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Why ordinary investors got hit so hard in 2022: Morning Brief

This article first appeared in the Morning Brief. Get the Morning Brief sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Friday by 6:30 a.m. ET. Subscribe

Friday, December 30, 2022

Today's newsletter is by Myles Udland, senior markets editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland and on LinkedIn. Read this and more market news on the go with Yahoo Finance App.

The most challenging year for investors since the financial crisis will mercifully come to an end on Friday.

All manner of superlatives can capture the damage done to portfolios the world over, but we think two charts from LPL Research circulated earlier this week show why no one had it harder than mom and pop in 2022.


And the biggest challenge for the average saver came in two forms from one place: the bond market.

The bond market hasn't had a year this bad in two generations.

The Bloomberg Aggregate U.S. Bond Index was down 13.1% in 2022 through December 28, its worst year since inception in 1976.

And it's not even close.

Before 2022, the index's worst year came in 1994... when it dropped just 2.9%.

The U.S. bond market has never had a year worse than 2022, according to the most popular index for tracking the overall market. (Source: LPL Research)
The U.S. bond market has never had a year worse than 2022, according to the most popular index for tracking the overall market. (Source: LPL Research)

As investors well know by now, the dominant market story this year was the Federal Reserve's historic increase in interest rates.

The central bank raised interest rates by a cumulative 4.25% in 2022 — from a range of 0%-0.25% in January to 4.25%-4.5% as of December — the most since 1980. And further increases are expected next year.

As a result, yields across the Treasury curve rose sharply, weighing on prices in both government and private bond markets. At the outset of 2022, the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury stood at just north of 1.5%; by late October, the 10-year yield was closer to 4.2%. As of this week, the 10-year yield was around 3.85%.

And the move in 2-year yields, which tend to be more sensitive to the path of Fed rate hikes, was even more dramatic, rising from around 0.75% at the beginning of the year to 4.3% as of this week.

Which raises another challenge for investors and the economy heading into 2023: the inversion of the yield curve. Ahead of each of the last 8 recessions in the U.S. the yield on the 2-year Treasury note has eclipsed the yield on the 10-year.

Today, the 2-year yield is about 0.5% above the 10-year, signaling trouble for the economy in 2023. But recession risks and whether the bond market will ultimately be "right" about the economy's path is a topic that will get plenty of run in 2023.

Because whether the economy turns south or not, the damage has already been done to average portfolios in 2022.

With bonds suffering their worst year on record, it follows that the classic "60/40 portfolio" comprised of 60% stocks and 40% would also struggle.

And according to LPL, 2022 marks the second-worst year on record for this strategy going back to the inception of the Bloomberg Agg in 1976. Through the close on December 28, a hypothetical 60/40 portfolio comprised of the S&P 500 and the Bloomberg Agg would be down 16.9%, a decline only topped by 2008's 20.1%.

The classic
The classic "60/40" portfolio with a mix of stocks and bonds has only suffered losses larger than 2022's decline once in the last 45 years. (Source: LPL Research)

Eclipsed only by 2008's losses — a year in which the S&P 500 fell 38%, which makes this year's 20% decline feel quaint — the decline suffered by 60/40 portfolios will hit average investors hard because of the predominance of this strategy as relatively safe way to earn a modest return.

Moreover, 2008's decline was more than entirely driven by the drop in stocks — in 2008, the Bloomberg Agg actually rose 5.2%. Bonds, in other words, did offer some support against a plunge in stocks. In 2022, the story has been anything but.

Writing earlier this year about why the so-called "death" of the 60/40 portfolio is overstated, Roger Aliaga-Díaz, chief economist, Americas and head of portfolio construction at Vanguard, wrote: "The goal of the 60/40 portfolio is to achieve long-term annualized returns of roughly 7%. This is meant to be achieved over time and on average, not each and every year."

Aliaga-Díaz's work showed that since 1976, investors have never seen a three-year rolling period in which stocks and bonds lost money. Over that period, only 6.5% of the time has any trailing three-year period for 60/40 portfolios shown negative returns.

Source: Vanguard
Source: Vanguard

As ever, time in the market outweighs efforts to time the market.

But a one-year drop over 16% in one of the most widely-used ways average investors organize their portfolios is hardly overcome by assurances that market history is on their side.

With thousands of Americans retiring every day, many will find their financial standing notably degraded relative to the optimism put forth by market returns in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

And left hoping Wall Street's downbeat view on 2023 is proven wrong.

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