Despite a bumpy ride throughout 2014, the US economy gained pace while the US equity and fixed income markets outperformed most markets around the world. This performance came with higher market volatility in the US, a rallying dollar, slowing economies in Europe and Asia, and rising geopolitical tensions, including conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose for the sixth straight year, posting a 7.52% gain (price-only return). The S&P 500 Index rose 13.69% (including reinvested dividends), marking the third straight year in which the benchmark has returned more than 10%. The Dow closed at a record high on 38 calendar days, while the S&P 500 had 53 record closes. The non-US markets followed a much different track: All major indices logged negative performance for the year (in USD). The MSCI EAFE Index had a -4.90% return and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index a -2.19% return (net dividends, in USD). The dollar’s strong performance relative to major regional currencies contributed significantly to the lower returns for US investors.
Government bond yields fell across major markets, including the US, where many expected higher rates in response to improving economic growth and an eventual rate increase due to the end of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.17% by year-end, down from 3.03% in 2013, with lower prices boosting its return to over 4.0% for the year. The Barclays US Government Bond Index returned 4.92%. World government bonds had slightly positive returns: The Citigroup World Government Bond 1–5 Year Index (hedged) returned 1.90%.
The chart above highlights some of the year’s prominent headlines in the context of broad US market performance, measured by the Russell 3000 Index. These headlines are not offered to explain market returns. Instead, they serve as a reminder that investors should view daily events from a long-term perspective and avoid making investment decisions based solely on the news.
The chart below offers a snapshot of non-US stock market performance (developed and emerging markets), measured by the MSCI All Country World Index ex USA. Again, the headlines should not be viewed as determinants of the market’s direction but only as examples of events that may have tested investor discipline during the year.