Market Recap – 2014 Year in Review
The United States emerged from 2014 as the best house on a troubled block. Civil war in Ukraine, a slowing Chinese economy, a stagnant Europe worried about potential deflation, a new recession in Japan, the threat of a new Russian economic meltdown triggered by plummeting oil prices - it all made an improving situation at home look even brighter by comparison.
Even apart from the troubles overseas, the United States by almost any measure was stronger than it has been in years. The labor and housing markets improved, corporate profits were solid, Congress managed to avert another government shutdown, and the Ebola threat had little impact domestically. All in all, it was a Goldilocks economy: not too hot, which could have brought on higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, and not too cold, which let the Fed end the QE3 bond purchases begun in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
That strength fueled more gains for domestic equities than had been envisioned for the fifth year of this bull market. The S&P 500 ended 2014 up more than 200% from its March 2009 low, and the Dow saw its sixth straight yearly gain. However, in the coming year, investors will almost certainly be faced with the start of long anticipated interest rate increases. Though the Fed has promised patience in implementing rate hikes, higher borrowing costs and a strong dollar that makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas could create a headwind for domestic corporations. The question is whether that wind might blow the economy off its current promising course.
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- Equities: After a discouraging start, large-cap domestic equities spent much of the year climbing to new heights. Though they didn't come close to matching last year's fireworks, the S&P 500 and Dow industrials set 53 and 38 new record highs respectively during the year. However, little of that love spilled over to the small caps. The Russell 2000, which had soared in 2013, had trouble scaling the proverbial "wall of worry" and spent much of 2014 either flat or down before a Q4 rally returned it to positive territory. The Nasdaq proved the strongest of the four indices; by December it had come within 242 points of its all-time closing high of 5,048.62, set in March 2000. Beset by weakness worldwide, the Global Dow barely managed a positive return for the year.
- Bonds: The bond market confounded those who had feared bond prices would suffer from the unwinding of Federal Reserve support. Challenges overseas lured investors to the safety of U.S. Treasuries; prices rose as the benchmark 10-year yield dropped more than 3/4ths of a percentage point, especially after the threat of an imminent Fed rate hike faded and falling oil prices threatened the economies and currencies of several oil-dependent countries.
- Oil: A drop in crude prices that began in July accelerated in Q4 after Saudi Arabia chose market share over profit by deciding not to cut supplies. Prices promptly plummeted to levels not seen since the depths of the financial crisis, falling roughly 45% from the July high of $107 a barrel. The plunge in oil prices helped fatten consumers' wallets but renewed concerns about oil-dependent economies.
- Currencies: Falling oil prices coupled with the expectation of higher interest rates helped boost the U.S. dollar, which rose almost 11% over the course of the year. The dollar also benefitted from interest rates abroad, some of which were even lower than those for Treasuries. The strong dollar raised new concerns that countries and foreign corporations hurt by lower oil prices might have trouble repaying debt in currencies that were substantially weaker against the U.S. dollar.
- Gold: After plummeting in 2013, gold managed to stabilize a bit last year. The precious metal ended the year at roughly $1,180--not far from where it began in January despite a spring rally prompted in part by the crisis in Ukraine.
Source: Forefield Financial Communications.
Notes: The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The S&P 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-value weighted index of all common stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The Russell 2000 is a market-cap weighted index composed of 2000 U.S. small-cap common stocks. The Global Dow is an equally weighted index of 150 widely traded blue-chip common stocks worldwide. The U.S. Dollar Index is a geometrically weighted index of the value of the U.S. dollar relative to six foreign currencies. Market indices listed are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment.
The performance quoted represents past performance, which does not guarantee future results. This summary represents the views of the portfolio manager as of December 31, 2014. Those views may change, and the Funds disclaim any obligation to advise investors of such changes. The Azzad Funds are self-distributed and available by prospectus only. A free copy of the prospectus, which contains information about the Funds’ risks, fees, and objectives, and other important information, is available at www.azzadfunds.com or by calling 888.350.3369. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The S&P 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The Russell 2000 is a market-cap weighted index composed of 2000 U.S. small-cap common stocks measuring the performance of those Russell mid-cap companies with higher price-to-book ratios and higher forecasted growth values. The stocks are also members of the Russell 1000 Growth index. The Dow Jones Sukuk Index is designed to track the performance of global Islamic fixed-income securities, also known as Sukuk. The index includes U.S. dollar-denominated, investment-grade Sukuk that have been screened for Shari’ah compliance.