If we looked only at the numbers, 2017 was golden. The stock market hit an incredible 71 new highs this year (no, that is not a typo!) and closed the year up 21% on average. The S&P index gained 19%, the Dow Jones index of 30 stocks gained 25%, and the tech-heavy NASDAQ gained 28%. For investors, it was a year to celebrate.
There was lots of other good news as well. Congress tried—and failed—to repeal the ACA, ensuring continued healthcare access for millions of Americans. If anything, the publicity around the repeal helped increase enrollment, with December enrollment breaking records and beating all expectations. The labor market added 2 million new jobs, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates three times during the year (a sign of a strong economy), GDP increased to an annual growth rate of 3.2%, and demand for new housing remained strong.
On the less favorable side, the US trade deficit increased (something that will only get worse under the new tax plan) and inflation rates remained below the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2%. Today, there seems to be one question on everyone’s lips: How long will this market last?
By now, most of us have invested our funds in the market. And as the numbers continue to climb, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to “play the market.” Instead, I urge you to stick to your long-term flight plan and accept that the market cycle will work through any volatility. Strong corporate profits, low interest rates, and positive investor sentiment provide good tailwinds, although rich valuations could provide a headwind. In this environment, your best option is to invest strategically and focus on your personal balance sheet, paying close attention to your cash and debts. Be sure you have cash reserves to insulate you from being a forced seller in a down market, and reduce your debt and other fixed obligations. Doing so will put you in position to face the future with confidence—no matter which way the winds blow in the year ahead.