When it comes to the weather, March often comes "in like a lion, out like a lamb." And as luck and irony would have it, the markets performed similarly last month. Following a sharp sell-off in the final days of February, the markets roared on into March, plummeting again in the opening weeks of the month before climbing back to meekly finish the quarter in positive territory. As the first quarter of the year concludes, many investors are reevaluating their portfolios and taking stock of the events of the past few months. Here's a look baa-aa-ack on the quarter. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)
Equity markets pull it together
As the calendar closed on March, equity markets were generally flat to slightly positive. But considering the dive the market took mid-quarter, the S&P's ability to pull out of negative territory is impressive in itself. Taking a look at specific stocks, the best-performing securities of the quarter were semiconductor manufacturer MEMC Electronic Materials
Growth and value stocks were roughly even for the quarter, once again thwarting the belief that growth stocks are due for a run. But just because it didn't happen this quarter, I wouldn't bet the farm on value stocks continuing their streak of outperformance. One important concept to keep in mind when playing the investing game is the idea of "reversion to the mean." Put simply, this means that what goes up must come down, or that things will revert back to the average. I believe that this applies to growth and value stocks as well. Value-oriented securities have had a rather good run over the past six or seven years, while growth stocks have been pretty beat up by the market. It's extremely unlikely that this trend will continue, and I'm betting that growth stocks will take center stage soon and give their value-oriented cousins a run for their money.
The same story applies across market capitalizations. In the opening quarter of the year, mid-cap stocks took the cake as far as returns go, beating out both small- and large-cap securities by a decent margin. That follows seven straight years of outsized returns for both small- and mid-cap stocks. Large caps have been pretty much left in the dust. Yet knowing what we know about reversion to the mean, there's a pretty good chance that small and mid caps have had their day in the sun, and that their larger-cap counterparts will be the winners in the coming quarters. As the economy slows, larger companies will be better-positioned to benefit.
A wild ride
Of course, the epicenter of this quarter's shake-up was the one-day 9% plunge in the Shanghai stock market which occurred in late February. This sell-off sent stocks worldwide tumbling in response. U.S. markets were spooked; combined with worries over a possible meltdown in the domestic subprime mortgage market, this took the wind out of the stock market's sails as February ended. This uncertainty carried over into the first few weeks of March, as the market dipped yet again. However, buoyed in part by compelling economic fundamentals, including stable employment and strong GDP figures, domestic stock markets managed to stage a comeback.
All in all, none of this should have surprised investors. The market was more than overdue for a correction. Prior to February's drop, the S&P 500 index had not suffered even a 2% correction since last July -- the longest it had gone without such a correction in over 50 years. So, while the drop in Chinese stocks may have been the initial catalyst for this quarter's sell-off, the blame can't be placed entirely on its shoulders.
And while it may have been stomach-churning to watch from the sidelines, Foolish investors know that such market movements are inevitable. You shouldn't waste time worrying about every little drop or correction that occurs along the way. As big-picture thinkers, Fools know that over the long term, all the little bumps and dips will even out in the end. Keep that thought in mind the next time you lie awake at night, tossing and turning, fretting over the damage the market has inflicted on your portfolio in the course of a day, a week, or a month!
Believe me, I'm not lion when I say that this has been one bumpy quarter. Fortunately for investors, the quarter did end on a positive note. And that's always better than if it had ended ... wait for it ... baa-aa-adly.
Fool contributor Amanda Kish lives in Rochester, N.Y. and thinks lambs are much more cuddly than lions -- and definitely more tasty. She doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned herein. She welcomes your feedback.