Bloomberg — This is a time of year normally reserved for looking forward. Yet many on Wall Street are looking back -- to make sure the door is slammed tight on 2021.
Certainly, the year brought some things that will long be remembered with fondness, like the S&P 500 Index’s robust 27% yearly gain. But the last 12 months also brought fresh horrors from Covid variants, raging inflation, crazed campaigns to pump up throwback stocks and nonstop talk of cryptocurrencies.
“2021 was a testament to economic resilience, especially when turbocharged by monetary and fiscal stimulus -- those combined to make a very potent cocktail for investors,” said Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers. But all this happened “in the face of a long list of tribulations.”
Here are things that tormented traders and analysts in 2021:
Just Go, Covid
Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at the Leuthold Group, hopes the omicron variant will prove to be less severe than prior strains. When the global suffering begins to subside, he looks forward to being relieved of a far smaller burden: being an armchair virologist.
“I’ll be super glad when I no longer hold myself out as a virus expert. Which I’ve never been, but I play one on TV,” Paulsen said. “It’s kind of ridiculous to have all these investment types pontificating about the virus. I’ve done it a lot and I’m tired of doing it.”
Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors LLC, is ready for lockdown market volatility to be over, particularly in Europe where equity indexes have slumped in countries with strict rules.
And everyone has felt the weight of constantly grappling with the human tragedy.
“We’d love to no longer have to look at statistics like daily death rates and kind of view those as dispassionately as an investment metric,” said Giorgio Caputo, senior portfolio manager at J O Hambro Capital Management.
Beat It, Base Effects
Economic data faced massive “base effects” in 2021, where year-over-year increases for inflation and other metrics appeared large in comparison to the weak prints in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.
“2021 was a year of no comparisons. You couldn’t compare the data because of the pandemic and the abnormality of markets,” said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at TIAA Bank, who is looking forward to leaving base effects behind.
Whether or not inflation will be able to ease in 2022, Wall Street grew weary of hearing it referred to as “transitory.” Officials at S&P 500 companies mentioned the word 334 times this year on investor calls, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the transcripts.
Even Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who first brought the phrase to prominence, declared in November that it was “probably a good time to retire that word.”
In fact, most inflation conversations have become tedious.
“Being the first time that it’s picked up to this level in 40 years, it’s been the only thing we have talked about for six to nine months,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird.
Convinced that bottlenecks will ease by the second half of 2022, Kim Forrest, chief investment officer at Bokeh Capital Partners, would like to banish any more talk about supply chains.
“Oh my God, just let the supply chain just go away. I don’t even want to think about it,” Forrest said. If a TV-watcher played a drinking game every time someone said “supply chain” in morning newscasts, the tippler “would have been smashed by nine o’clock in the morning.”
Move On, Memes
Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen, said that in a year where “bread-and-butter investing” through the S&P 500 led to double-digit returns, market pundits spent way too much time talking about speculative investments.
Yes, GameStop Corp. surged more than 1,600% at one point and meme cryptocurrency Dogecoin’s market valuation briefly surpassed that of companies like Moderna Inc. and General Motors Co., but Nick is happy to leave those conversations behind.
“If you’re focused too much on the tremendous amount of volatility in this small number of speculative assets, you miss the really good news of how well sticking to your plan paid off this year,” he said.
Fueling gains in speculative assets in 2021 was a ubiquitous “buy-the-dip” mentality that continued to reward investors who followed suit. Mike Zigmont, head of trading and research at Harvest Volatility Management, worries that a “buy first, think later” mentality may hurt investors in the longer term if the market corrects significantly.
“I don’t mind dip-buying if it is a considered action, but over the last two years, it’s become a reflexive action,” Zigmont said. “And that’s what bothers me.”
Enough Already, NFTs
It’s impossible to look back on 2021 without acknowledging that cryptocurrencies and the blockchain dominated conversations. Victoria Greene, founding partner and chief investment officer at G Squared Private Wealth, is eager to jettison one of its offshoots: non-fungible tokens and promises that the digital artworks will be the next big asset class.
“NFTs are basically digital art, but not all art has value,” Greene said. “My five-year-old niece can make a pretty picture that has value to me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually valuable.”
Get Lost, Zoom
Stepping away from the trading screen, David Bianco, chief investment officer of the Americas at DWS Group, really wants to get back to meeting people in real life.
“What I’d love to leave behind is the Zoom calls, my masks, the awkwardness of meeting somebody -- do we nod at each other, bow at each other, shake hands, hug? It’s been a really weird year in terms of social interactions,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing people in person.”
— With assistance by Clay Eltzroth