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Visualizing Asset Class Correlation Over 25 Years (1996-2020)

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Asset Class Correlation

Asset Class

This infographic is available as a poster.

Asset Class Correlation Over 25 Years

How can you minimize the impact of a market crash on your portfolio? One main strategy is building a portfolio with asset classes that have low or negative correlation.

However, the correlation between asset classes can change depending on macroeconomic factors. In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we show the correlation of select asset classes and how they have shifted over time.

What is Correlation?

Correlation measures how closely the price movement of two asset classes are related. For example, consider asset class A and B.

  • If asset class A rises 10% and asset class B also rises 10%, they have a perfect positive correlation of 1.
  • If asset class A rises 10% and asset class B doesn’t move at all, they have no correlation.
  • If asset class A drops 10% and asset class B rises 10%, they have a perfect negative correlation of -1.

When investors are building a portfolio, asset classes with negative correlation or no correlation are most desirable. This is because if one asset class drops during a market downturn, the other asset class will either rise or be unaffected.

Correlation Between Stock Categories

Stock categories have historically had some level of positive correlation. Here are the correlations for small and large cap stocks, as well as developed and emerging market stocks.

 U.S. Small Cap vs. U.S. Large Cap StocksDeveloped vs. Emerging Market Stocks
19960.640.51
19970.630.76
19980.970.87
19990.580.80
20000.380.74
20010.870.78
20020.730.90
20030.850.75
20040.830.79
20050.930.93
20060.750.93
20070.890.75
20080.960.95
20090.910.88
20100.960.97
20110.970.89
20120.910.89
20130.860.86
20140.750.78
20150.820.76
20160.890.73
20170.390.14
20180.880.73
20190.940.91
20200.930.89
Min0.380.14
Max0.970.97

Rolling 1-year correlations based on monthly returns.

When macroeconomic conditions are strong, the correlation between stock categories tends to be lower as investors focus on individual company prospects. However, when market volatility rises, stocks tend to become more correlated as investors move to safer assets.

This was the case in 1998, when small and large cap stocks reached a peak correlation of 0.97. Russia defaulted on its debt, and a highly-leveraged hedge fund called Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) faced its own defaults as a result. Many banks and pension funds were invested in LTCM, and the Federal Reserve bailed out the fund to avoid a bigger crisis.

Shortly thereafter, small and large cap stock correlation reached a low in 2000. The dotcom bubble initially burst among large cap stocks, impacting some of the world’s largest companies. Small cap stocks didn’t see losses until 2002.

For developed and emerging markets, correlation peaked in 2010 when many countries were recovering from the global financial crisis. On the other end of the scale, correlation plummeted to its lowest level in 2017. One reason is that emerging markets became more distinct from one another due to their varying political risk and sector makeup.

Bonds, Commodities, and Currencies

In contrast to stock categories, there are some asset class pairings that have provided a low or negative correlation. Here is historical correlation data for U.S. stocks and bonds, as well as gold and the U.S. dollar.

 U.S. Stocks vs. U.S. BondsGold vs. U.S. Dollar
19960.510.29
19970.68-0.40
1998-0.41-0.19
19990.34-0.36
20000.40-0.44
2001-0.39-0.38
2002-0.72-0.30
2003-0.04-0.43
20040.04-0.65
2005-0.20-0.27
20060.28-0.86
2007-0.44-0.55
20080.34-0.67
20090.64-0.33
2010-0.580.29
2011-0.35-0.59
2012-0.37-0.53
20130.33-0.11
20140.24-0.60
2015-0.26-0.10
2016-0.21-0.58
2017-0.09-0.23
2018-0.26-0.51
2019-0.37-0.51
20200.29-0.43
Min-0.72-0.86
Max0.680.29

Rolling 1-year correlations based on monthly returns.

Stocks and bonds generally have low correlation, with negative correlation in 14 of the last 25 years. Correlation tends to be highest during periods of high inflation expectations. On the flip side, correlation is typically lower during periods of low inflation expectations or high stock market volatility.

These factors contributed to negative correlation in 1998 during the Asian Financial Crisis. Stock prices flattened due to company trade relationships with Asian economies, while bonds benefited from lower rates and lower inflation. In 2002, high market volatility due to the dotcom bubble resulted in stocks and bonds reaching their most negative correlation.

Similarly, gold and the U.S. dollar generally move in opposite directions, with negative correlation in 23 of the last 25 years. When optimism in the U.S. economy is high, the U.S. dollar tends to rise. Conversely, when there are concerns about the U.S. economy or inflation, gold is considered a safe asset that holds its value.

In 2006, gold and the U.S. dollar reached their most negative correlation. As the beginnings of the subprime mortgage crisis appeared, investors piled into safe haven assets such as gold. In 2010, gold and the US dollar had a brief moment of positive correlation. Concerned about the European debt crisis, investors sought safe haven assets elsewhere, including both gold and the U.S. dollar.

Choosing Asset Classes

As investors think about which asset classes to include in their portfolios, it’s important to consider correlation. For instance, stock categories have historically been positively correlated. To diversify, investors may want to consider bonds and alternative assets such as gold.

In addition, macroeconomic events such as financial crises can have an impact on correlation, and investors may want to monitor these changes over time. Finally, considering the risk and return characteristics of various asset classes will allow investors to build a portfolio best suited to their needs.

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Markets in a Minute

Four Types of ESG Strategies for Investors

Amid a global wave of green investment, this graphic breaks down four types of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies.

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ESG Strategies

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Four Types of ESG Strategies for Investors

In recent years, sustainable investment strategies have shown a number of benefits for investors, from resilience in market downturns to share outperformance in the long-term.

Meanwhile, investor interest has skyrocketed—with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) indexes advancing 40% between 2019 and 2020 alone. Given the increased demand for green investments, investors have an ever-expanding list of options to choose from. But what ESG approach is the right fit for you?

To answer this question, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments looks at the primary strategies used in ESG investing to help investors choose the approach that works best for their portfolio.

What Kind of Investor are You?

Broadly speaking, there are four main approaches to ESG investing: ESG integration, exclusionary investing, inclusionary investing, and impact investing.

1. ESG Integration

“I want to integrate ESG factors and traditional factors to assess the risk/reward profile of my investment.”

For example, using an ESG integration approach, a company’s water usage and toxic emissions would be assessed against financial factors to analyze any future risks or investment opportunities.

2. Exclusionary Investing

“I want to screen out controversial companies or sectors that do not meet my sustainability criteria.”

Using an exclusionary investing approach, an investor may screen out companies whose revenues are from tobacco, gambling, or fossil fuels.

Related ESG Terms:

  • Negative Screening
  • Negative Selection
  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)

3. Inclusionary Investing

“I want to seek out companies that are ranked highly in their sector based on sustainability criteria.”

With an inclusionary approach, a fund may include the leading companies in a sector, relative to their peers, such as the top performing tech companies in ESG.

Related ESG Terms:

  • Positive Screening
  • Positive Selection
  • Best-In-Class
  • Positive Tilt
  • Thematic Investing

4. Impact Investing

“I want to invest in companies that attempt to deliver a measurable social and/or environmental impact alongside financial returns.”

Lastly, impact investing approaches may focus specifically on renewable energy companies that have the intent to make a positive environmental impact.

Related ESG Terms:

  • Goal-Based Investing
  • Thematic Investing

ESG Investing Strategies, By Market

How does interest in ESG strategies vary according to geographical region? Overall, interest has increased across all regions globally (where data was available).

Interest in ESG By Market*20182020
India98%100%
Mainland China95%98%
UAE90%94%
MexicoN/A92%
France79%91%
Brazil82%90%
JapanN/A88%
Hong Kong, SAR China71%86%
South AfricaN/A83%
Germany64%81%
Singapore77%78%
United Kingdom51%77%
Canada49%68%
Australia49%65%
U.S.49%57%

*With interest in these strategies and already employing them
Source: CFA Institute (Dec, 2020)

At the top was India, where 100% of respondents expressed interest or were already using ESG strategies—up from 96% in 2018.

In fact, India developed National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental, and Economic Responsibilities of Business as far back as 2011. This was designed as a guideline for responsible business conduct, which later aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2016.

Following closely behind were investors in China (98%) and UAE (94%).

By contrast, 57% of investors in the U.S. employed ESG strategies—the lowest among geographic regions. Despite this, in the last two years, this figure jumped 8%, and it may rise higher yet given U.S. president Joe Biden’s new climate priorities. Electric grid and clean energy, decarbonization, and electric vehicle incentives all fall under a massive $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which will likely have a significant impact on the dialogue surrounding ESG.

Going Green

As the global drive for ESG investment continues to rise, investors can harness a greater understanding of different ESG strategies to meet their personal objectives—whether it is risk/reward analysis, seeking out ESG top performers, or a measurable environmental impact.

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Markets in a Minute

Visualizing U.S. Stock Ownership Over Time (1965-2019)

The proportion of U.S. stock owned by foreigners has climbed to 40%, while U.S. stock ownership within taxable accounts has decreased.

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Stock Ownership

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U.S. Stock Ownership Over Time (1965-2019)

The U.S. stock market is the largest in the world, with total U.S. stock ownership amounting to almost $40 trillion in 2019. But who owns all these equities?

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we show the percentage of U.S. stock owned by various groups, and how the proportions have changed over time.

The Groups Who Own U.S. Stock

Based on calculations from the Tax Policy Center, here is the breakdown of U.S. stock ownership as of the year 2019.

CategoryShare of U.S. StockValue
Foreigners40%$16.0T
Retirement accounts30%$12.0T
Taxable accounts24%$9.5T
Non-profits5%$2.0T
Government1%$368B

Foreigners own the most U.S. stock. Their portion of ownership has grown rapidly, climbing from about 5% in 1965 to 40% in 2019. Foreign ownership exists in two forms: portfolio holdings and foreign direct investment. The former includes holdings with less than 10% of voting stock, while the latter refers to voting stock of 10% or more.

Why has foreign ownership increased so substantially? According to the Tax Policy Center, the growth appears unrelated to U.S. corporate tax rates. Instead, the increase is likely a result of globalization, as U.S. holdings of foreign stock climbed at a similar rate over the same timeframe.

Outside of foreigners, the largest domestic ownership groups are retirement accounts and taxable accounts. Stock ownership within taxable accounts has decreased by 56 percentage points since 1965. On the flip side, U.S. households have increased stock ownership within tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which now amounts to 30% of all U.S. stock holdings.

Retirement Accounts: A Closer Look

The proportion of U.S. stock held in defined benefit plans has decreased substantially since 1965.

U.S. Stock Ownership in Retirement Accounts

Note: life insurance separate accounts are reserves that fund annuities or life insurance policies.

This drop is partly due to the general decline in private employers offering defined benefit plans. Since these pension plans guarantee employees a set amount in retirement, they present a large long-term funding burden.

At the same time, there has been a corresponding increase in U.S. stock ownership within defined contribution plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). This reflects the fact that many investors are facing more responsibility, as they must take charge of their portfolios in order to build a sufficient nest egg for retirement.

The Future of U.S. Stock Ownership

Compared to 50 years ago, the composition of U.S. stock ownership today looks very different.

Foreign ownership has increased as globalization took hold, though it’s hard to say if this rise will continue. Since 2017, foreign direct investment in the U.S. has decreased. Not only that, China surpassed the U.S. as the top destination for foreign direct investment in 2020.

In addition, the shift to particular tax-advantaged retirement accounts has been a relatively recent one. For instance, IRAs didn’t exist before 1978, and defined contribution plans started becoming popular in 1980. As circumstances continue to evolve, how will U.S. stock ownership change over the next 50 years?

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