WeeklyWatch – A decade of returns

6 January 2020

Stock Take

A boom decade for stocks

The close of 2019 saw stocks end the decade on an ear-piercingly high note, with the S&P 500 registering a resounding 190% gain over the period. 2019 was the second-best showing for stocks in this decade-long rally – the index ended 2019 up by a jaw-dropping 29%. That said, it was significantly outdone by its constituent FAANG stocks (the market’s five most popular and best-performing tech stocks), which delivered many of the gains across the decade: the S&P 500 Information Technology index rose by 335% over the 2010s.

It wasn’t just the S&P striking new highs. The Nasdaq broke through 9,000 points for the first time over Christmas, aided by a surge for retail stocks: Amazon had its best day on markets in several months. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average clocked its 21st record close of 2019. It has, in short, been an expensive year – and an expensive decade – to remain out of the market, despite the many surprise events that hit markets in the short term…more on those later!

Tom Beal, CIO at St. James’s Place commented:

“The big temptation for investors is to see the news and do something new, but it’s all too often a mistake. The last decade has shown why investors need to keep their plans for 2030 in mind, and worry much less about what 2020 might have in store.”

Automotive indifference

These popular technological changes have, conversely, posed a threat to the automotive industry, which has had a fairly indifferent decade when it comes to stocks – one example being the S&P 500 Automobiles index, which is a pretty good picture of US sentiment about the industry. The latest UK data, released this morning, showed automotive sales at a six-year low.

Back in 2008, Ford dismantled a Ford Focus and had strung several of its parts as musical instruments, among them a ‘clutch guitar’ and ‘window harp’. In the subsequent TV ad, a 15-strong orchestra played a piece together. “Beautifully arranged”, declared the advert’s sign-off.

11 years later, at the close of this decade, the auto-orchestral cross-over hit the headlines again, as Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO of Nissan, fled Japan hidden in the double-bass case of a group of ex-special forces soldiers who were disguised as a Gregorian music band – doubtless, Ghosn was a little less than “beautifully arranged” in said instrument case. The fugitive now faces charges in Japan of falsifying records for personal gain. Nissan’s share price fell both last year and across the decade as a whole.

The influence of events in the US and China

Over the holiday season, stocks were ever-sensitive to developments in the US and China, but investors found cause for hope: an initial US-China trade deal was agreed; Hong Kong showed signs of recovery in December; Huawei reported revenues were up 18% despite ongoing US pressure; US jobs figures came in positive; and the People’s Bank of China announced a cut to the bank reserve requirement – effectively a supportive move for markets.

There were more technical financial reasons for optimism too – among them the US yield curve. It had inverted earlier in the year, meaning that two-year debt was offering better yields than 10-year debt. Such an inversion has occurred before every US recession of the past 50 years. However, the year closed with the inversion very much undone, meaning bond investors would seem to think that an imminent US recession is now unlikely.

There were plenty of tensions, all the same. Angered by UK government comments on Hong Kong, China halted the Shanghai-London Stock Connect, an alliance which allowed companies listed on one of the cities’ exchanges to apply to sell on the other. In 2019, Huatai Securities became the first (and only) company to use the link, raising $1.54 billion on the London Stock Exchange as a result.

More seriously, the US acknowledged that it was behind the assassination of a leading Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad on 3rd January. The killing comes after the US has made every effort to pull troops and support out of the region, leaving Russia and Iran potentially greater latitude. Defence stocks rose, but so did the price of a barrel of Brent, which is now above $70. In crude terms, the US can perhaps afford to pull out of the Middle East more than just a few years ago, given its own shale oil industry, but the global flow of oil could still be affected. The same day as the assassination, Russia, China and Iran announced they would be holding joint naval drills in the Gulf of Oman, a key channel for global oil flows and traditionally on the patrolling route of the US Fifth Fleet.

Financial Crisis debt

Yet for all the uncertainties of the new decade, new research by AllianceBernstein shows that bank and household debt – the two major debt piles of the global financial crisis – had been brought under control by decade-end. Moreover, European government bonds – a byword for crisis in the early 2010s – outperformed their peers over the decade. As for the UK, while manufacturing and retail indices, together with growth forecasts, looked far from impressive, the final quarter of 2019 saw sterling rise significantly and business confidence lift in December.

Wealth Check

‘Tis the season – HMRC has confirmed that over 3,000 people submitted their self-assessment tax return on Christmas Day and over 9,000 people did so on Boxing Day. But for those who didn’t sit down for some festive form-filling, January will have arrived with a sense of dread.

It is perhaps no surprise that Self Assessment is a task faced with such apprehension, and it can therefore be easy to overlook the benefits – we forget that it provides you with the opportunity to claim money that is rightfully yours, by maximising reliefs and exemptions.

For instance, if you are a higher or an additional rate tax payer, making contributions to a personal pension, including additional contributions over and above your workplace pension, you may be entitled to claim extra tax relief via your Self Assessment tax return.

The good news is that if you have failed to claim the extra relief previously, you can still claim for the previous three tax years. However, if you are yet to claim tax relief for contributions made in the 2016/17 tax year, you need to act quickly. The deadline for paper forms has already passed, but those submitting tax returns online have until midnight on 31 January.

Tony Clark, Head of Retirement Marketing at St. James’s Place, commented:

“For many people, getting on top of their finances is a key New Year’s resolution and claiming back tax relief via their Self Assessment tax return should be part of that.”

HMRC data from last year shows that 730,000 missed the cut-off point for submissions – don’t let it be you! For advice on your Self Assessment, contact your Adviser at Wellesley.

In the Picture

A look at historical interest rates in the UK makes it quickly apparent that the Bank of England has not been helping cash savers over the past decade.

The Last Word

They attacked us, & we hit back. If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!

Donald Trump, tweeting about Iran over the weekend.


The information contained is correct as at the date of the article.

The information contained does not constitute investment advice and is not intended to state, indicate or imply that current or past results are indicative of future results or expectations. Where the opinions of third parties are offered, these may not necessarily reflect those of St. James’s Place or Wellesley Wealth Advisory.

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