As investors look at their year-end portfolio holdings, 2018 might be a year they would rather forget about. Assets of all types were down almost across the board. From stocks to bonds to commodities, nothing and no one was spared. Stock markets were especially hard hit, with the Dow Jones starting the year just under 25,000 points and quickly shooting upwards to near 27,000 points. After months of weakness stock markets again set all-time highs in the fall, only to collapse again at the end of the year, down 1,500 points from where they started at the beginning of the year.
Every bit of positive economic news seemed to be counteracted almost immediately by something negative. Every time there appeared to be progress in ending the trade conflict with China some other development popped up to scuttle things. When market watchers thought that the Fed would dispense with its December rate hike due to Fed Chairman Powell’s comments the Fed disappointed them and went ahead with the hike anyway. And just about every stock market rally seemed to be met by a major drop the next day.
But while most people would rather forget about 2018 and start fresh, the outlook for 2019 doesn’t look to be much better. With a split Congress the likelihood of further tax cuts and business-friendly legislation looks to be about nil. Continued pressure from Congress to act tough against Russia and China will ensure a continuance of international conflict. And with the recent exodus of top administration officials and partial government shutdown, confidence in the government being able to get anything done is dropping.
Among the best performing assets of 2018 was gold which, even though it lost a little bit of value over the course of the year, still did better than stock markets. And because gold always acts as a safe haven in times of financial turmoil, gold should do even better in 2019 when stock markets continue to decline. At this point investors are looking very closely at the “barbarous relic” to help protect their assets as stock markets continue to falter.