Throughout 2012, nervous investors did not have to look hard for reasons to avoid the financial markets. The daily headlines provided abundant gloom to feed their doubts, but investors who acted on impulse could have missed a potential opportunity to participate in strong returns across the global financial markets.
The year opened with lingering concern about the weak US recovery, the debt crisis in Europe, and political uncertainty around the world. Many financial pundits had predicted another lackluster year for stocks and more market volatility. Some predicted a euro zone breakup triggered by impending debt defaults in Greece and Portugal. The global economy was showing early signs of a slowdown, and many investors were weighing the potential economic impact of the US elections and so-called “fiscal cliff.”
Despite a steady diet of bad news, most markets around the world climbed the proverbial “wall of worry” to log strong returns. Major market indices around the globe delivered double-digit total returns, and as a group, the non-US developed and emerging markets outperformed the US equity market. The total market value of global equities, as measured by the MSCI All-Country World Index, increased by an estimated $6.5 trillion in 2012, while market-wide volatility fell to its lowest level in six years.