2015 year-end review of themes

 

 

Overall, we did well on our call for 2015. We were right on six, half right on three others and had one wrong. In general, the year lived up to our expectations of a low return environment with the anticipated Fed rate hike being the biggest influence.

 

  1. If not now, when? If not the Fed, who?: We expect the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in 2015. We expect rates to gradually rise to a 1.0%–1.5% target, which would still be historically low. We were right on this call, but the Fed chose to wait till December to raise rates to 0.50%.Though the Fed has signaled rates will be raised to 1.25-1.50%, we are calling this one half-right.

 

  1. No one rings a bell at the top of the market: […] we expect major US indexes (S&P 500, Dow Jones, Nasdaq) to finish the year in negative territory. We were mostly right here, two out of the three indices ended down. The S&P500 ended 2014 at 2,059 and 2015 at 2,044; the Dow Jones dropped from 17,823 to 17,425; but the Nasdaq rose from 4,736 to 5,007.

 

  1. Emerging troubles: Emerging economies will continue to stumble in 2015, this includes resource dependent countries such as Russia and Brazil which have run into roadblocks as energy prices have fallen dramatically. […] We expect emerging market stocks and bonds to underperform developed markets this year. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index ended the year down 17%. The Chinese markets ended the year down over 10%, Brazil was down almost 16%, Russia down over 6%, and India down over 2%.

 

  1. Commodities weighed down: […] We see commodities finishing the year flat to negative. The Goldman-Sachs Commodities Index ended 2015 down over 30%.

 

  1. +  The trouble with oil: We do not expect oil prices to substantially recover in 2015. […] We expect brent crude prices to remain under $60 by year’s end. Brent crude started the year around $57 and ended 2015 around $37.

 

  1. Playing defense: For US equities, we believe defensive sectors, including healthcare and utilities will outperform others over the course of 2015. In any sort of correction, we expect enterprises providing essential goods and services to maintain profitability and revenues. Over-levered companies that have benefitted from speculative euphoria in recent years are particularly vulnerable to sell-offs in our view. We were half right on this call as healthcare outperformed the S&P 500 Index in 2015 (S&P Healthcare Index +5.8%) while utilities lagged (S&P Utilities Index -7.9%).

 

  1. + Euro Crisis, back to the future: […] Depending on outcomes, another round of brinksmanship will likely begin between Greek politicians, the markets and EU officials. Over the past few years, attitudes have hardened and we believe there is a real chance that Greece may be forced to, or choose to leave the Euro. Over the course of the year, we saw another round of concerns about Greece that led to weeks of tense negotiation. The Euro ended the year down about 10% against USD (from 1.20 to 1.07) partly s a result of continued concern about the longer-term prospects for the Euro-zone. Though economic issues have faded from view as a continuing refugee crisis absorbs headlines, we do not believe the Euro-zones strategic challenges have been dealt with.

 

  1. + Junk bonds get kicked to the curb. […] With rates rebounding (even marginally), we believe investors will find the reward that comes with high yield bonds no longer worth the risk.  We were correct on this call as high yield bonds suffered their first down year since 2008.  The Barclays High Yield Bond Index was -6.77% for 2015.

 

  1. × Growth in Renewables: […] With oil prices falling again, we’ve seen many renewable stocks follow suit, as sort of a knee jerk reaction by investors. We think this provides a tremendous buying opportunity, particularly in the YieldCo space where, like utilities, companies own a portfolio of newly constructed power projects with long term power purchasing agreements in place.  We believe we’re a bit early on this call, but for year-end list-scoring purposes we were wrong.  Renewable energy stocks had a negative return for 2015 impacted by falling prices for conventional energy. Renewables did however, outperform traditional fossil fuel energy stocks.  The Nasdaq Clean Edge Green Energy Index was -6.21% while the S&P 500 Energy Index finished -21.12%.

 

  1. The Russian question: […] We are bearish on Russia and expect the Russian market to underperform in 2015. The Russian market ended the year down 6%.