Two-thousand and seventeen was a banner year for stocks. Not just in the U.S., but around the world. Investors with a long-term perspective were rewarded once again.
It was not a good year for the market forecasters. Their primary talent is consistency — and they were consistently wrong.
At the beginning of last year, most Wall Street Strategists forecasted a gain of 4% or less for the upcoming 2017. The actual gains were five times more than those projections. Following their advice would have been disastrous.
Between U.S. tensions with North Korea, the new presidential administration, and the state of politics in America, the forecast was increased market turmoil. Instead, we saw a calm in the markets we had not seen in decades. The VIX, which is a measure of market volatility, unbelievably closed below a level of “10” more times last year than any other year in its history.
In addition, the forecasts regarding global growth and inflation were off base. If you have been a client for a while, you understand why we never invest based on market forecasts.
Successful investors, on the other hand, focused on the upbeat fundamentals. Corporate profit growth was sparked by economic gains at home and abroad. The political push to decrease regulations and effectively free the “free market,” combined with the recently passed tax plan, increased positive expectations even more.
The U.S. economy grew at 3.3% in the third quarter. That was the second quarter in a row the GDP exceeded 3% — a feat that hasn’t occurred in three years. Even more impressive, fourth quarter estimates by the NY Fed expect GDP to come in at almost 4%, which is higher than anyone previously forecast.
The S&P 500 performance reflected the strength of the economy and was positive every single month in 2017. That has not happened since 1970.
An interesting surprise with this year’s rally is how many individual investors did not benefit from it. Throughout the last nine-year surge, after the devastating market of 2008, individual investors have continuously pulled money out of funds that own U.S. stocks. Nearly $1 Trillion has been pulled out since the start of 2012, according to EPFR Global, a fund tracking firm.
From a trading perspective, this has been a difficult market. Why? When markets consistently go up they don’t require a lot of trading. They require you to be in the right place and hang on.
Additionally, straight up markets, like the one we experienced last year, create false confidence amongst investors. Many people decide they are investment geniuses. And they are … until they aren’t anymore.
Investing based on luck, without a strategy, is impossible to replicate. Since no one knows in advance when the market is going to go up, go down, or run sideways, relying on luck rather than strategy eventually catches up with investors. Just like the temporarily successful gambler, it is just a matter of time before they implode and suffer significant losses. As the saying goes, no one rings a bell at the top when it is time to sell.
And then there were Bitcoin experts this holiday season. They sought me out at seemingly every event I went to. But they had a puzzled look on their face when I asked them to explain exactly “what” it was that they were investing in, or why their Bitcoin fortune would vanish if they lost their account password.
Another axiom we dodged this year was that traditional wisdom of “sell in May and go away.” If we had done that, we would have missed significant gains between May and November. That was another obstacle that could have cut your returns by more than half. Fortunately. our models kept us invested all year.
Overall, we were pleased with our portfolios. All performed well in the context of the risk level they are invested in.
Managed Income acts as the anchor to the portfolios. As long as interest rates stay pushed to the floor, its returns will be relatively low, but still better than bank rates. On a positive note, it looks as though we may see an increase in rates this year, which should help Managed Income. Regardless, its primary purpose is to provide stability for our portfolios.
Top Flight, with all of the changes we made a year ago, performed well. If you would like more detail on the three portfolios — momentum, fundamental and seasonality — that make up Top Flight, give us a call and we will happily walk you through them.
The new Balanced Portfolio and the two Private Funds both had a strong performance this year as well.
Our Consumer confidence or individual optimism is the highest it has been in 17 years. Investor sentiment is also the most bullish it has been as far back as we are able to track it.
This puts us in a tricky spot. Historically, we know that as investor sentiment moves higher we are approaching a market correction. The theory is that once everyone who is going to invest is invested, there is no one left to push the market higher.
The difficulty with market sentiment as an indicator is timing — you don’t know exactly when such a correction will occur. As a result, we are also watching internal market technicals but with a more skeptical eye than normal. Trend indicators, Advance/Decline lines, Industry Breadth, etc. all still look good.
Last year we updated Top Flight with our best individual stock models. In an effort to match or exceed the returns of the broad markets, we tied Top Flight’s more directly to those broad markets than we had historically. Our belief is it is better for Top Flight to accept more short-term downside volatility so that its returns over the long term will increase.
With this year’s market strength, along with the changes we made to Top Flight last year, it is important to correctly set the amount of volatility you are willing to accept. We can effectively reduce your overall volatility by decreasing your exposure to Top Flight and increasing your exposure to our more conservative portfolios. Getting that right is one of the pillars of investment success.
If you would like to talk about how you are positioned or make any changes, please give us a call. We are always happy to hear from you. Have a great 2018!
Disclaimer: 1. Investment performance reflects time-weighted, size-weighted geometric composite returns of actual client accounts. 2. Investment returns are net of all management fees and transaction costs, and reflect the reinvestment of all dividends and distributions. 3. The S&P Index is a market-value weighted index comprised of 500 stocks selected for market size, liquidity, and industry group representation The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is a benchmark index made up of the Barclays Government/Corporate Bond Index. 4. Benchmarks are used for comparative purposes only. The Paragon Top Flight Portfolio is not designed to track the S&P Index and will have results different from the benchmark. The Paragon Managed Income Portfolio is not designed to track the Barclays Bond Aggregate Index. 5. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Paragon Wealth Management is a provider of managed portfolios for individuals and institutions. Although the information included in this report has been obtained from sources Paragon believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy. All opinions and estimates included in this report constitute the judgment as of the dates indicated and are subject to change without notice. This report is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.