“March Madness isn’t just for basketball anymore”
We experienced lots of thrilling and unnerving action both up and down the court in the markets. At year-end 2014, the S&P 500 was the All-star and International positions were the under achievers. The opposite proved true in the first quarter of 2015. The chart below captures the S&P 500’s volatility during various periods as it rotated between winning and losing for an overall quarterly return that was just under 1%. Lots of action – not much traction!
Uncertainty around the interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve has contributed much to the volatility. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s last statement announced, unhelpfully, that the Fed is “data dependent” and the pace of interest rate increases could “speed up, slow down, pause, or reverse.” The main driver of the stock market is always corporate earnings, rather than political or media pronouncements. The strengthening U.S. dollar hurt U.S. companies’ foreign earnings, which were down 5.3% in the 4th quarter 2014. A strong dollar makes U.S. purchases abroad cheaper and foreign purchases of U.S. products more expensive. Most of the companies in the S&P 500 receive at least 50% of their earnings from abroad.