It’s always interesting to look back at the year that was. In chronological order, here are my six story choices that had the greatest impact on savers and investors in 2016:
THE U.S. STOCK MARKET CORRECTION Investors were plunged into reality in February 2016, as fears of a global growth slowdown pushed stock indexes into a correction, which is defined as a more than 10 percent drop from the previous high mark. While stocks grabbed the headlines, it was the action in crude oil that freaked out insiders. On Feb. 11, U.S. crude closed at $26.21 per barrel, the lowest point since 2003 and a 75 percent plunge from the June 2014 peak.
FED INACTION/ACTION Just over a year ago, the Federal Reserve did something it had not done in nine years: It raised short-term interest rates by 0.25 percent. At that same December 2015 policy meeting, officials predicted that rates would rise by a full percentage point in 2016, which we now know was way off. Whether it was worries about slowing growth, the UK Brexit referendum or the U.S. presidential election, it was the Fed’s inaction in 2016 that shaped most of the year. Now with the Fed’s one rate hike of 2016 behind us, the big question is whether the central bankers’ new predictions, which anticipate a 0.75 percent in additional rate increases in 2017, come to fruition or not.
BREXIT It may now seem quaint to remember what a big surprise it was that UK voters decided to leave the European Union in June. Brexit was a seismic and unexpected result, which caught global investors off guard. Markets tumbled in the days after the vote but recovered fairly quickly. The outcome forced Prime Minister David Cameron to step down and propelled Theresa May, who halfheartedly supported the Remain camp, to succeed him. May has vowed to begin the process of leaving the EU by the end of Q1 in 2017.
THE WELLS FARGO DEBACLE When news emerged that Wells Fargo employees fraudulently opened as many as 2 million deposit and credit-card accounts without customers’ knowledge in order to hit internal sales targets, it was a scandal that seemed impossibly old school. Instead of admitting that management had created a culture that encouraged cross-selling at any cost, CEO John Stumpf fired 5,300 “bad apples,” paid a $185 million fine to regulators and hoped to sweep the whole issue under the rug. Not so fast . . . public outrage, combined with a contentious congressional hearing, forced Stumpf to step down weeks later.
WAGE GAINS If 2014 and 2015 were the strongest years of job gains of the recovery (up 260,000 per month and 221,000 per month, respectively), 2016 was the year when wages finally accelerated. Wage growth had remained stubbornly at 2 percent during the past few years, but in 2016, the improving economy and labor market helped wage growth start to outpace inflation.
In November, wages were up 2.5 percent from a year ago, while prices were up by just over 2 percent. With the unemployment rate at nine-year lows, there is hope that the trend will continue — and perhaps accelerate — in 2017.
THE POST-ELECTION STOCK RALLY/BOND PLUNGE The much-feared stock market collapse that was associated with a Trump victory occurred . . . for about three hours on election night. From that moment through the end of the year, worries about trade wars were replaced with delight over potential infrastructure spending, tax cuts and a reduction of regulations across a wide swath of industries, all of which combined to push stocks into record territory in December. While stocks were flying, bonds were plunging, as investors viewed those same policies as increasing growth rates and potentially spurring inflation.
Jill Schlesinger, a certified financial planner, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes emailed comments and questions.