Stock market volatility continued today, with the S&P 500 index and all other major U.S. equity indexes either approaching correction territory or already in it. The increase of the volume during the sell-off is disconcerting and may indicate deleveraging by large hedge funds and institutional investors.
As the equity market correction has been unfolding, in previous articles I have highlighted the “falling knives”, the investment areas that prudent investors should avoid. The two weakest investment areas continue to be Euro stocks and energy/natural resources sectors.
Relentless selling has caused tremendous drops already. Consequently, I would not be surprised to see a violent relief rally taking place in these highly oversold markets in the near future.
While equity markets experience their first serious disruption since the panic of the August 2011 credit-rating downgrade of the U.S. debt, it is worth taking a look at other financial markets, as well.
Most notably, and unexpectedly, interest rates of the long-term Treasury bonds continue to decline rapidly. Paradoxically, as the Federal Reserve has tapered off its bond-buying program, demand has increased for U.S. Treasury bonds, pushing the yield lower. However, this effect is exacerbated by increased reserve requirements for banks and, more recently, the “flight to quality” due to the equity market correction.
Nonetheless, since financial markets often forecast economic conditions 12 to 18 months into the future, the rapidly declining interest rate of long-term Treasuries is probably not a good sign and may signal that the bond market is anticipating economic contraction in 2015 and beyond.
One of the confounding factors of market action has been the rapid rise of the dollar against all major currencies from August through October. Many commentators have attributed changes in the market to the strengthening of the dollar, however, since the beginning October, the dollar has pulled back and no longer appears to play a key role in determining stock market dynamics. A further weakening of the dollar from these levels could potentially help U.S. multinational companies to report improved earnings in early 2015.
Commodities, as a group, have experienced a huge deflation since July. Energy and metals are the weakest, while some agricultural commodities are showing signs of bottoming out.
Perhaps the only silver lining in the commodities space right now is silver, and of course gold, as these two metals are highly correlated. After a devastating decline staring in September 2011, gold bullion bottomed out in July 2013 and has been in a wide trading range ever since.
I’d like to highlight here two conservative investments, which have worked well throughout 2014, regardless of market volatility. The first one is the Fidelity U.S. Bond Portfolio (FBIDX). FBIDX is a highly diversified bond fund that is appropriate for conservative investors.
My top pick for the current market environment is the Fidelity Spartan Municipal Income Fund (FHIGX). Its low volatility and a tax-equivalent 3.55% yield continues to make FHIGX a very attractive investment choice.
A word of caution for bond investors: unfortunately, not all bond funds have done well since the market correction started. High-yielding corporate bonds tend to track the stock market trends more closely than the interest rate trends, and are in a decline now.
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