This has clearly been a difficult start to the year, as volatility has picked up meaningfully from an extended period of relatively calm markets. For many of us, the equity market meltdowns of 2000-2002 and 2008-2009 are fresh in our memories, and it is natural to be frightened and emotional about the possibility of another similar circumstance unfolding now. Count us among those who are not anxious to go through those markets again.

The unusually tight trading range that defined the stock market in the first half of the year gave way to the downside in the third quarter. Slowing global growth became a flashpoint of concern midway through the quarter, triggered by disappointing economic data out of China, the continued erosion in oil prices and an untimely Fed decision to defer on imminent rate hikes.

In contrast to strongly positive returns during the past twelve months for the Meritage Value and Growth Equity strategies, the Yield-Focus strategy has experienced a tough year. Yield equity strategies in general, and our differentiated Yield-Focus strategy specifically, reached a very strong multi-year relative performance peak approximately one year ago. Simply stated, the basic reason for the divergence over the past year relates to the available market opportunities for each specific strategy.

Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts (or Referendums)

A relatively quiet quarter for stocks was interrupted at quarter-end as the charade of negotiations around Greece’s solvency had an untimely reality check. Modest equity gains that had accumulated over the quarter were given back in the process, leaving equity returns flat to slightly lower for the three months. Prior to this hiccup, two earlier sources of volatility, falling oil prices and a rising dollar, had moderated in the second quarter, creating a more stable backdrop.

Going Nowhere, Fast Broad stock returns were relatively unchanged for the quarter, a fitting outcome for a market that moved frequently with conviction in both directions. It is also not surprising to see a consolidation of the very strong returns in the prior quarter. Much of the...

 

In the Books

A strong fourth quarter lifted U.S. stocks to record highs, generating the third consecutive year of double-digit returns. A familiar combination of solid corporate earnings, Federal Reserve stimulus and few attractive alternatives once again provided a good environment for stocks. Stocks also received support from the strongest back-to-back quarters of economic growth since the recovery began almost six years ago.

Coming off a strong second quarter, stocks turned in a mixed performance for the three months ending September 30. The fundamental backdrop for stocks remained relatively stable, with interest rates drifting slightly lower and generally supportive news flow around corporate earnings, economic growth, inflation and Fed policy. While this familiar combination of factors has been hospitable for stocks, this past quarter reflected a growing unease about the prospects of further upside.

More of the Same, This Time Quiet is not an adjective often used to describe financial markets, but it fits, along with steady, resilient, calm and positive for the second calendar quarter. News flow over the quarter was relatively uneventful, notwithstanding renewed geopolitical concerns. As such,...

A Tentative Start

On the heels of the strong finish to last year, stock market averages posted flattish to moderately positive results for the quarter. Beneath the surface of this relatively lackluster outcome are several observable shifts from recent trends.