Happy 2024! It is proverbial to end one year and begin a new one with a certain sense of optimism. However, since there seem to be so many diverse matters of our world about which to worry, I would like to address this condition. In President Jimmy Carter’s words from the 1970’s, we are suffering from malaise, a form of foreboding of the near future.
What have we experienced in 2023? Life began to return to more normal patterns after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Reserve Board continued to raise interest rates and reduce the money supply simultaneously until it saw some progress in slowing the rate of inflation. We expected a recession and by some measures, we had two quarters of very mild reduction in Gross Domestic Product.
But the so-called Magnificent Seven consisting of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google), Meta Platforms (Facebook), Microsoft, Nvidia, and Tesla, ran up the flagpole of stock prices, dragging the S&P 500 up with them. The worst performer was Apple with a 48 percent gain, but the chipmaker, Nvidia, led the surge with a 238 percent gain. No recession for these folks!
But the rest of the story (I miss Paul Harvey) was that until November, most of the S&P 500 and particularly the companies of smaller total values were still in the decline that began at year end 2021. As of October 31, 57 percent (288 stocks) of the S&P 500 index had not risen by a penny. Ditto for 20 out of 30 of the Dow Jones Industrials and about 40 percent of the Nasdaq 100 stocks.
Since we believe in diversification for intermediate to longer term safety of principal, you remained more diversified on the conservative side of things and we did not reap a harvest anywhere close to the 24 percent logged by that S&P 500 index.
The good news for conservative folks is that money is finally worth more than zero again. In the case of short-term Treasuries, the rate of annualized gain rose to about 5.3 percent last year and has remained in that neighborhood. As I write this, Charles Schwab, on its platform, quotes Treasury Bills maturing April 4 to yield a rate of 5.36 or better.
However, because the Fed is trying to declare victory over inflation and Mr. Market expects the Fed to begin lowering its mandated interest rates this year, insurance companies are already lowering their promised rates for new fixed interest annuities or new guarantee periods.
I know that many of you are still on the sidelines wondering what to do. This is evidenced by the report by the Investment Company Institute on December 28 that we collectively hold $5.89 Trillion in money market funds. When liquid money reaches that allocation level historically, stock prices will rise whether any of us believe they should or not.
Mr. Market has a habit, reaching back hundreds of years, of producing future results that confound the greatest number of professionals and amateurs alike. But it is usually to the plus side regardless of our worries. Why is that?
Progress cannot be stopped. Every day, you and/or your children or grandchildren rise and work after commuting to the factory, office, or now, the kitchen table. We do the best we can with the resources we have. We make mistakes at times, but we keep on keeping on. That is the way I think God made us to live. The best is truly yet to come!