Another year is in the books, and for investors 2019 was quite the turnaround story.
Despite an early backdrop of heightened volatility, escalating trade tensions, Brexit uncertainty, and calls for a recession, the year progressed in an unexpectedly pleasant fashion. The Fed used its limited arsenal to provide additional stimulus, and global markets soaked it up to extend the decade-long bull run.
By the end of 2019, every major asset class was in the black — and the S&P 500 surged to finish with its best annual return since 2013.
Markets Roundup for 2019
Let’s take a look at major asset classes in 2019, to see how they fared:
The first thing you’ll notice when looking at the above data is that every major asset class had a positive return for the year. The only real difference lies in the magnitude of that positive return.
Even though stocks experienced some of the best gains on the year, the winning asset may be a surprising one: crude oil.
The oil price (WTI) started the year at about $46/bbl and it closed the year at over $61/bbl, good for a 34% gain. And with escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, energy prices could be shooting even higher in 2020.
Performance by S&P 500 Sector
Strangely enough, rising oil prices did not do enough to buoy energy stocks — the poorest performing S&P 500 sector.
Although oil was up on the year, natural gas actually fell in price by about 26% in 2019. This effectively cancels out the gains made by oil, putting energy producers at the bottom of the list:
Not surprisingly, technology stocks excelled in 2019.
Tech was led by a big bounceback from Apple, a big winner that gained more than 80% over the course of the year. Other strong sectors in the benchmark U.S. index included communication services and financials.
The Currency Game
Now let’s look how currencies moved in 2019.
Below movements are all against the U.S. dollar, with the exception of the U.S. dollar itself, which is measured against a basket of currencies (U.S. Dollar Index):
The biggest currency mover on the year was the Canadian dollar, which jumped over 5% partially thanks to rising oil prices. Meanwhile, the biggest decrease went to the euro, which fell over 2% against the U.S. dollar.
It’s also worthwhile to note that Bitcoin had a particularly strong rebound in 2019, rising over 90% against the U.S. dollar.
Winners and Losers
Finally, we’ve put together a more arbitrary list of winners and losers for the year, incorporating all of the above and more.
Both the Greek and Russian stock markets had banner years, each returning close to 50% in dollar terms. Faux meat brands also captured investors’ imaginations, with Beyond Meat leading the charge. Palladium was a standout commodity, gaining 59% on the year.
We’ve chosen energy stocks as a loser, since they were the poorest performing sector on the S&P 500. Meanwhile, Macy’s and Abiomed were two of the worst large cap stocks to own in 2019.