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A Year Of Distress For Investors

December 28, 2015 Blog

2015 was clearly a year of distress and pain for retail investors.

After several years of solid gains, the broad stock market this year finally stalled. As of Monday morning, the S&P 500 was flat for the year, meaning many investors saw little to no returns on their equity portfolios.

Investors have been chasing yield since 2008, when the Federal Reserve lowered short-term interest rates to zero to goose the economy in response to the credit crisis and the stock market collapse. Investors, often on the advice of their financial advisers, piled into riskier investments. They bought junk bonds, commodity funds and portfolios of leveraged loans. How did some of those types of investments fare?

The overall distressed debt and junk bond market is on a downward spiral with no light at the end of the tunnel in sight.

Bond investors in 2016 across the board, not just those with junk or high yield mutual funds, may see deterioration in the principal value of their investments as the December interest rate hike and projected future rate hikes potentially will continue to batter bonds.

A recent report by Bloomberg’s Jodi Xu Klein put the current plight of the Mom and Pop investor who chased yield with risky investments into the appropriate context.

“Distressed debt investors could describe 2015 in a single word: pain,” according to Klein’s report. “With oil and coal prices simultaneously falling to unforeseen lows, the bonds and loans of energy companies lost much of their value. The agony quickly spread to other industries, from materials to retail to industrials, and traders struggled to find safe havens and preserve their paychecks amid the rout.”

“It’s like a cancer. It’s spreading throughout the body,” one hedge fund manager told her. “If you look at all the segments in high-yield — chemicals, metals and mining, utilities, retail, health care — they’re all impacted.”

For those investors holding oil-related investments, either oil stocks or structured products linked to oil and other commodities, it has been a disastrous year. Oil on Monday fell to around $37 per barrel, near an 11-year low, with no upside in sight.

Structured product investors received a lump of coal in their stockings this holiday season as their investments are likely to take further hits in 2016 as commodity prices continue to fall.

Regular readers of this blog know its focus has been on investors in Puerto Rico who bought the island commonwealth’s government backed debt. Those investors saw further declines in 2015 in their bonds and bond funds issued by UBS Puerto Rico.

What’s more, Puerto Rico’s government finances are teetering. A bond default is likely in the New Year.

The lesson for 2016? Investors need to renew their caution and make sure that they have diversified portfolios across a variety of asset classes. We’ve learned that “putting all of your eggs in one basket” results in scrambled eggs, particularly if any of the investments are in the distressed debt category.

Here’s hoping 2016 is a better year for investors than this one. Happy New Year!

Zamansky LLC are investment and stock fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation and arbitration against financial institutions.