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BAM Intelligence

This Year’s “Sure Thing” Predictions Are Batting Zero

Every January, I compile a list of predictions that financial “gurus” have made for the upcoming year, especially the ones that gain consensus in the media or those that I frequently hear referred to among investors as “sure things.” I then keep track of whether these “sure thing” forecasts have actually come to pass through a series of periodic updates.

The turn of the calendar into October means that it’s time for our third-quarter review. As is our practice, we’ll give a score of +1 for a prediction that came true, a score of -1 for one that was wrong, and a score of 0 for one that was basically a tie.

Fed-Related Predictions Miss The Mark

Our first sure thing was that the Federal Reserve will continue to raise interest rates in 2016. That frequently leads to the recommendation that investors limit bond holdings to only the shortest of maturities. At its September meeting, the Fed left the target range for its federal funds rate unchanged at 0.25% to 0.5% for the sixth time. In addition, the Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index ETF (BSV) returned 2.6% and the firm’s Intermediate-Term Bond Index ETF (BIV) returned 7.2%, while its Long-Term Bond Index ETF (BLV) returned 16.1%. Score: -1.

The second sure thing was that economic growth, while remaining relatively tepid, will improve. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s fourth quarter 2015 Survey of Professional Forecasters predicted unremarkable real GDP growth of 2.6% in 2016, a bump up from the final forecast of 2.4% in real GDP growth for 2015. Thus, a low bar was set for growth to improve. But at its September meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee lowered its GDP growth forecasts for 2016 to just 1.8% from 2% in the June projection. Score: -1.

Our third sure thing followed from the first two. With the Fed’s tightening and the economy improving—combined with the economies of European and other developed nations still struggling to generate growth, and with their central banks engaged in very easy monetary policies—the dollar would strengthen. The dollar index (DXY) ended last year at 98.69. The dollar index ended the third quarter of 2016 at 95.42. Score: -1.

Stocks Mostly Defy Expectations

The fourth sure thing was that with the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio at roughly 25.9 as we began the year, almost 60% above its long-term average, U.S. stocks are overvalued and thus should be avoided in 2016. Through the third quarter’s end, Vanguard’s (U.S.) Total Stock Market Index ETF (VTI) returned 9.1%, outperforming its Total International Stock Index ETF (VXUS), which returned 6.7%, as well as all but long-term bonds. Score: -1.

The fifth sure thing was that, given relative valuations, U.S. small-cap stocks will underperform U.S. large-cap stocks. Morningstar data showed us that, near the end of 2015, the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of Vanguard’s Small Cap Index ETF (VB) stood at about 20.6, while the P/E of the Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VOO) stood at roughly 18.5. Through the end of the third quarter, VB returned 11.4%, outperforming VOO, which returned 7.7%. Score: -1.

The sixth sure thing was that with the non-U.S. developed and emerging market economies generally growing at a much slower pace than the U.S. economy—and with many emerging markets hurt by falling commodity prices, slower growth in the Chinese economy, the Fed tightening monetary policy and a rising dollar—international stocks will underperform U.S. equities this year. While the Vanguard (U.S.) Total Stock Market Index ETF (VTI), which returned 9.1%, outperformed the Vanguard Developed Markets Index ETF (VEA), which returned 4.0%, Vanguard’s Emerging Markets Stock Index ETF (VWO) outperformed the VTSMX, returning 16.0%. We’ll call that a draw. Score: 0.

The seventh sure thing was that, after defying the gurus last year, the volatility of the market will rise in 2016. The VIX ended 2015 at 18.2. Following a tumultuous start to the year, since early March (with the exception of a brief period after the Brexit vote), market volatility has been relatively quiet. The VIX ended the third quarter at just 13.3. Score: -1.

Going back to 1896, the first three quarters of the last year of the presidential cycle have all produced below-average returns, although the fourth quarter of that year has produced above-average (almost 5%) returns. Thus, our eighth sure thing is that the first nine months of the year will be disappointing, but we’ll be bailed out by a strong fourth quarter. As we have noted, Vanguard’s (U.S.) Total Stock Market ETF returned 9.1%. That’s well above the historical average for the first nine months of a year. Score: -1.

Final Tally

Our final tally at quarter-end shows that not even a single “sure thing” actually occurred, though there were seven that had the opposite result. Keep in mind that if these predictions were truly “sure things,” most, if not all, should have happened. But there’s hope, as we still have one quarter to go. We’ll report back again at the end of the year.

This commentary originally appeared October 12 on ETF.com

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The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of the BAM ALLIANCE. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.

© 2016, The BAM ALLIANCE

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Chief Research Officer

Larry Swedroe is Chief Research Officer for the BAM ALLIANCE.

Previously, Larry was vice chairman of Prudential Home Mortgage. Larry holds an MBA in finance and investment from NYU, and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Baruch College.

To help inform investors about the evidence-based investing approach, he was among the first authors to publish a book that explained evidence-based investing in layman’s terms — The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need. He has authored 15 more books:

What Wall Street Doesn’t Want You to Know (2001)
Rational Investing in Irrational Times (2002)
The Successful Investor Today (2003)
Wise Investing Made Simple (2007)
Wise Investing Made Simpler (2010)
The Quest for Alpha (2011)
Think, Act and Invest Like Warren Buffett (2012)
The Incredible Shrinking Alpha (2015)
Your Complete Guide to Factor-Based Investing (2016)
Reducing the Risk of Black Swans (2018)
Your Complete Guide to a Successful & Secure Retirement (2019)

He also co-authored four books: The Only Guide to a Winning Bond Strategy You’ll Ever Need (2006), The Only Guide to Alternative Investments You’ll Ever Need (2008), The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need for the Right Financial Plan (2010) and Investment Mistakes Even Smart Investors Make and How to Avoid Them (2012). Larry also writes blogs for MutualFunds.com and Index Investor Corner on ETF.com.

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