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U.S. Elections: Charting Patterns in Market Volatility

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Us election volatility in markets

This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

U.S. Elections: Charting Patterns in Market Volatility

Do elections influence market volatility?

Over 90 years of data shows that volatility jumps 30% in the five months leading up to an election. But while elections have historically stoked uncertainty in the market, in reality, the scale of their impact plays a relatively minor role.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows volatility trends surrounding elections over the last century, and how investors can best position themselves amid market turbulence.

Making Sense of Market Volatility

Volatility is when a security has sharp price movements in either direction. The market’s volatility is measured by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the ‘fear gauge’ for the market. The higher the VIX reading, the higher the volatility.

The five-year average VIX value is 15.8, with an an all-time low of 9.1 in November 2017, and reaching an all-time high of 82.7 in March 2020. Specifically, in the five months ahead of U.S. elections, the VIX tends to fall between 14 and 18.

MonthAverage Monthly VIX During U.S. Election Years Since 1928
July14.2
August15.0
September16.0
October17.4
November18.0
December14.7

Source: Eureka Report

After the dust settles from elections, market volatility reduces as investors gain more clarity on government direction.

In short, in the six months following an election, volatility tends to fall on a downward sloping trajectory.

Finding Opportunity Surrounding U.S. Elections

With volatility here to stay, investors can utilize a number of portfolio strategies prior to elections.

  1. Stay the course: The easiest thing investors can do is nothing. Ignoring irrational market activity and staying invested will help you keep your investment goals on track.
  2. Focus on value: Investors can focus on companies with sound balance sheets that return value back to shareholders, such as fixed-income investments or dividend-paying stocks. For instance, when concerns circled around increased taxes on investment income in 2012, no less than 1,100 companies issued a special dividend following the election.
  3. Bargain hunt: Overvalued stocks, or sectors in the policy spotlight, can temporarily dip amid market fear. For example, in 2016 the health care sector saw new policies that investors feared would have damaging effects. Ultimately, these concerns were overdone, and the sector rallied after the election.

Focusing on solid company fundamentals can offer windows of opportunity to investors who look past the short-term volatility.

Long-Term Areas to Focus On

Investors can look to structural factors, such as the economic environment, that have a more powerful impact on financial markets.

Interest rates, low bond yields and policy measures, among others, have a greater influence on market performance. Rather than paying attention to short-term volatility, investors can also focus on policy changes that have a lasting impact on the economy:

  1. Employment: Economic policies that help to promote workforce outcomes will have positive impacts on earnings growth, market performance, and investor portfolios.
  2. Taxes: Tax policies reallocate capital. Corporate tax cuts, for instance, can buoy markets and investor optimism.
  3. COVID-19 containment: The policies in place in response to COVID-19, such as the CARES Act, will have a marked impact on investor sentiment, company earnings, and ultimately economic resilience.

Looking past the election, and keeping an eye on policy shifts, could provide more insight into key forces shaping the future of the economy.

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Markets in a Minute

Visualizing S&P Performance in 2020, By Sector

Who were the big winners of 2020? We rank the S&P performance of 11 sectors—and provide possible explanations on why the market had a strong year.

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Visualizing S&P Performance in 2020, By Sector

With 2020 finally over, many are breathing a sigh of relief.

Investors faced a tumultuous year. Still, the S&P 500 finished strong with a 16% gain, outpacing its decade-long average by 4%. Many sectors that provided the new essentials—like online products, communication software and home materials—outperformed the market. It was, of course, a challenging year for other sectors including energy.

This Markets in a Minute graphic from New York Life Investments ranks the 2020 performance of every sector in the S&P 500 using data from S&P Global.

S&P Performance By Sector

As the world coped with devastating losses and uncertainty, how resilient were S&P 500 sectors?

Here’s how every sector performed, from top to bottom.

S&P 500 Sector2020 Price Return2019 Price Return10-Year Annualized ReturnsP/E (Trailing)*
Information Technology42.2%48.0%18.9%31.6
Consumer Discretionary32.1%26.2%16.0%48.1
Communication Services22.2%30.9%5.6%27.5
Materials18.1%21.9%6.6%40.4
Health Care11.4%18.7%13.8%25.3
Industrials9.0%26.8%9.6%28.9
Consumer Staples7.6%24.0%8.7%25.1
Utilities-2.8%22.2%7.2%21.1
Financials-4.1%29.2%8.6%15.3
Real Estate-5.2%24.9%6.6%36.3
Energy-37.3%7.6%-5.6%N/A
S&P 50016.3%28.9%11.6%31.2

*Trailing P/E measures market value divided by the last 12 months of earnings

As no surprise, technology came out on top with over 42% returns for the year.

COVID-19’s economic impact benefited the sector as activities, from work to socializing, moved online. In 2020, the tech sector’s returns were more than double its 18.9% average over the last decade.

Consumer discretionary was also one of 2020’s top sectors. Home to online marketplace giants along with electric vehicle companies, it posted a 32.1% return—surpassing its 2019 gains.

With -37.3% returns, energy was the hardest hit of all. Historic demand disruptions, along with OPEC tensions led to sector weakness. Like energy, real estate had a difficult year. Still, after declining 40% in March, by year-end, the sector mostly rebounded with just 5% losses.

Why The Market Had a Strong Year

Looking back, one of the biggest questions baffling investors is: why did the market perform so well? A number of factors, including government stimulus, low interest rates, and vaccine expectations can all help explain some of its behavior.

Government Stimulus

In March, the U.S. government approved a $2.2 trillion CARES-Act relief package, breaking historical records for stimulus. This helped create optimism in the market as individuals, small-businesses and corporations received financial relief.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve extended its “quantitative easing” policies that it introduced in 2008. Quantitative easing is when the central bank buys a number of longer-term securities. This type of measure is designed to boost economic activity through injecting liquidity into the market.

In 2020, the Federal Reserve began purchasing corporate bonds and other assets—on top of treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS)—for the first time ever. In fact, the Federal Reserve is now estimated to 34% of MBS in the U.S. to help protect American homeowners.

Low Interest Rates

Another force that may have contributed to S&P performance in 2020 was the Federal Reserve’s low-interest rate policy.

Low interest rates mean that borrowing costs are low, which can be favorable for business conditions. In September, the Federal Reserve announced a “lower for longer policy”, stating that it won’t raise rates until 2023.

Vaccine Expectations

The promise of a vaccine rollout has contributed to S&P 500 performance momentum, along with expectations that things could return to normal in 2021. It also corresponded with double-digit gains for the health care sector.

Though roadblocks and uncertainties remain, vaccine announcements in November also helped spur an uptick in the energy sector, which will be influenced by global vaccine efforts in the months ahead. This, in turn, will help travel resume to normal and spark oil & gas demand.

S&P Performance: What Comes Next in 2021

With the first year of the pandemic behind us, it’s hard to say how the story will continue.

As countries acquire vaccines, there is hope for S&P 500 performance, and future stimulus measures could prop up the stock market. Of course, both the containment of the virus and people feeling safe will have an outsized impact on S&P sectors in the shift to a post-pandemic world.

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Markets in a Minute

How Do Countries Around the World Compensate for Equity Risk?

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Equity Risk Premiums

How Do Countries Compensate Investors for Equity Risk?

When investors purchase stocks internationally, they are exposed to additional risks. Companies may have higher volatility based on a country’s economic, political, and legal conditions. In exchange for taking on the additional risk, investors demand a higher return potential, known as an equity risk premium.

Which countries have the highest premiums? In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we explore equity risk premiums for countries around the world.

Behind the Numbers

The premiums are based on a study by a New York University researcher, Aswath Damodaran. All data is as of July 1, 2020.

Here are the steps Damodaran took to determine a country’s equity risk premium:

StepExample - Brazil
1. Find a country’s credit (bond) risk rating.Credit risk rating: Ba2
2. Based on that rating, determine the credit spread, which is the additional yield over a risk-free investment.Credit spread for Ba2 rating = 3.53%
3. To account for the additional risk stocks carry over bonds, multiply the credit spread by the relative equity market volatility.

This is the country risk premium.
3.53% credit spread x 1.25 relative equity market volatility

= 4.41% country risk premium
4. Add the country risk premium to the mature market risk premium (obtained by using the S&P 500 risk premium).4.41% country risk premium + 5.23% mature market risk premium
5. The resulting value is the country equity risk premium.9.64% country equity risk premium

Premiums will shift over time as a country’s credit rating, credit spread, and equity market volatility changes.

Equity Risk Premiums by Country

Below, we look at how equity risk premiums break down for 177 countries and regions, organized from highest to lowest.

CountryEquity Risk Premium
Sudan27.14%
Venezuela27.14%
Yemen, Republic27.14%
Algeria22.86%
Argentina22.86%
Guinea22.86%
Haiti22.86%
Korea, D.P.R.22.86%
Lebanon22.86%
Liberia22.86%
Somalia22.86%
Syria22.86%
Zambia22.86%
Zimbabwe22.86%
Ecuador19.92%
Congo (Republic of)18.46%
Cuba18.46%
Iran18.46%
Libya18.46%
Malawi18.46%
Mozambique18.46%
Sierra Leone18.46%
Barbados16.25%
Belize16.25%
Congo (Democratic Republic of)16.25%
Gabon16.25%
Guinea-Bissau16.25%
Iraq16.25%
Angola14.79%
Belarus14.79%
Bosnia and Herzegovina14.79%
El Salvador14.79%
Gambia14.79%
Ghana14.79%
Madagascar14.79%
Maldives14.79%
Mali14.79%
Moldova14.79%
Mongolia14.79%
Myanmar14.79%
Nicaragua14.79%
Niger14.79%
Pakistan14.79%
Solomon Islands14.79%
St. Vincent & the Grenadines14.79%
Suriname14.79%
Tajikistan14.79%
Togo14.79%
Ukraine14.79%
Bahrain13.32%
Benin13.32%
Burkina Faso13.32%
Cambodia13.32%
Cameroon13.32%
Cape Verde13.32%
Costa Rica13.32%
Egypt13.32%
Ethiopia13.32%
Guyana13.32%
Jamaica13.32%
Kenya13.32%
Kyrgyzstan13.32%
Nigeria13.32%
Papua New Guinea13.32%
Rwanda13.32%
Sri Lanka13.32%
Swaziland13.32%
Tunisia13.32%
Uganda13.32%
Albania11.84%
Bolivia11.84%
Cook Islands11.84%
Greece11.84%
Honduras11.84%
Jordan11.84%
Montenegro11.84%
Tanzania11.84%
Turkey11.84%
Uzbekistan11.84%
Armenia10.52%
Bangladesh10.52%
Côte d'Ivoire10.52%
Dominican Republic10.52%
Fiji10.52%
Macedonia10.52%
Oman10.52%
Senegal10.52%
Serbia10.52%
Vietnam10.52%
Azerbaijan9.64%
Bahamas9.64%
Brazil9.64%
Croatia9.64%
Cyprus9.64%
Georgia9.64%
Namibia9.64%
Guatemala8.90%
Morocco8.90%
Paraguay8.90%
South Africa8.90%
Trinidad and Tobago8.90%
Hungary8.46%
India8.46%
Italy8.46%
Kazakhstan8.46%
Montserrat8.46%
Portugal8.46%
Romania8.46%
Russia8.46%
St. Maarten8.46%
Andorra (Principality of)8.03%
Bulgaria8.03%
Colombia8.03%
Curacao8.03%
Indonesia8.03%
Philippines8.03%
Sharjah8.03%
Uruguay8.03%
Aruba7.58%
Mauritius7.58%
Mexico7.58%
Panama7.58%
Slovenia7.58%
Spain7.58%
Thailand7.58%
Turks and Caicos Islands7.58%
Laos6.99%
Latvia6.99%
Lithuania6.99%
Malaysia6.99%
Peru6.99%
Bermuda6.48%
Botswana6.48%
Brunei6.48%
Iceland6.48%
Ireland6.48%
Malta6.48%
Poland6.48%
Ras Al Khaimah (Emirate of)6.48%
Slovakia6.48%
Chile6.26%
China6.26%
Estonia6.26%
Israel6.26%
Japan6.26%
Saudi Arabia6.26%
Belgium6.12%
Cayman Islands6.12%
Czech Republic6.12%
Guernsey (States of)6.12%
Hong Kong6.12%
Jersey (States of)6.12%
Macao6.12%
Qatar6.12%
Taiwan6.12%
Abu Dhabi5.96%
France5.96%
Isle of Man5.96%
Korea5.96%
Kuwait5.96%
United Arab Emirates5.96%
United Kingdom5.96%
Austria5.81%
Finland5.81%
Australia5.23%
Canada5.23%
Denmark5.23%
Germany5.23%
Liechtenstein5.23%
Luxembourg5.23%
Netherlands5.23%
New Zealand5.23%
Norway5.23%
Singapore5.23%
Sweden5.23%
Switzerland5.23%
United States5.23%

Venezuela, Sudan, and Yemen are tied for the highest equity risk premium. While Venezuela battles hyperinflation, Yemen is suffering from a humanitarian crisis and Sudan has high perceived corruption.

In the mid-range, emerging countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and India carry moderate risk. However, they may also provide investors with higher returns than can be expected in mature markets.

On the low end of the scale, countries such as the United States, Singapore, and Germany have AAA credit ratings and the lowest premium of 5.23%.

Applying Risk Premiums to Companies

How can investors determine the equity risk premiums for individual companies?

One method is to assume that all companies incorporated in a country have equal exposure to that country’s risk. However, this is a simplified approach and does not account for the fact that a company’s operations may extend into other markets.

Alternatively, investors can calculate a weighted-average premium based on the location of a company’s revenue or production. For example, a consumer products business may weigh exposure based on the location of their revenue. An oil and gas company, where true risk lies in their reserves rather than where they sell, may instead be weighted by production.

Here’s a hypothetical example for an oil & gas company that has reserves in the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela:

CountryProduction (in kboed)*% of TotalEquity Risk Premium
Total300100%14.41%
U.S.6020%5.23%
Saudi Arabia12040%6.26%
Venezuela12040%27.14%

* Kilobarrels of oil equivalent per day.

The weighted-average equity risk premium is 14.41%.

Importantly, even countries headquartered in mature markets have international risks if they carry out operations in other countries.

Risk Vs. Potential Reward

Every country presents varying degrees of risk based on local conditions. As investors look to diversify internationally, it’s critical to consider two factors:

  • The additional risk
  • The potential additional return

Equity risk premiums serve as a guide that can help investors compare country risk, and the additional return potential they should expect for tolerating that risk.

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