Markets get a dose of volatility

Mike Loewengart, Managing Director of Investment Strategy

E*TRADE Capital Management


Last month, stocks did what they’ve often done in September—decline. In addition to possible seasonal weakness, some of the risk factors that many investors appeared to shrug off the past few months conspired to hand the US market its second-biggest setback of the year.

Stocks retreated as Chinese economic weakness, Fed tapering news, rising interest rates, and a debt-ceiling stand-off all captured headlines at different points throughout September. Also, rotation was in the air late in the month as investors sold growth stocks—including many market-leading “mega-tech” names—that tend to underperform when interest rates rise, further pressuring the broad market.

Before reviewing what investors may want to keep tabs on heading into the fourth quarter, here’s a look at the ground the markets covered last month.

US equities

All the major US indexes declined in September, but the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell the most (-5.3%), highlighting the rotation away from tech and growth. The small-cap Russell 2000 followed through on its late-August relative strength to post the smallest loss (-3%) for the month:

September 2021 US equity performance

FactSet Research Systems


Given energy companies tend to make more money when oil prices are high, crude oil’s rally to a three-year high helped the energy sector (+9.4%) withstand September’s red tide:

September 2021 sector performance

FactSet Research Systems

International equities

Around the globe, developed and emerging markets both lost ground in September, but emerging market stocks took the bigger hit. The MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) index fell 4% while the MSCI EAFE index of developed markets lost 2.9%:

September 2021 international equity performance

FactSet Research Systems

Fixed income

Bond prices move inversely to yields, and last month’s yield spike resulted in another negative month for fixed-income investments. Also for the second-straight month, high-yield corporate bonds were the best fixed-income performers in the US. The benchmark 10-year T-note yield posted its third-biggest monthly increase of the past three years, closing September at 1.52%, up from 1.3% at the end of August:

US Treasury yield curve as of September 30, 2021

FactSet Research Systems

Looking ahead

September’s dominant themes aren’t likely to disappear overnight, but it’s important to keep them in perspective and maintain a long-term outlook. A few things to keep in mind as markets push into Q4:

  • Rising rates. While rising longer-term interest rates generally reflect optimism about economic growth, the stock market’s reaction to last month’s yield spike highlighted its vulnerability to any upsetting of the apple cart. The 10-year yield pushed above 1.5%—still very low historically, but significantly higher than it was just weeks ago. And with oil prices near three-year highs, that means two of the basic inputs to the economic process—borrowing costs and energy—are more expensive.
  • Inflation and the consumer. Morgan Stanley analysts recently highlighted the pressure these rising costs could put on corporate profit margins.1 But when things are more expensive for companies, they tend to get pricier for consumers, too. Toward the end of last month, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged inflation was already more significant and longer-lasting than expected.2 The question now is whether people will maintain their appetite for spending as companies pass on their increased costs to consumers.
  • China. The economic slowdown in China—the country that has provided significant tailwinds for the global economy for the past 18 to 20 months—may put more pressure on other major economies to pick up the slack and continue to provide the fuel for further stock gains.

A glass half empty? Not necessarily. Risk is always present, but it’s important to understand the nature of the different challenges the market faces at any particular moment in time—many of which are often temporary. For example, Washington has always found a way to resolve its debt-ceiling debates, although in the current era of heightened partisanship, it’s certainly possible that this time a deal won’t be struck until the last minute. For investors, diversification and a long-term perspective remain the foundation of a portfolio equipped to ride out unpredictable markets.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll talk to you again next month.

Mike Loewengart
Managing Director, Investment Strategy, E*TRADE Capital Management, LLC

Mike Loewengart is the Managing Director of Investment Strategy for E*TRADE Capital Management, LLC. Mike is responsible for the asset allocation and investment vehicle selections used in E*TRADE’s advisory platforms. Prior to joining E*TRADE in 2007, Mike was the Director of Investment Management for a large multinational asset management company, where he oversaw corporate pension plan assets. Early in his career, Mike was a research analyst focusing on investment manager due diligence for the consulting divisions of several high-profile investment firms. Mike holds series 7, 24, and 66 designations, as well as the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) designation. He is a graduate of Middlebury College with a degree in economics.

Andrew Cohen, CFA
Senior Director, Investment Strategy, E*TRADE Capital Management, LLC

Andrew Cohen is the Senior Director of Investment Strategy for E*TRADE Capital Management, LLC. Prior to joining E*TRADE, Andrew was the Director of Investments and Operations for a large Registered Investment Adviser, where his responsibilities included investment manager research, asset allocation, and portfolio construction. Previously, he was a Senior Research Analyst and Team Leader for a leading wealth management platform. He is a CFA® charterholder and a member of both the New York Society of Security Analysts and CFA Institute. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a BS in finance.

1 Could Rising Costs Squeeze Corporate Profits. 9/28/21.
2 Fed Chair Powell to warn Congress that inflation pressures could last longer than expected. 9/27/21.

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