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,By any stretch, the first half of 2022 has been a challenging one for investors. The S&P 500 is down around 18% year-to-date, on track for its worst first half of any year since 1970, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, as the Fed tightens monetary policy in its fight against the highest inflation in decades.

NEW YORK: With U.S stocks on track to mark their worst first half of the year in more than 50 years, investors are studying a range of metrics to determine whether the coming months could bring relief, or more of the same.

By any stretch, the first half of 2022 has been a challenging one for investors. The S&P 500 is down around 18% year-to-date, on track for its worst first half of any year since 1970, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, as the Fed tightens monetary policy in its fight against the highest inflation in decades.

Bonds, which investors typically count on to counterbalance stock declines in their portfolios, have fared little better: The U.S. bond market, as measured by the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index fund, is down 10.8% for the year to date, putting it on pace for its worst performance in modern history.

With investor expectations fluctuating between continued high inflation and an economic downturn caused by a hawkish Fed, few believe the market's volatility will dissipate anytime soon.

"We don't expect the choppiness and volatility we've seen over the first half of the year to subside," said Timothy Braude, global head of OCIO at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

GAINS FOLLOWS PAIN?

Historical data paints a mixed picture of the trajectory markets may follow in coming months. On one hand, sharp falls in stocks have often been followed by steep rebounds: past years in which the S&P 500 was down at least 15% at the midway point saw the final six months higher every single time, with an average return of nearly 24%, according to data from LPL Financial on market declines since 1932.

The S&P 500 rallied more than 3% on Friday for its biggest one-day percentage rise since May 2020 as signs of slowing economic growth led investors to dial back expectations over how high the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates to rein in inflation. For the week, the index is up 6.4%

One factor that may sustain that rally in the short term is quarter-end rebalancing, as institutional investors such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds draw on record cash levels to bring allocations to stocks back in line with their targets.

That phenomenon could lift markets by as much as 7% over the next week, JP Morgan *** yst Marko Kolanovic said in a note on Friday.

Meanwhile, several so-called contrarian indicators tracked by *** ysts at BoFA Global Research, including cash allocations and investor sentiment, are flashing buy signals, *** ysts at the bank said in a note.

Jack Janasiewicz, lead portfolio strategist and portfolio manager with Natixis Investment Managers Solutions, believes the second half of the year is likely to be better than the first. He is growing more bullish on equities, particularly shares of beaten-down big tech companies with strong balance sheets, such as Google-parent Alphabet Inc GOOGL.O.

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