Major Asset Classes | December 2018 | Performance Review

Nearly every corner of the financial and commodity markets stumbled in 2018. Except for a modest gain in cash and a flat performance for a broad measure of US investment-grade bonds, last year was awash in red ink.

Stocks in emerging markets suffered the biggest retreat among the major asset classes in 2018. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index tumbled 14.6% last year on a net total return basis.

Last year’s lone gain for the major asset classes was posted in cash via short-term Treasury bills. The S&P US Treasury Bill 0-3 Month Index delivered a modest 1.8% increase in 2018, offering a rare source of profit in an otherwise turbulent year.

For the final month of 2018, by contrast, profits were easier to come by after a late-year correction that cut prices sharply in markets wide and far. Last month’s biggest bounce was in foreign developed-market government bonds. The FTSE Russell World Government Bond Index ex-US posted a strong 2.5% total return in last year’s final month.

By contrast, US equities suffered the biggest decline in December for the major asset classes. The Russell 3000 Index tumbled 9.3% — the deepest monthly loss in nearly a decade for this benchmark.

With no place to hide in 2018, the Global Market Index (GMI) suffered a loss last year. This unmanaged benchmark that holds all the major asset classes in market-value weights fell 4.8%. For trailing 3- and 5-year windows, however, GMI continues to post moderate gains.

As the chart below reminds, investment-grade bonds offered useful ballast in a challenging year. While US equities fell, along with GMI, in 2018, the Bloomberg Aggregate US Bond Index held steady over the full calendar year, defying predictions early in 2018 that the fixed-income securities were destined for hefty losses.