Another crazy year in the books. Much different, and much better, than 2022 but not without some drama.
To think that one year ago, economists and market pundits were in agreement that a recession was coming and the markets would likely suffer additional losses after a terrible 2022. Given everything that happened in 2023, it’s a surprise that some of this didn’t come true. Interest rates were hiked four times, there were notable bank failures, the Russia/Ukraine war continued to rage, a new war would begin in the middle east, and U.S. debt would be downgraded.
In spite of all of this, the markets had a great year.
- S&P 500 +26.29%
- S&P 600 Small Cap Index +16.05%
- Dow Jones Industrials +16.18%
- International Equities +18.85%
- U.S. Aggregate Bond Index +5.53%
These returns look great in the rearview mirror, but it wasn’t a smooth ride (from August 1 until October 27, the S&P 500 dropped almost 10%) and after the terrible 2022 we had, many indices were still not back to their highs set in late 2021 or early 2022.
The returns in the US stock market were far from evenly spread out. Seven very large companies were responsible for most of the broad market return in 2023 – just as they were responsible for much of the decline in 2022. Small company stocks, which have historically done better than large companies, significantly underperformed the overall market.
This crazy volatility and irregularity is why I don’t recommend anyone watch their balance too closely on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or even month-to-month basis. It can drive you crazy.
2023 S&P 500 Return
My Year-End Accounting
As some of you know, I regularly preach that looking at your portfolio balances once per year is plenty. People are often surprised that during the year I really don’t have any idea what my own balances are—and that I don’t really care. I’ve learned there is too much short-term fluctuation in the markets to be concerned about any temporary market moves. What matters is that I have the fundamentals covered and stay the course with discipline.
I have a spreadsheet that goes back to 2003 with year-end balances for all my accounts and a total at the bottom. I update it during the first week of each year, usually spend a few minutes looking back at the history, then put it away until the following year. That’s the extent of my annual accounting. I truly believe if people could adopt this habit, they would find it much easier to ignore the financial noise throughout the year and save on their emotional well-being.
As can be imagined, market forecasts for 2024 are all over the board. I know better than to put much weight on predictions, but I do tend to enjoy reading and agreeing with those who have a positive outlook. Just like the way we weathered all the doom and gloom predicted for 2023, our economy is very resilient, and the collective smarts of our nation tend to find ways to survive and thrive.
After spending over thirty years in the industry, I have seen way too many predictions that are not only wrong but have harmful consequences for those who blindly follow them.
It is best to stick with a disciplined investment strategy and focus on enjoying life rather than fretting about the economy and account balances. Of course, this does include having risk management plans should things go bad – emergency fund in a money market account, proper insurance, etc.
That aside, I do expect 2024 to be volatile. Election years tend to bring out a lot of ugly from both sides of the aisle. This constant barrage of negativity can wear on anyone. Remember that negative news sells better than positive. Do your best to ignore it.
In mid-December my wife and I took part in Wreaths Across America. In short, Wreaths Across America is a national event to remember and honor deceased veterans by laying wreaths on gravesites at military cemeteries across the country.
It was the first time I had participated and I underestimated the swell of emotions I would feel as I walked through the cemetery and thought about all of those who had served.
Regardless of what the market does this year or next, we have so many things to be grateful for. Sometimes it is nice to stop, think, and put things into perspective.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, and grateful 2024.