June 3, 2024 | 3 MIN READ

Weekly Market Update

Stocks Slip but Still Post Monthly Gains

What happened last week?

Last week, the S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq declined by -0.51%, -0.98% and -1.10%, respectively, but still managed to post monthly gains of 4.80%, 2.30% and 6.88%.

US large-cap equities have been on quite the winning streak. From the depths of the Global Financial Crisis at the end of 2008 to the end of 2023, this sub-asset class – as represented by the S&P 500 Index – has registered an annualized total return of 14.3%.

This performance has prompted some investors to ask a searching question: has portfolio diversification had its day? After all, anyone who put their entire equity allocation or even their entire investment wealth in US large cap equities would have enjoyed strong returns.

The US’s unique combination of global economic and technological leadership, strong institutions, and its status as the largest and most liquid market may continue to make US large cap equities an enticing investment. However attractive it may sound, an equity allocation to just one geography – or a handful of large, top performing stocks from that geography – is significantly risky.

3 Things to Know

Don’t Ignore Structural Balance in an Investment Portfolio

Many investors are fixated with timing markets, typically shifting between cash and equities. Their aspiration is to ride the uptrends while sidestepping downtrends.

While avoiding market drawdowns has obvious appeal, both financially and psychologically, experience shows it is very hard to accomplish. Typically, market timers end up missing out on valuable stretches of equity gains and earning much lower returns on cash instead (please see our May 18th CIO Bulletin for more).

Staying fully invested and broadly diversified, by contrast, enables investors to seek compound returns over time. High quality bonds may help offset some of the effects of holding equities during bear markets.

The bulk of our investor questions have tended to focus on short-term factors – election outcomes, geopolitical risks – and whether the stock market is too high for a particular moment in time.

What so often gets neglected is the structural balance in a portfolio. A misaligned portfolio for the long run can potentially accumulate either excessive idiosyncratic risk or lost opportunities akin to enduring a bear market, if hidden beneath the surface over time.

Thanks to their strong collective performance, US large cap equities now represent 62% of the MSCI ACWI IMI Index, a broad global benchmark spanning developed and emerging markets. However, history cautions against extrapolating today’s dominance into the long term.

The outperformance of certain markets tends to wax and wane over time. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, US equities also beat other leading equity markets across the world. From 2000 to 2010, however, the situation was reversed, with emerging market equities outperforming.

To be clear, this is not to say the US is doomed to poor performance over the next decade.

However, valuations for the US – as measured by the cyclical-adjusted price to earnings ratio or "CAPE" – are currently high. Over time, high CAPE readings for equity markets have historically given way to low returns over the subsequent decade.

At the same time, some markets elsewhere – and particularly in emerging countries – have lower valuations, which suggests the potential for higher returns over the next 10 years.

Small, not Seismic, Shifts

Rather than calling for a wholesale shift from US equities to cheaper markets, our approach calls for considering appropriately sized exposure to both. The relative sizes of our long-term allocations will reflect the divergence in valuations, allocating somewhat less to expensive markets and somewhat more to cheaper ones.

During various bouts of market stress over the past quarter century, some asset classes have delivered positive returns even as equity markets have fallen. In February 2003, for example, while US equities were down 23.6% year-on-year, commodities were up 57.8%.

And in December 2008, when US real estate was down by just over half, US bonds were up 5.2% over the previous year. We believe such dispersion in asset class performance makes a case for allocating across many geographies and asset classes rather than trying to pick winners among them.

Citi Global Wealth Investments
Charlie Reinhard - Head of North America Investment Strategy
Lorraine Schmitt - North America Investment Strategy

See our weekly CIO Strategy Bulletin for more details