What did the best performing stock markets in the first quarter have in common? They all benefited from the rebound in oil.
The MSCI Canada Index soared 11.5% in the first three months of 2016 while the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was up nearly 6%.
And some individual emerging markets that are heavily dependent on oil, such as Brazil and Russia, did substantially better than the overall index.
This is a huge turnaround from last year. Canadian stocks and emerging markets were among the worst performers in 2015 as crude prices collapsed.
So what now? Oil prices topped $42 a barrel a few weeks ago, but have since fallen back to about $37. Is the party over for markets with big ties to oil and other commodities?
But don’t expect Canadian and emerging market stocks to put up a repeat of their first quarter performance.
Related: U.S. oil boom not slowing enough to solve epic glut
Oil may not head back to the lows around $27 from earlier this year. But it’s unlikely to continue soaring much higher.
“I think oil has probably bottomed,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief global investment strategist for Charles Schwab & Co. “But there is a lot of room for it to swing around further. The big bulk of the decline may be over, but it could take time for oil to fully recover.”
Kleintop said that he thinks oil could trade in a fairly wide range between the low $30s and mid $40s for the foreseeable future.
What does that mean for investors? They will need to continue to have an almost myopic focus on crude prices.
“Right now, everything is highly correlated with oil,” said Dan Pickering, chief investment officer with TPH Asset Management, an investment firm in Houston focused on the energy sector. “The world has been one big trade on oil.”
Related: Fracking now fuels half of U.S. oil output
Fortunately, Pickering also thinks oil has likely hit its low point. He said it is encouraging that more oil producers are talking about freezing production. That should ease — although not completely eliminate — some fears about a supply glut.
“It feels like a bottom for oil prices is in,” he said. But he added that there are still questions about global demand, particularly in China and other parts of Asia. Pickering thinks that demand will be good, but not “gangbusters.”
With that in mind, Kleintop likes technology stocks and financials — two sectors that won’t be as subject to the daily gyrations in oil.
Still, he thinks the rest of 2016 could wind up looking very much like the first quarter. Bumpy. Choppy. Not for the faint of heart.
“If you hung on to stocks for the long term, you made a good choice. This may not be the start of a new bear market,” Kleintop said. “But it will be challenging. Volatility is back.”
And we’re clearly seeing that in both the commodity and stock markets.
CNNMoney (New York) First published April 6, 2016: 2:14 PM ET