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Dove vs. Hawk: The Financial Conditions Index



This infographic is available as a poster.

Financial Conditions Index

This infographic is available as a poster.

Visualizing the Financial Conditions Index

What do financial conditions indicate about the economy? What effects do they have on growth?

From S&P 500 Index returns to the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX) to a range of credit conditions, the Chicago Fed’s Financial Conditions Index looks at whether financial activity is tighter than the historical average—or more accommodative.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments compares financial conditions in 2022 to the last 40 years as interest rates rise at the fastest rate in decades.

How Is the Financial Conditions Index Measured?

First, the Chicago Fed’s Financial Conditions Index takes 105 weighted average indicators of financial activity and organizes them into three main categories.

Together, the sum of these indicators provide an update on the state of U.S. financial markets.

What Does It Measure?- Volatility
- Funding Risk
- Credit Conditions- Debt and Equity Markets
Example IndicatorCboe Volatility IndexMortgage spreads,
corporate bond yield spreads
S&P 500 Price Index Returns

For example, low equity market volatility is associated with lower risk and better financial conditions.

Credit market factors, such as mortgage spreads and corporate bond yield spreads, indicate the credit conditions of the economy. Credit spreads are the difference in bond yields (returns) of two different debt securities with the same maturity, but with different credit quality.

In this way, a narrower credit spread often indicates better financial conditions, while a wider credit spread indicates worse conditions. Credit spreads apply to any debt instrument like mortgages or corporate bonds.

Asset prices, as seen in the S&P 500 Index, are part of the leverage category which measures the state of U.S. debt and equity markets. When the index is declining, it can be associated with tighter conditions.

Dove vs. Hawk

Another way to look at the state of financial conditions is through a ‘dovish’ or ‘hawkish’ lens.

When conditions are more accommodative, they can be seen as more dovish. This is when monetary policy favors lower interest rates to boost economic growth and employment.

Hawkish conditions, on the other hand, are characterized by tighter monetary policy. This is seen in higher interest rates to control inflation, but typically at the expense of economic growth, spending, and employment.

The Best of Times & the Worst of Times

When have the best and worst financial conditions taken place in recent history?

Following the recession of 1990, interest rates fell after periods of unprecedented highs in the 1980s. This eased the debt burdens for corporations and households, creating some of the most favorable financial conditions in the last several decades.

Despite the early 1990s being characterized with the most accommodative conditions, the period was marked by slow economic and employment growth.

Interestingly, it was not until the second half of the decade that growth accelerated, amid low inflation and unemployment. Broadly speaking, an increase in private-sector spending and employment helped drive this growth.

Good Financial ConditionsBad Financial Conditions
Q3 1993Q2 1980
Q4 1990Q1 1980
Q1 1994Q3 1981
Q2 1993Q3 1982
Q1 1993Q2 1981
Q3 1992Q4 1980
Q2 1992Q1 1981
Q3 1992Q4 1982
Q4 1992Q2 1982
Q1 1996Q4 1981
Q4 1996Q4 2008
Q3 1994Q1 2009

By contrast, the early 1980s saw the worst financial conditions by far. Interest rates hit historic highs to rein in inflation, and financial conditions were strained.

Historically, tighter financial conditions have been linked to falling asset values and increasing risk premiums. This is the additional return an investor can expect to receive for holding a riskier asset compared to the return from a risk-free asset like a government bond.

During these conditions, economic activity can slow and the net worth of households and nonfinancial companies could decline amid tightened credit conditions.

A Closer Look: 2022 In Context

Against the backdrop of six interest rate hikes and declining equity market performance in 2022, financial markets are facing challenging conditions.

Given these factors, are conditions more hawkish or accommodative?

Compared to historical averages, financial markets still fall on the dovish side. Although conditions have slowly become less accommodative from their recent peak in mid-2021, they remain closer to neutral from a long-term perspective.

Still, corporate bond spreads, key indicators in the Financial Conditions Index, could widen if interest rates and default concerns continue to rise. Higher yields, in tandem with strain on other financial indicators like the VIX and S&P 500 returns, could tilt conditions to become more hawkish looking ahead.

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Markets in a Minute

What is the Success Rate of Actively Managed Funds?

For actively managed funds, the odds of beating the market over the long run are like finding a needle in a haystack.



Actively Managed Funds

What is the Success Rate of Actively Managed Funds?

Over a 20-year period, 95% of large-cap actively managed funds have underperformed their benchmark.

The above graphic shows the performance of actively managed funds across a range of fund types, using data from S&P Global via Charlie Bilello.

Missing the Mark: Actively Managed Funds

Several factors present headwinds to actively managed funds.

  • Trading costs: First, fund managers will trade more often than passive funds. These in turn incur costs, impacting returns.
  • Cash holdings: Additionally, many of these funds hold a cash allocation of about 5% or more to capture market opportunities. Unlike active funds, their passive counterparts are often fully invested. Cash holdings can have the opposite effect than intended—dragging on overall returns.
  • Fees: Active funds can charge up to 1-2% in investment manager fees while funds that tracked an index passively charged just 0.12% on average in 2022. These additional costs add up over time.

Below, we show how active funds increasingly underperform against their benchmark over each time period.

Fund Type1 Year
% Underperformed
5 Year
% Underperformed
10 Year
% Underperformed
20 Year
% Underperformed
All Large-Cap 51879195
All Small-Cap 57718994
Large-Cap Growth 74869698
Large-Cap Value 59698587
Small-Cap Growth 80598597
Small-Cap Value 41819192
Real Estate 88627487

As we can see, 51% of all large-cap active mutual funds underperformed in a one-year period. That compares to 41% of small-cap value funds, which had the best chance of outperforming the benchmark annually. Also, an eye-opening 88% of real estate funds underperformed.

For context, Warren Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway has beat the S&P 500 two-thirds of the time. Even the world’s top stock pickers have a hard time beating the market’s returns.

2020 Market Crash: A Case Study

How about active funds’ performance during a crisis?

While the case for actively managed funds is often stronger during a market downturn, a 2020 study shows how they continued to underperform the index.

Overall, 74% of over 3,600 active funds with $4.9 trillion in assets did worse than the S&P 500 during the 2020 market plunge.

Stage of 2020 CycleTime Period% Underperforming S&P 500
CrisisFeb 20 - Apr 30, 202074.2
CrashFeb 20 - Mar 23, 202063.5
RecoveryMar 24 - Apr 30, 202055.8
Pre-CrisisOct 1 2019 - Jan 31, 202067.1

Source: NBER

In better news, roughly half underperformed through the recovery, the best out of any market condition that was studied.

The Bigger Impact

Of course, some actively managed funds outperform.

Still, choosing the top funds year after year can be challenging. Also note that active fund managers typically only run a portfolio for four and a half years on average before someone new takes over, making it difficult to stick with a star manager for very long.

As lower returns accumulate over time, the impact of investing in active mutual funds can be striking. If an investor had a $100,000 portfolio and paid 2% in costs every year for 25 years, they would lose about $170,000 to fees if it earned 6% annually.

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Markets in a Minute

Ranked: The Largest Bond Markets in the World

The global bond market stands at $133 trillion in value. Here are the major players in bond markets worldwide.



The Largest Bond Markets in the World

The Largest Bond Markets in the World

In 2022, the global bond market totaled $133 trillion.

As one of the world’s largest capital markets, debt securities have grown sevenfold over the last 40 years. Fueling this growth are government and corporate debt sales across major economies and emerging markets. Over the last three years, China’s bond market has grown 13% annually.

Based on estimates from the Bank for International Statements, this graphic shows the largest bond markets in the world.

ℹ️ Total debt numbers here include both domestic and international debt securities in each particular country or region. BIS notes that international debt securities are issued outside the local market of the country where the borrower resides and cover eurobonds as well as foreign bonds, but exclude negotiable loans.

Ranked: The World’s Top Bond Markets

Valued at over $51 trillion, the U.S. has the largest bond market globally.

Government bonds made up the majority of its debt market, with over $26 trillion in securities outstanding. In 2022, the Federal government paid $534 billion in interest on this debt.

China is second, at 16% of the global total. Local commercial banks hold the greatest share of its outstanding bonds, while foreign ownership remains fairly low. Foreign interest in China’s bonds slowed in 2022 amid geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and lower yields.

Bond Market RankCountry / RegionTotal Debt OutstandingShare of Total Bond Market
1🇺🇸 U.S.$51.3T39%
2🇨🇳 China$20.9T16%
3🇯🇵 Japan$11.0T8%
4🇫🇷 France$4.4T3%
5🇬🇧 United Kingdom$4.3T3%
6🇨🇦 Canada$4.0T3%
7🇩🇪 Germany$3.7T3%
8🇮🇹 Italy$2.9T2%
9🇰🇾 Cayman Islands*$2.7T2%
10🇧🇷 Brazil*$2.4T2%
11🇰🇷 South Korea*$2.2T2%
12🇦🇺 Australia$2.2T2%
13🇳🇱 Netherlands$1.9T1%
14🇪🇸 Spain$1.9T1%
15🇮🇳 India*$1.3T1%
16🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0T1%
17🇲🇽 Mexico*$1.0T1%
18🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.9T1%
19🇧🇪 Belgium$0.7T>1%
20🇷🇺 Russia*$0.7T>1%

*Represent countries where total debt securities were not reported by national authorities. These figures are the sum of domestic debt securities reported by national authorities and/or international debt securities compiled by BIS.
Data as of Q3 2022.

As the above table shows, Japan has the third biggest debt market. Japan’s central bank owns a massive share of its government bonds. Central bank ownership hit a record 50% as it tweaked its yield curve control policy that was introduced in 2016. The policy was designed to help boost inflation and prevent interest rates from falling. As inflation began to rise in 2022 and bond investors began selling, it had to increase its yield to spur demand and liquidity. The adjustment sent shockwaves through financial markets.

In Europe, France is home to the largest bond market at $4.4 trillion in total debt, surpassing the United Kingdom by roughly $150 billion.

Banks: A Major Buyer in Bond Markets

Like central banks around the world, commercial banks are key players in bond markets.

In fact, commercial banks are among the top three buyers of U.S. government debt. This is because commercial banks will reinvest client deposits into interest-bearing securities. These often include U.S. Treasuries, which are highly liquid and one of the safest assets globally.

As we can see in the chart below, the banking sector often surpasses an economy’s total GDP.

Banking Sector

As interest rates have risen sharply since 2022, the price of bonds has been pushed down, given their inverse relationship. This has raised questions about what type of bonds banks hold.

In the U.S., commercial banks hold $4.2 trillion in Treasury bonds and other government securities. For large U.S. banks, these holdings account for almost 24% of assets on average. They make up an average 15% of assets for small banks in 2023. Since mid-2022, small banks have reduced their bond holdings due to interest rate increases.

As higher rates reverberate across the banking system and wider economy, it may expose further strains on global bond markets which have expanded rapidly in an era of dovish monetary policy and ultra-low interest rates.

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