With the first six months of the year now past, some clear financial winners and losers have emerged from the first half of 2013. Here's a list of who gained ground during this period -- and who lost a little.
- Stock investors. Stock investors had the best of both worlds: continued low interest rates, with signs of economic improvement. The result was a 13.82 percent total return for the S&P 500 during the first half of year. One note of caution though: Interest rates began to rise over the last two months of the quarter, and as long as the economy keeps showing improvement, expect that interest rate trend to continue. Those rising rates could create a headwind for stock prices in the second half of the year.
- Banks. Mortgage rates finally broke out of their slide and rose during the first half of 2013, and as a result current mortgage rates are at their highest level in nearly two years. However, rates on savings accounts, money market accounts and other deposits did not start to rise. That means banks are taking in more interest, but not paying it out.
- Oil investors. The price of a barrel of oil rose by more than 5 percent in the first half of the year -- a solid though unspectacular gain. But with tensions rising in the Middle East, oil prices were continuing upward as the quarter ended.
- Gold investors. The price of gold dropped by more than $450 an ounce in the first six months of 2013, a 28 percent decline. Admittedly, this comes after a long winning streak for gold -- though not for investors who only came to the party recently.
- Bank depositors. As noted above, bank rates on savings accounts and other deposits did not rise along with other interest rates in the first half of 2013. Improbably, they even managed to slip a little lower. This group represents millions of retirees who have seen their interest incomes melt away to almost nothing, and savers who have seen their purchasing power eaten away by inflation. The best sign of hope for beleaguered depositors is that some rates, most notably bond yields, did start rising in the first half of 2013. If the economic recovery continues to gather momentum, the second half of the year might finally see rates on savings accounts start to recover.
Lastly, an important group hangs in the balance between winners and losers for the first half of this year: job seekers. The employment rate remains stubbornly high at 7.6 percent, but in terms of the number of jobs created, the first half of 2013 was the best half-year since the first half of 2005. If jobs continue to be created at a healthy pace, it will not only add more job seekers to 2013's list of winners, but it will support the environment for investments and savings accounts as well.