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2015’s top-performing assets around the world

With just a few days left of the year, here's a look at which assets performed well in 2015 and which were best avoided.

To be sure, in some classes, such as commodities, all major assets posted losses, so CNBC looked at which were the best relative performers.


Women outpacing men in investing
Ismagilov | Getty Images


European stock indexes

Italy's benchmark FTSE MIB pumped out returns of over 12 percent this year, making it the top-performing major euro zone index. Italian stocks have benefited from euro zone-wide quantitative easing, but are less export-orientated than the likes of Germany and less exposed to the slowdown in China.

The FTSE MIB's gains were trumped however by the Russian MICEX, which rallied by around 25 percent this year.

The chairman of UBS Russia told CNBC this month that investors were now "surprisingly positive" on the country.

"People were so gloomy about this year. It was not that bad," Chairman Rair Simonyan said.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Russia's economy shrunk by 3.8 percent in 2015, under pressure from international sanctions, slumping oil prices, waning investor sentiment on emerging markets and capital outflows.

Some investors view the worst as behind Russia, although the IMF says its economy will shrink by a further 0.6 percent in 2016.

The worst performer out of the major European indexes was the Greece ASE 20, which fell by around 31 percent during 2015.

Energy

The slump in oil that started in July 2014 continued this year, with both crude and refined products affected due to supply-demand imbalances. U.S. shale gas production has risen and OPEC has maintained output, while demand from China, a massive consumer of commodities, has waned.

So what did best, comparatively speaking? New York Harbor RBOB gasoline futures for January are down a comparatively meager 15 percent on the year, making them the best-performing of the major oil assets in 2015.

Brent and light crude and natural gas are down between 30 and 35 percent on the year. Diesel prices (specifically New York ultra-light sulphur) have fallen by almost 40 percent since January.

Brent crude futures for February fell as low as $36.04 per barrel this week, the lowest level since July 2004. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures dropped as low as $34.12 per barrel.

Barclays forecasts that Brent will average $54 per barrel in 2015 and $60 next year. Societe Generale sees $60 being reached in the last three months of 2016.


Symbol
Price
 
Change
%Change
Volume
OIL
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BRENT
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NAT GAS
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RBOB GAS
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Americas stock indexes

Argentina's benchmark Merval appreciated by just under 40 percent in 2015, making it the top performer of the major indexes across North and Latin America. The next highest-performing index, the NASDAQ 100, gained under 9 percent.

Investors are hopeful of a turnaround in Argentina, which ditched its long-term socialist government for pro-business candidate, Mauricio Macri, in November. As promised, the new leadership removed foreign exchange controls this month and has pledged to settle the lengthy debt dispute with holdout creditors. This would likely allow Argentina to tap the capital markets once more for much-needed funds.


Precious metals

Commodity prices softened across the board this year and precious metals were no exception.

Gold and silver prices declined by roughly 9 percent this year, making the two metals 2015's top — or least-worst — performers.

By comparison, platinum and palladium prices slumped by roughly 30 percent this year.

On Wednesday, one ounce of spot gold cost $1,069, while an ounce of platinum cost $865. This followed a 2 percent decline last Thursday in the yellow metal after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced its first interest hike in nearly a decade.


Asian stock indexes

China's Shanghai Composite has returned over 12 percent this year, making it the top-performing major index in Asia. It has had a torrid ride though, rallying sharply into June, before tanking over the summer and then recovering some losses.

Last month, Daryl Guppy, a trader and author of "Trend Trading", told CNBC that the index was on a breakout move to 3,800, having breached 3,400 again in October.


Currency pairs – Majors

The U.S. dollar put in a stellar performance in 2015, as speculation about when the Fed would hike rates grew more fervent until the big announcement last week.

The greenback ratcheted up around 9 percent in gains against a basket of other currencies this year. In terms of the major currency pairs, its best gain was against the euro, appreciating more than 10 percent.

On Wednesday, one euro was worth $1.09, down from $1.21 at the start of the year. The continued dovish rhetoric from the European Central Bank, as well as further policy easing measures, have helped pressure the euro zone's currency lower. The jury is out on whether the euro and the dollar could yet reach parity.


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