The "risk-on" theme persisted through the first quarter as improving economic data trumped elevated geopolitical uncertainty, both in the U.S. and abroad. Economies in the U.S. and Europe continued to gain traction and the U.S. entered its 93rd month of expansion. At the same time, important and potentially divisive elections in Europe, an impeachment in South Korea, heightened tensions with North Korea, innuendo around Russia, civil war in Syria, the Brexit trigger, and an unconventional and inexperienced administration in the U.S. did not rile investors. The S&P 500 surged 6.1%—its best quarterly performance since the fourth quarter of 2015—as expectations for lower taxes, reduced regulation, and other pro-growth reforms helped propel U.S. equity prices to new highs. Non-U.S. stocks also posted strong returns, and emerging market equities beat developed markets. U.S. Treasury yields were range-bound leading to fairly flat returns, and the riskier sectors in fixed income posted the best results. Commodities were the lone area to deliver a negative return, hurt mostly by oil prices falling due to concerns over stockpiles in the U.S.
Quarterly Commentary 2017
"Not too hot, not too cold, but just right." This Goldilocks sentiment, fueled by years of central bank accommodation and tepid economic growth has kept volatility at multi-decade lows, interest rates range-bound, and propelled domestic stock markets to new highs. Even persistent political drama and geopolitical headwinds have failed to create sufficient investor angst to unglue the markets.