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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

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

Broadly speaking, Fed tapering is the reversal of quantitative easing. We show the history of Federal Reserve bond tapering and how it works.

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Fed Tapering

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

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The Federal Reserve began tapering its large-scale asset purchases in November 2021, a move likely influenced by:

  • Rising inflation
  • Improving unemployment
  • Strong U.S. GDP growth

More than $4 trillion in capital was injected into the economy through quantitative easing (QE), over the course of the pandemic, inflation is at 40-year highs, and unemployment levels hover below 4%.

As Fed policy responds to a recovering U.S. economy, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows how Fed tapering works, and its impact on the economy.

How Fed Tapering Works

Fed tapering is the unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases.

After the 2008 financial crisis, large scale asset purchases were introduced for the first time to inject liquidity into the market and help restore confidence. During the pandemic, they were introduced once more, at a rate of $120 billion per month.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The U.S. central bank buys government bonds typically in the form of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
  2. This influx of demand leads to a rise in these bond prices and their yields (interest rates) fall.
  3. As this lowers the interest rate on the government bonds, what often follows is lower interest rates on loans for households and businesses.
  4. Lower rates stimulate spending.
  5. When the economy is running well, the bank may unwind asset purchases to help keep inflation low, otherwise known as Fed tapering.
  6. Notably, Fed tapering and QE is hotly debated among economists. Those in favor say QE is a critical tool for stimulating the economy. Those against say that it inflates asset prices and contributes to inequality.

    Inflation Levels

    The consumer price index (CPI) rose 7% in December, the highest rise since 1982.
    Fed Tapering

    Given this increase, Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Jason Furman, former chief economist for President Obama say that the Fed didn’t taper soon enough. Other financial heavyweights suggest this is just the beginning of a hawkish approach to inflation.

    So how does Fed tapering impact inflation?

    By tapering asset purchases, the amount of money circulating in the economy that can be used to borrow to buy a house or car is reduced. According to this theory, when there is less spending, inflation will gradually cool down.

    Fed Tapering and Interest Rates

    The Federal Reserve has outlined that it will taper asset purchases before it increases targets on short-term interest rates. By current estimates, interest rates could rise in March.

    However, if the pandemic takes a turn for the worse, the Federal Reserve can shift direction. This gives the Fed time to assess how the market and economy will react before it raises rates.

    To prevent the taper tantrum of 2013, which led to market volatility and U.S. dollar appreciation, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has stated that the Fed must carefully communicate the sequence of QE and tapering to prevent any fear in the market.

    When Doves Cry

    Like the 1940s, the rise in money growth over the pandemic has been driven by government deficits. By contrast, leading up to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis or during the 1950s and 60s, the private sector spurred loan growth.

    Monetary inflation can impact consumer prices and financial asset inflation.

    As CPI and financial markets have soared over the pandemic, investors will be watching closely to see how Fed tapering impacts future monetary policy.

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Markets in a Minute

Ranked: Real Estate Returns by Property Sector (2012-2021)

From residential to retail, are there patterns in real estate return on investment? We rank them by sector over the last decade to find out.

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Real Estate Return on Investment by Sector

For the ninth year in a row, Americans say real estate is the best long-term investment.

However, what might be less clear to the average investor are the different types of investments available within the real estate sector, and how they compare. Real estate return on investment within property sectors has historically been uneven, and 2021 was no exception. While residential property soared, office real estate has performed relatively poorly.

Are there any patterns in the top performers over time?

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments ranks real estate return on investment by sector over the last decade.

Sector Returns Over Time

We used data from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts to show real estate return on investment by year. A real estate investment trust is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-producing real estate.

Here’s how total returns stack up by property sector, sorted from highest to lowest return in 2021.

 2012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Self Storage19.9%9.5%31.4%40.7%-8.1%3.7%2.9%13.7%12.9%57.6%
Residential6.9%-5.4%40.0%17.1%4.5%6.6%3.1%30.9%-10.7%45.8%
Industrial31.3%7.4%21.0%2.6%30.7%20.6%-2.5%48.7%12.2%45.4%
Retail26.7%1.9%27.6%4.6%1.0%-4.8%-5.0%10.7%-25.2%41.9%
Diversified12.2%4.3%27.2%-0.5%10.3%-0.1%-12.5%24.1%-21.8%20.5%
Infrastructure29.9%4.8%20.2%3.7%10.0%35.4%7.0%42.0%7.3%18.6%
Timber37.1%7.9%8.6%-7.0%8.3%21.9%-32.0%42.0%10.3%16.4%
Mortgage19.9%-2.0%17.9%-8.9%22.9%19.8%-2.5%21.3%-18.8%14.7%
Office14.2%5.6%25.9%0.3%13.2%5.3%-14.5%31.4%-18.4%13.4%
Healthcare20.4%-7.1%33.3%-7.3%6.4%0.9%7.6%21.2%-9.9%7.7%
Lodging/Resorts12.5%27.2%32.5%-24.4%24.3%7.2%-12.8%15.7%-23.6%6.3%

Data for 2021 is as of November 30. Specialty and data center sectors are excluded as this data was only available from 2015 onwards.

Self Storage real estate was the best performing sector for the last two years, and also performed well during the 2015 market correction. It tends to perform well when people’s lives are disrupted, such as when they’re moving for a new job, schooling, or due to marriage or divorce. In the case of COVID-19, self storage got an extra boost from people wanting more space in their home amid remote work.

Timber and Industrial real estate have been in the top three performing sectors for at least half of the last decade. Industrial real estate, a category including properties that enable the production, storage, and distribution of goods, has seen increased demand due to the rise of e-commerce. One estimate says the U.S. could require an extra billion square feet of warehouse space by 2025.

On the other hand, the Lodging/Resort sector has frequently been one of the bottom performers. A form of discretionary spending, hotel stays may be one of the first expenses people cut when the economy is in a downturn. This weakness was compounded by lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a Good Return on Investment in Real Estate?

In light of the above data, investors may be wondering which sectors are “the best” to invest in.

The short answer: it depends. Here’s how real estate return on investment has varied within sectors, using the minimum, median, and maximum returns. We’ve sorted the data from the highest to lowest standard deviation, a measure of risk.

Real Estate Return on Investment

While Timber and Self Storage have delivered strong returns, they have also been relatively risky, with some of the widest variations in returns.

Industrials have seen the highest median return, and their risk is about middle of the pack. The second highest median return goes to the Mortgage sector, which earns income from the interest on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The mortgage sector has seen less risk than most other real estate categories, at least in the last decade.

For investors with a lower risk tolerance, Infrastructure may be a sector to consider. These properties had a positive return on investment for all of the last 10 years, and had the lowest risk of any property sector.

Patterns Within Real Estate Return on Investment

By looking at historical patterns, investors can consider how economic conditions may affect real estate return on investment.

Sectors associated with discretionary spending, such as Retail and Lodging, have tended to perform poorly during downturns. On the other hand, Self Storage and Residential properties have historically been more resilient during the 2015 selloff and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Future trends may also offer food for thought. For example, as the population ages and the government puts an increased focus on critical facilities, could the Healthcare and Infrastructure sectors be poised for growth?

Whichever sector(s) an investor focuses in on, real estate serves as an alternative investment that can help diversify any portfolio.

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