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The stock market is exactly where it was one year ago

Key Points
  • The S&P 500 just traded at 2,851.67. One year ago Tuesday, the index closed at 2,850.4.
  • With dividends, investors have made a return of about 2%, barely keeping pace with inflation.
  • Despite the year-long volatility, the S&P 500 is still up more than 30% since President Trump was elected.
Traders and financial professionals on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on December 27, 2018.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

For all the excitement in the past 12 months, the stock market is exactly where it was one year ago.

The S&P 500 just traded at 2,851.67. On Aug. 6, 2018, the index closed at 2,850.4.

So without dividends, investors have made nothing in the market and lost money including any fees. With dividends, investors have made a return of about 2%, barely keeping pace with inflation.

The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for stocks. Last year, the euphoria of a massive corporate tax break gave way to a U.S.-China trade war and a rate increase from the Federal Reserve, causing the market to suffer its worst December since the Great Depression and the S&P 500 to dip into bear market territory on an intraday basis.

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Markets had a major comeback in January as the Fed softened its stance on rates, eventually leading to a cut last week. Trade tensions also seemed to have cooled. But back in May, China reneged on an almost finished deal, and the world's two largest economies started a tariff fight once again.

With that, investors' fears of a global slowdown picked up and the markets shifted focus to the Federal Reserve, hoping it would backstop the trade war with a lengthy rate-cutting cycle. The central bank didn't fully appease the market, giving a 25 basis point cut last week but characterizing it as a "midcycle adjustment," disappointing traders and kick-starting the most recent downturn for stocks.

The markets suffered their worst day of the year on Monday as it became clear Trump would not back down on a trade deal of his liking, despite a looming election year.

"The resultant sharp market retreat puts pressure on Donald Trump since he has touted the S&P 500 as being a key gauge of his economic stewardship," said Tobias Levkovich, Citi's chief U.S. equity strategist. "Thus, the reaction of equity prices might force the White House to lower the protectionist rhetoric and seek out some sort of compromise position."

Despite the year-long volatility, the S&P 500 is still up more than 30% since Trump was elected in November 2016.