Since its March 5th peak, the iShares MSCI United Kingdom Small Cap ETF (EWUS) has lost nearly 8% of its value. The iShares MSCI United Kingdom Index ETF (EWU), however, has managed to dole out a gain of 3.1% for the same time frame.
As one might imagine, most of the rest of the world’s small caps have also been underperformers, largely for the same reason the Russell 2000 has been notably weaker than the S&P 500. That is, investors everywhere are fearing the end of the bull market in their respective home-market, and they’re defensively dumping their small caps.
Whether all these investors are right may be irrelevant. If they believe they’re right and trade accordingly, they’ll jump-start the very bear market they’re so worried about now. Ergo, owning more international equities won’t offer any particular protection for domestic investors.
Of course, the entire discussion may be moot if it turns out the weakness from the Russell 2000 or IYM is nothing more than just a little volatility.
Well, as it turns out, it may just be a little volatility.
For the record, since the March 2009 bottom, IWM has lost more than 10% a couple of different times. Neither of those instances kick-started a bear market. It’s also worth recognizing that since the March 2009 bottom, small caps had at one point gained as much as 240%, and may have been due for an outsized pullback. Conversely, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust has only gained 174% for the same timeframe, reaching that peak level just this week.
Point being, it may simply be “one of those things” that doesn’t end up being anything.
But what about the incessant chatter of red flags, warning signs, and the media’s seeming certainty of doom stemming from the demise of small caps? Anything’s possible, but that doesn’t mean everything is probable.
To give full credit where it’s due, Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors’ Jeffrey DeMaso crunched the numbers. What he found was that since 1990, the biggest average pullback for small caps was 19%.
The current lull may feel a little more troubling simply because we haven’t seen a dip anywhere near that large 2011.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.