro (from $1.3261 on 3/31), and fell sharply to $1.6452 against the pound Sterling (from $1.430 on 3/31). As a result, the EAFE index gained +25.43% in US dollars for the quarter (+7.95% year to date). [Index returns: MSCI Barra; currency rates: US Treasury]

The overall improvement in economic sentiment also sent interest rates higher, as inflation concerns increased. Yields on Treasuries rose sharply. The yield on the 2-year Treasury ended the quarter at 1.11%, up from 0.81% on 3/31. The ten-year yield rose to 3.53% on 6/30 from 2.71% at the end of March. In spite of the increase in Treasury yields, other bonds performed well, and as a result, the Barcap US Aggregate Bond Index returned +1.79% for the quarter (+1.91% year to date). [Index return: Barclays Capital; Treasury yields: US Treasury]

June 2009

After a stunning ten-week run in which they completely recouped the –25% loss they suffered in the first ten weeks of the year, US equity markets paused for breath in June. Economic news, which previously had given rise to talk of the “green shoots” of a nascent recovery, became more mixed, and so did stock price movements. Even so, the market held onto the gains of April and May. The S&P 500 index ended June with a return of +0.20%, but for the full quarter the index returned +15.93%. Year to date, it has returned +3.17%. Smaller stocks generally did better, with the S&P Midcap 400 index returning +0.62% for the month (+18.75% for the quarter and 7.80% year-to-date) and the S&P Small Cap 600 returning +1.44% (+21.06% for the quarter and –0.72% year-to-date). [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Overseas stocks eased just a bit. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned –0.34% in local currencies (+16.92% for the quarter, and +5.12% year to date). The US dollar was mixed against other major currencies, although it really did not move much against any of them. The dollar ended June at $1.6459 to the pound (from $1.6160 at 5/31), 96.36 yen (from 95.55 at 5/31), and $1.403 to the euro (from $1.413 at 5/31). As a result, EAFE returned –0.57% for June (+25.43% for the quarter and +7.95% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release and Yahoo! Finance]

Bond market sentiment alternated between fears of inflation due to massive government borrowing and deflation due to continuing economic weakness. The inflation fears proved slightly stronger, and yields on US Treasury securities rose a bit during the month. The the two-year US Treasury yield ended June at 1.11%, from 0.92% at the end of May and 0.81% at the end of March. The ten-year yield rose to 3.53% from 3.47% at 5/31, and 2.71% at 3/31. Credit instruments remained strong, though, so the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +0.57% for June (+1.79% for the quarter and +1.91% year-to-date) in spite of the rise in Treasury yields. [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

May 2009

US equity markets, which had bounced powerfully off their March lows and risen through most of April, continued to improve in May. Many investors apparently felt that signs of a nascent economic recovery, which Fed Chair Bernanke described as “green shoots,” continued to improve. The financial sector, which had suffered most in the market’s downturn last year, showed particular strength (the S&P 500 financials were up +13.1%) after the release of the banks’ stress test results and the success of several institutions in raising new capital. The price of oil also rose, and the energy sector also responded strongly (the S&P 500 energy sector rose +10.2%). Overall, the S&P 500 returned +5.59% for May, bringing its total return year-to-date to +2.96%, a remarkable recovery after having been down as much as –24.6% less than three months earlier. Large stocks generally did best in May; the S&P Midcap 400 index returned +2.74% for the month (+7.80% year-to-date) and the S&P Small Cap 600 returned +1.61% (–0.72% year-to-date). [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Overseas stocks also advanced. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +5.28% in local currencies. The US dollar also weakened sharply against other major currencies, adding to US investors’ returns. The dollar ended May at $1.6166 to the pound (from $1.4799 at 4/30), 95.55 yen (from 98.76 at 4/30), and $1.4126 to the euro (from $1.3244 at 4/30). As a result, EAFE returned +11.83% for May (+8.57% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: Federal Reserve H.10 release]

Signs of recovery added to investors’ appetite for risky assets, and also increased anxiety about the possibilities of future inflation. As a result, the yields on longer-dated US Treasury notes rose notably during the month. The Fed’s quantitative easing program continues to hold short-term rates low, and the two-year US Treasury yield ended May at 0.92%, little changed from 0.91% on 4/30. The ten-year yield, on the other hand, rose to 3.47% from 3.16% at 4/30, and 2.71% at 3/31. Credit instruments continued to rally, though, so the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +0.73% for April (+1.33% year-to-date) in spite of the rise in Treasury yields. [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

April 2009

After bouncing strongly off the recent bottom it reached on March 9, the US stock market continued its unexpectedly strong advance through April. The economic news of the month, while not great, was generally less awful than many market participants had expected, so the tepid readings on corporate earnings and economic activity helped lift the market. The tone of the market improved as well; the market took even Chrysler’s announcement of its bankruptcy filing in stride. For the month, the S&P 500 index returned +9.57%, improving its year-to-date return to –2.50%. Mid- and small-capitalization stocks were especially strong, with the S&P Midcap 400 index returning +14.87% for April (+4.93% year-to-date) and the S&P Small Cap 600 returning +17.46% for April (–1.94% year-to-date). [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

The stock market rally was global in reach. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index returned +11.44% in local currencies, recovering all of its losses from earlier this year. The US dollar weakened a bit against the pound Sterling, and held fairly steady against other major currencies. The dollar ended April at $1.4794 to the pound (from $1.4300 at 3/31), 98.895 yen (from 99.15 at 3/31), and $1.3233 to the euro (from $1.3261 at 3/31). Recall that we generally quote yen per dollar, but we quote dollars per euro and dollars per pound sterling. The dollar’s slip in value added a bit to US investors’ international returns, and EAFE returned +12.80% for April (–2.92% year-to-date) in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra. Currency rates: US Treasury (3/31) and Yahoo! Finance (4/30)]

The stirrings of economic activity pushed US Government interest rates a bit higher during April. The two-year US Treasury yield ended April at 0.91%, up from 0.81% on 3/31. The ten-year yield rose to 3.16% at 4/30, up from 2.71% at 3/31. In contrast, credit instruments, especially lower-rated corporate debt, rallied strongly, so the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index returned +0.48% for April (+0.60% year-to-date) in spite of the rise in Treasury yields. [Index returns: Barclays Capital. Treasury yields: US Treasury]

1st QUARTER – 2009

January and February saw the US equity market fall about –19%, and March opened with more of the same. In the first nine days of the month, US equities fell –8%, bringing the total result for the first ten weeks of the year to about –25%. As the markets reached this nadir, investor pessimism seemed to do so as well. Starting March 10, though, a glimmer of improved economic news, including reports that Citigroup and JP Morgan were profitable during January and February, along with the long-awaited details of Treasury Secretary Geithner’s plan to help banks clean up their contaminated balance sheets, helped reverse the slide. From there to the end of the month, the S&P 500 advanced +18%. Even so, it was still off by –11.01% for the quarter. The S&P Midcap 400 index returned –8.66% for the quarter, but the Small Cap 600 returned –16.82%. Growth generally suffered a bit less badly than value. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

Broadly speaking, international stocks mirrored their US counterparts, though with a bit less volatility. They, too, fell in January and February before recovering somewhat in March. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index fell –10.10% in local currencies for the quarter. The US dollar strengthened sharply against the yen, and more modestly against other currencies. At the end of the quarter, the dollar bought 99.15 yen (against 90.79 on 12/31/08). It also improved to $1.430 against the pound Sterling (from $1.462 on 12/31/08), and $1.326 against the Euro ($1.392 on 12/31/08). As a result, the EAFE index lost –13.94% in US dollars. For the quarter, the index was off by –10.10% in local currencies, and –13.94% in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra; currency rates: US Treasury]

High-quality bonds paid their coupons, but gave up a bit in price during the quarter. Yields on Treasuries rose, although they pared those increases late in the quarter due to the announcement by the Federal Reserve of its plans to purchase longer-dated Treasury securities, in addition to its customary purchases of short-term bills. The yield on the 2-year Treasury ended the quarter at 0.81%, up slightly from 0.76% on 12/31/08. The ten-year yield rose to 2.71% on 3/31 from 2.25% at the end of 2008. As a result, the Barcap US Aggregate Bond Index returned just +0.12% for the quarter. [Index return: Barclays Capital; Treasury yields: US Treasury]

March 2009

January and February saw the US equity market fall about –19%, and March opened with more of the same. In the first nine days of the month, US equities fell –8%, bringing the total result for the first ten weeks of the year to about –25%. As the markets reached this nadir, investor pessimism seemed to do so as well. Starting March 10, though, a glimmer of improved economic news, including reports that Citigroup and JP Morgan were profitable during January and February, along with the long-awaited details of Treasury Secretary Geithner’s plan to help banks clean up their contaminated balance sheets, helped reverse the slide. From there to the end of the month, the S&P 500 advanced +18%. The index ended the month with a gain of +8.76%. Even so, it was still off by –11.01% for the quarter. Returns were broadly similar across capitalization ranges, and differences between value and growth indices were modest as well. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

While international stocks also generally advanced, they did not move so strongly as their US counterparts. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index rose +3.81% in local currencies for the month. The US dollar weakened sharply against the euro, and stayed about steady against other currencies. It ended the month at 98.59 yen (against 97.74 on 2/28), $1.432 to the pound Sterling ($1.428 on 2/28), and $1.325 against the Euro ($1.266 on 2/28). As a result, the EAFE index gained +6.34% in US dollars. For the quarter, the index was off by –10.10% in local currencies, and –13.94% in US dollars. [Index returns: MSCI Barra; currency rates: US Treasury and Yahoo! Finance]

Even with the solid gains in equities, high-quality bonds also performed well in March. Yields on Treasuries fell, largely due to the announcement by the Federal Reserve of its plans to purchase longer-dated Treasury securities, in addition to its customary purchases of short-term bills. The yield on the 2-year Treasury fell to 0.81% on 3/31 from 1.00% on 2/28. The ten-year yield fell to 2.71% on 3/31 from 3.00%. As a result, the Barcap US Aggregate Bond Index rose +1.39% for the month, giving it a return of +0.12% for the quarter. [Index return: Barclays Capital; Treasury yields: US Treasury]

February 2009

The global economic recession appears to continue to deepen, producing a relentless stream of discouraging economic data during February. As a result, equity markets fell steadily, with just a couple of breaks. Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a massive stimulus bill, but while many are optimistic that the stimulus will help the US economy recover, the market did not reflect any such hope. During the course of the month, the S&P 500 lost –10.65%, bringing it well below half its peak level from October 2007, and below its previous recent low in November 2008. The index ended February about where it stood in 1996 when Alan Greenspan famously wondered whether "irrational exuberance" had taken over the market. The losses were widespread; the S&P Mid-cap 400 index lost –9.68%, and the Small cap 600 lost –11.97%. Growth did a bit better than value in all capitalization ranges. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

As has been the pattern for the past 18 months or so, global markets followed along with the US. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index lost –7.61% in local currencies for the month. The US dollar strengthened against other currencies, particularly the Japanese yen. It ended the month at 97.74 yen (against 89.85 on 1/31), $1.4276 to the pound Sterling ($1.4413 on 1/31), and $1.2662 against the Euro ($1.2804 on 1/31). As a result, the EAFE index lost –10.26% in US dollars [Index returns: MSCI Barra; currency rates: US Treasury]

High-quality bonds remained a haven, but even they delivered small losses, as yields on Treasuries edged higher, most likely in response to the very large volume of issuance necessary to support both bailouts and the stimulus bill. The yield on the 2-year Treasury rose to 1.00% on 2/28 from 0.94% on 1/31. The ten-year yield rose to 3.00% from 2.87%. As a result, the Barcap US Aggregate Bond Index fell –0.38% for the month. [Index return: Barclays Capital; Treasury yields: US Treasury]

January 2009

The new year started with a few days of optimism, but it didn’t last long. By the middle of the first full week of the year, the US equity market turned downward again, trending lower for the remainder of the month. It was a dispiriting, grinding descent, driven primarily by a steady procession of downbeat corporate earnings and economic news. Much of the news seems typical of the pain of a recession — poor corporate earnings, layoffs, and slowdowns in activity in areas like manufacturing and housing. Nevertheless, market participants remain nervous about the stability of the financial sector and the final shape of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill. At the end of January, the S&P 500 had fallen –8.43%. Mid-cap stocks did a bit better, with the S&P Mid-cap 400 index returning –7.25%, but the Small Cap 600 index fell –12.67% for the month. The decline was a bit less severe in growth stocks than in value in all capitalization ranges. [Index returns: Standard & Poors]

The recession and market downturn continue to play out globally, and overseas stocks fell in January. The MSCI Barra EAFE international equity index fell –6.26% in local currencies. The US dollar was nearly steady against the yen, but it rose sharply against the euro, and ticked a bit higher against the pound Sterling. The dollar ended January at 89.83 yen (from 90.79 on 12/31/08), $1.281 against the euro (from $1.392), and $1.441 against Sterling (from $1.462). [Index returns: MSCI Barra; currency rates: US Treasury]

One possible hint of the start of a return to more normal conditions has been at the short end of the US Treasury yield curve. During the late fall, investors’ flight to safety was so pronounced that the yield on the one-month US Treasury bill fell to zero, or possibly below, on several days in December. At the very end of January, that rate finally began to move upward, ending the month at 0.15%. The yield on the two-year Treasury note also rose, ending January at 0.94%, up from 0.76% at the end of December. Similarly, the 10-year Treasury yield rose to 2.87% from 2.25%. The rising yields resulted in negative total returns in the bond market for the month, as the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond index returned –0.88% for the month. [Index returns: Barclays Capital; interest rates: US Treasury]