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While drivers have rejoiced over falling crude oil prices, which have sunk to seven-year lows, stock market investors are less sanguine.
After gaining almost 14% in 2014, U.S. equities have basically gone nowhere so far this year. Ironically, your savings at the pump — which are typically viewed as an economic tailwind — are a main reason why.
As the average gallon of gas has dropped to $2.01, compared to $2.55 a year ago, energy companies find themselves in bad shape. Of the 10 main sectors that comprise the S&P 500 Index, energy stocks declined the most — more than 23%. Overall equities have basically flat-lined this year, according to S&P Capital IQ, but would have gained 2.4% without energy.
"Excluding energy, 2015 would have looked a whole lot better," notes Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist for S&P Capital IQ.
To be fair, though, many sectors declined this year, including utility stocks, which are down 11% so far. But better days may be ahead in 2016 — a salve for investors who've experienced above average volatility.
S&P Capital IQ notes that all but one sector — energy — should see a jump in earnings per share next year. Corporate earnings in general are expected to climb 8.2% after being down slightly in 2015. S&P Economics estimates that that the economy will grow 2.7% next year. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate is forecast to fall to 4.6% while wages will grow at an annual rate of 3.2%.
That last point is perhaps the most important.
Just as inflation has grown slowly since the recession, your paycheck has failed to pick up. The situation has been so dire that the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at nearly 0% for six years. Most market participants expect the Fed to raise short-term interest rates by a mere 0.25 percentage point after the conclusion of its December meeting tomorrow.
Of course your portfolio construction shouldn't depend on the vagaries of the stock market.
You can create a diversified portfolio with only a few low-cost index funds that will provide wealth in the long-term. (See the Money 50 for our list of recommended mutual and exchange-traded funds.) But investors are human, after all, and thereby prone to adding securities when you're happy and paring them when you're not.
"When investors are putting money away, and the stock market goes down, it feels discouraging," says Gregg Fisher the founder and chief investment officer of GersteinFisher. "As long as the overall trend is up, it's actually a wonderful opportunity for a lot of investors."