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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

Identifying Trends With the Relative Strength Index

When is the S&P 500 Index considered overbought or oversold? The relative strength index may offer some answers to identifying market trends.

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Identifying Market Trends: The Relative Strength Index

What happens when the S&P 500 Index enters oversold territory? Does the market reverse, or continue on this trend?

A widely-used momentum indicator, the relative strength index (RSI) may offer some insight. The RSI is an indicator that may show when a stock or index is overbought or oversold during a specific period of time, indicating a potential buying opportunity.

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments looks at the RSI of the S&P 500 Index over the last three decades to show how the market performed after different periods of overbought or oversold conditions

What is the Relative Strength Index?

The RSI measures the scale of price movements of a stock or index. In short, the RSI is used to calculate the average gains of a stock divided by the average losses over a certain time period. These are then tracked across a scale of 0 to 100. Broadly speaking, a stock is considered overbought if it reads 70 or above and it is considered oversold if it is 30 or below.

For example, when the S&P 500 Index has a RSI of 85, an investor may consider it overbought and sell their shares. Conversely, if the RSI hits 25, an investor may buy the S&P 500 thinking the market will bounce back.

The RSI is often used with other indicators to identify market trends.

The Relative Strength Index and S&P 500 Returns

Below, we show the 12-month returns of the S&P 500 Index after key ‘overbought’ or ‘oversold’ conditions in the market as indicated by the RSI:

DateRSIShiller PE Ratio*S&P 500 Index 12-Month Return
Jul 15 200220239.4%
Dec 4 200673274.5%
Oct 13 200815167.3%
Feb 7 201175231.9%
May 13 2013752316.1%
Jan 8 20188933-7.2%
Mar 16 2020222566.3%
May 3 202172370.0%

*Measured by the average inflation-adjusted earnings of the S&P over 10 years

As the above table shows, following each period of extremely oversold territory in the RSI, the S&P 500 Index had positive returns.

In fact, the S&P 500 Index had the strongest one-year returns following the COVID-19 crisis of March 2020, with over 66% 12-month returns. During the time of extreme fear, the RSI sank to deeply oversold territory before sharply rebounding.

Interestingly, following periods of extremely overbought conditions in the market there was a range of positive and negative performance. Most recently, before the peak of the last cycle in 2021, the S&P 500 Index spent roughly 9 months in ‘overbought’ territory before declining into 2022.

The Relative Strength Index in 2022

With the economy in uncertain territory, how does the RSI look today?

In early June, following a bleak consumer sentiment announcement, the RSI fell to 30, hovering on oversold territory. Since then, it has risen closer to 40 as consumer sentiment and perspectives on economic conditions have slightly improved.

However, whether or not the RSI will continue on this uptrend remains to be seen.

For the remainder of 2022, market sentiment, which may be shaped by the coming GDP and inflation figures, could push RSI into oversold territory once again. As a bright spot this may be good news—reinforcing a turning point in the market.

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Markets in a Minute

Visualized: How Bonds Help Reduce Bear Market Risk

How have bonds historically performed during a bear market? How have different stock and bond allocations performed?

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Bear Market Risk

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Visualized: How Bonds Help Reduce Bear Market Risk

Which tactics can investors use to reduce portfolio downside risk?

One time-tested method is allocating to bonds. Bonds have sheltered portfolio losses during bear markets thanks to the lower risk profile of bonds compared to stocks. Often, when stocks declined during market selloffs, safer assets like bonds tended to increase as the demand for stability grew.

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments shows the performance of bonds and stocks during bear markets since World War II.

Bond Performance During Bear Markets

Bear markets are defined as a 20% or more decline in U.S. large cap stocks from peak to trough. Since World War II, bear markets have occurred less frequently than bull markets, with the U.S. stock market spending 29% in a bear market versus 71% in a bull market.

With this in mind, we show how a spectrum of portfolio asset allocations to stocks and bonds have performed over the last several bear markets.

  • Stocks: represented by U.S. large cap stocks
  • Bonds: represented by U.S. intermediate government bonds, which are issued with maturity dates between two and five years
Allocation (Stock / Bond)Average DrawdownAverage Time Until Recovery*
100% / 0%-34%3.3 years
90% / 10%-31%3.2 years
80% / 20%-28%2.9 years
70% / 30%-24%2.8 years
60% / 40%-20%2.5 years
50% / 50%-16%2.1 years
40% / 60%-11%1.2 years
30% / 70%-7%0.8 years
20% / 80%-4%0.8 years
10% / 90%-2%0.5 years
0% / 100%-1%0.2 years

*Length of time until new all-time high

For a 100% stock portfolio, the average drawdown was -34%, with 3.3 years until recovery—the time it took to reach a new all-time high.

Comparatively, a portfolio entirely made up of bonds fell -1% on average during bear markets with a recovery time of just a few months.

Balanced Portfolios in Bear Markets

Looking closer, we show how adding bonds to a portfolio has cushioned portfolio losses over the following market downturns, sometimes by as much as 20 percentage points.

Bear Market100% Stock Portfolio Max Drawdown60/40 Portfolio Max Drawdown
2020-20%-10%
2008-51%-30%
2001-45%-22%
1988-30%-17%
1973-43%-26%
1969-29%-18%
1962-22%-13%
1947-22%-13%

A balanced 60/40 portfolio had a 20% average drawdown, recovering in 2.5 years. During the 2020 COVID-19 crash, for instance, a 60/40 portfolio fell almost 10% and fully recovered in six months. By contrast, a 100% stock portfolio declined nearly 20%.

In all of the above historical downturns, investors with a diversified portfolio have been better positioned in a bear market.

Building Portfolio Strength

Bonds have historically seen less volatility than stocks during tougher financial conditions. Typically, riskier assets like stocks have been more prone to market fluctuations than bonds.

To prepare for a bear market, investors can structure a portfolio that aligns with their risk tolerance. Over the long run, the diversification benefits of bonds have been fundamental to protecting portfolios and lowering risk.

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