2022 STOCK MARKET UPDATE
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By John Fox, CFA®
After a terrific 2021, the stock market peaked on the first business day of the new year and has been declining ever since. So far, stocks are down 10% to 20% for the year depending on the index you watch. The stocks of smaller companies have fallen the most.
While the current headlines are on Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, we believe this is just one of multiple reasons for the drop in stock prices. As long-term stock investors, it’s always helpful to remember that price declines are part of the experience. I mentioned in a recent video we distributed that I have been at Fenimore for 26 years and in every one of those years, but one, the market had a decline of 5% or more during the year. This is a normal part of stock investing.
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Of course, the reasons for the declines are always different. Today, we see three primary reasons:
1) High Valuations: After great market returns in 2021, stock valuations were at a high level. Because of low interest rates and many years of terrific returns, investors were willing to pay more for a dollar of earnings. This left stock prices at an all-time high and susceptible to a decrease as we turned the calendar. It’s impossible to know when a decline might occur, even if you think prices look high.
2) High Inflation: It’s very clear that inflation is not “transitory” using an often-quoted word from the Federal Reserve Chairman. We believe some parts of inflation will recede over time; other factors are here to stay. As a consequence, the Federal Reserve will be raising interest rates this year beginning at their March meeting in a few weeks. Answers to important questions like how high these rate increases will go and how fast they will occur are unknown. Interest rates have already moved up in anticipation of the Fed’s moves. The 30-year mortgage rate has increased from last year’s low of 2.67% to 4% today. We should point out that while the Fed is raising interest rates, they remain low by historical standards.
3) Russia’s Invasion: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creates a lot of uncertainty around politics and Europe’s state of affairs. From a purely economic point of view, Russia is a major producer of oil and other commodities like wheat. If this conflict continues, it may increase the prices of these commodities which will impact inflation. Higher inflation brings us right back to the previous point about an interest rate increase.
As you can see, there are a number of interrelated issues. However, even if it seems like one storm ends and another surfaces, this is usually the story in economics, politics, and markets. We have been through numerous international events like the Asian financial crisis in 1998 and two wars in Iraq.
At this time, we expect companies to grow earnings over 2021 levels and generate cash profits to invest in growth and return to shareholders through stock buybacks and increased dividends. As I stated in our year-end newsletter, “You don’t have to know the future, but you do have to know your companies.”
This gives us the confidence we need to execute our long-term strategy: investing in what we believe are quality businesses that meet our rigorous financial standards with strong leadership teams that can create value for our investors over time.
Please contact us at 800-721-5391 if you have questions or concerns. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.
 FactSet as of 2/24/2022