The stock market was basically flat for the year. Should we be concerned or thankful? Read on and be the judge.

Jerry Seinfeld talks about horse racing from the perspective of the horse as if it is talking to the jockey. Once the race is over, "the horse must get to the end and go:

We were just here! What was the point of that? 

This is where we were. That was the longest possible route you could take. 

Why didn’t we just stay here? We would have been first!"

The stock market’s performance in 2015 reminds me of this Seinfeld monologue. As the year ended, the price of the S&P 500 is within a fraction of a percentage point from where it began the year (down .73 percent). However, when dividends are included, the S&P 500 actually gained 1.19 percent. Still not a lot to get excited about, but it is a positive return.

If your portfolio includes small-cap stocks and international stocks, the stock portion of your portfolio probably broke-even at best. If you invested in bonds, you may not have done any better. Bonds began the year with low expectations and did not meet those. Interest income earned on bonds barely overcame the price declines due to rising interest rates.

So with all of the modest gains or losses in the investing world, 2015 winds up being one of those years when you would have done just as well by sticking your money in a mattress – and you would have slept better too! However, when you think about the domestic and global events of the year, a break-even return may not seem so bad. Consider this list and then decide.

Key Events for 2015

The Swiss National Bank surprisingly removed the cap on the Swiss Franc’s value, causing havoc in the financial markets, particularly with currencies.

Russian and Ukrainian forces break ceasefire and continue fighting, causing uncertainty in Europe.  At one point, a commercial jet is downed by a missile.

The actions of ISIS cause great instability in the Middle East and promote terrorist attacks in many places, including Paris and the U.S.

Greek government misses debt payments.  The crisis in Greece threatens to spillover to the rest of Europe and causes significant tension.

China’s stock market suffers through a slow-motion crash, despite, or perhaps enhanced by, their government’s efforts to stem the losses.

China surprises markets by devaluing its currency.  When the world’s second largest economy appears to take desperate actions, financial markets worry.

The S&P 500 hits a record high in May, then slumped 14 percent to bottom out in August.  All in response to fears of a global slowdown.  The volatility index (CBOE) spiked to a seven year high before the market recovery.

Refugee crisis hits hard in Europe.  This humanitarian crisis threatens to become both a political and economic crisis.

Somewhat surprisingly, OPEC maintains and possibly expands Middle East oil production as US oil production reaches all-time highs. The price of oil falls, significantly decreasing the viability of domestic energy companies.  If the low price causes too many companies to fail, the U.S. economy could be negatively impacted as energy bonds decline in value and the banking system suffers due to defaults on energy-related loans.

The Federal Reserve has difficulty deciding when to begin to raise interest rates, which adds to investor uncertainty. While bypassing an opportunity to raise rates in September as expected, the Federal Reserve did take action in December.

What are the Takeaways?

When you reflect on 2015, there are two main takeaways.  First, most of the events were surprises, so when you hear about future predictions, be skeptical.  Second, despite the enormity of the events and the potentially devastating consequences, the stock market was able to mostly recover from negative territory, although it is still below the intra-year high.

Summary

So, we finished where we started and just as with the race horse, we took the long way to get here.  As investors, we need to understand that unexpected events will always occur and that the markets will likely be impacted over the short-term.  However, historically speaking, over the long-term, the stock market goes up.  Best advice: design your investment portfolio to take advantage of long-term strategies while protecting you from short-term impacts and then hang on for the ride!

This article was contributed by Bill Wendling, CFA, a Portfolio Manager at Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc.

Elaine E. Bedel, CFP, is CEO and president of Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. She is a featured guest each Wednesday on the WTHR (NBC, Indianapolis) Channel 13 News at Noon, "Your Money" segment.  Elaine’s book, "Advice You Never Asked For…But wished you had," is available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.BedelFinancial.com or email Elaine at ebedel@bedelfinancial.com.

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