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Markets in a Minute

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

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Investor Sentiment

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

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

When making investment decisions, investors have a wide variety of tools at their disposal.

For example, fundamental analysis can be used to estimate a stock’s intrinsic value. Technical analysis, on the other hand, requires an investor to analyze price movements to identify trends.

While these tools can form the basis of a sound investment thesis, their effectiveness is limited by one’s emotions. In today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we illustrate how sentiment can get in the way of rational decision making.

The Mentality of the Herd

Allowing emotions to dictate decisions is a common mistake made by many investors, yet they may not even realize it.

Herd mentality, which refers to an individual’s tendency to be influenced by his or her peers, often leads to heightened emotions and less rational decision making. In the context of investing, this tendency becomes particularly troublesome—market developments can be sensationalized in the media, by online blogs, or through word-of-mouth.

Mapping the Sentiment Cycle

Similar to how markets move in a series of patterns and cycles, the behavior of the investor herd tends to follow a continuous “sentiment cycle.”

1. Market Recovery
Today’s chart begins at the recovery stage of a market cycle, and assumes that emotional investors have recently suffered losses.

Although a support level has been clearly established, the herd is likely too afraid to act. Their fear of making another mistake causes them to miss the optimal window to re-enter the market.

2. Market Peak
Only after prices have substantially risen does the herd begin to take notice. Many of these investors will experience the fear of missing out (FOMO), and overzealously begin buying. Valuations at this point are likely no longer attractive.

3. Market Decline
What comes up must come down, and prices eventually peak as demand weakens. Investors who become too emotionally attached can find it difficult to cut their losses early.

4. Market Trough
By this point, the sentiment cycle has run a full course. Investors who followed the herd have likely sold at a loss, and will be reluctant to re-enter the market again.

Navigating Rough Waters

Investors are prone to falling into the sentiment cycle at any time, but especially when things get rough. So-called black swan events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can bring volatility to markets on short notice. In these situations, it’s common for investors to flock to safe-haven assets.

Since COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic, money market funds have been in extremely high demand:

Money market flows

While this dramatic shift does have its merits—equity markets have seen deep selloffs—it may be a tad drastic. Governments around the world are making serious commitments to providing economic stimulus. In the U.S., the CARES Act amounts to a massive $2 trillion, and provides direct payments to families as well as support for both the private and public sector.

Keeping a Clear Mind

Now that we’ve outlined the psychological pitfalls of a market cycle, what can one do to break away from the herd?

A good start is becoming aware of the cognitive biases we commonly exhibit when investing. These biases can be linked to many of the emotions outlined in today’s chart. Finally, maintaining a growth mindset and learning from our past mistakes can also help us make better decisions in the future.

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Markets in a Minute

Wall Street vs Main Street: The Stock Market is Not the Economy

To give context to the Wall Street vs Main Street debate, we compare S&P 500 returns and U.S. GDP growth since 1980.

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Wall Street vs Main Street

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Wall Street vs Main Street

In 2020, the stock market and the economy had a very public break up. The Wall Street vs Main Street divide—the gap between America’s financial markets and the economy—was growing. By the end of the year, the S&P 500 Index closed at a record high. In contrast, 20 million Americans remained unemployed, up from 2 million at the start of the year.

Was 2020 an outlier, or does the performance of the stock market typically diverge from the economy? In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we show U.S. economic growth and stock market performance over the last four decades, to see how closely the two relate.

GDP Growth and S&P 500 Returns

Here’s how annual GDP growth and S&P 500 Index returns stack up from 1980 to the second quarter of 2021. Both metrics are net of inflation.

YearReal GDP GrowthReal S&P 500 Returns
1980-0.3%13.9%
19812.5%-18.3%
1982-1.8%10.8%
19834.6%13.4%
19847.2%-2.5%
19854.2%23.0%
19863.5%12.9%
19873.5%-2.2%
19884.2%7.9%
19893.7%22.4%
19901.9%-12.4%
1991-0.1%23.4%
19923.5%1.4%
19932.8%4.4%
19944.0%-4.2%
19952.7%31.4%
19963.8%17.2%
19974.4%29.3%
19984.5%25.1%
19994.8%16.6%
20004.1%-13.5%
20011.0%-14.6%
20021.7%-26.0%
20032.9%24.5%
20043.8%5.8%
20053.5%-0.7%
20062.9%11.4%
20071.9%-0.6%
2008-0.1%-39.2%
2009-2.5%21.6%
20102.6%11.1%
20111.6%-3.1%
20122.2%11.6%
20131.8%28.3%
20142.5%10.9%
20153.1%-1.4%
20161.7%7.3%
20172.3%17.2%
20183.0%-8.1%
20192.2%26.8%
2020-3.5%14.9%
Q1 20211.5%4.5%
Q2 20211.6%5.8%

Note: For Q1 and Q2 2021, real GDP growth and inflation rates are quarterly rates and are seasonally adjusted.

More often than not, GDP growth and S&P 500 Index returns have both been positive. The late ‘90s saw particularly strong economic activity and stock performance. According to the White House, economic growth was bolstered by cutting the deficit, modernizing job training, and increasing exports. Meanwhile, increasing investor confidence and the growing tech bubble led to annual stock market returns that exceeded 20%.

In the selected timeframe, only 2008 saw a decline in both the stock market and the economy. This was, of course, caused by the Global Financial Crisis. Banks lent out subprime mortgages, or mortgages to people with impaired credit ratings. These mortgages were then pooled together and repackaged into investments such as mortgage-backed securities (MBS). When interest rates rose and home prices collapsed, this led to mortgage defaults and financial institution bankruptcies as many MBS investments became worthless.

Moving in Opposite Directions

What about when the Wall Street vs Main Street divide grows?

Historically, it has been more common to see positive GDP growth and negative stock performance. For example, real GDP grew by a whopping 7% in 1984 due to “Reaganomics”, such as tax cuts and anti-inflation monetary policy. However, the stock market declined as rising treasury yields of up to 14% made fixed income investments more attractive than equities.

On the other hand, in five of the six years with negative GDP growth, there have been positive stock returns. The most recent example of this is 2020. Real GDP declined by 3.5%, while the S&P 500 returned almost 15% net of inflation.

The Stock Market is not the Economy

There are a number of reasons why the stock market may not necessarily reflect what is happening in the economy.

  • The stock market reflects long-term views. A stock’s price factors in what investors think a company will earn in the future. If investors are confident in the likelihood of an economic recovery, stock prices will likely rise. In contrast, GDP growth is a hard measure of current activity.
  • Sector weightings in the stock market do not reflect their contributions to GDP. The stock market remained resilient in 2020 largely because technology, media, and telecom (TMT) stocks performed well. Despite making up 35% of the market cap of the largest 1,000 U.S. stocks, these companies only account for 8% of U.S. GDP. In contrast, hard-hit companies such as restaurants and gyms generate lots of jobs and contribute materially to GDP. However, many of these businesses accounted for a small portion of the stock market or are not even publicly listed.
  • Fiscal policy lags behind monetary policy. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) can act quickly. For instance, the Fed bought $1.7 trillion of Treasury securities between mid-March and June 2020 to stabilize financial markets. On the other hand, fiscal support requires legislative approvals. The U.S. government initially provided large-scale economic stimulus through the CARES Act in March 2020, but further relief packages were stalled due to political disagreements.

While many factors are at play, the above can help explain the Wall Street vs Main Street divide.

Wall Street vs Main Street: Together and Apart

Over the last 41 years, the economy and the stock market have moved in opposite directions almost as often as they have moved in the same direction. Here’s a summary of their movements from 1980-2020.

 # of Years
Stock Growth, GDP Growth22
Stock Decline, GDP Growth13
Stock Growth, GDP Decline5
Stock Decline, GDP Decline1

Since 1980, these time periods of differing performance have never lasted more than three consecutive years. In fact, one economist described the stock market and the unemployment rate as two people walking down the street, tethered by a rope.

”When the rope is slack, they move apart. But they can never get too far away from each other.”
—Roger Farmer, University of Warwick economist

After their public breakup in 2020, the Wall Street vs Main Street divide appears to have healed. In the first two quarters of 2021, both the stock market and the economy saw growth. Perhaps it’s easiest to sum up their relationship in two words: it’s complicated.

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Markets in a Minute

Data Centers: Investing in the Infrastructure of the Future

Infrastructure refers to any asset that provides an essential service. In today’s interconnected world, data centers are exactly that.

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Data Centers

This infographic is available as a poster.

Data Centers: Investing in the Infrastructure of the Future

Digital transformation is one of the world’s most prominent trends today.

For evidence, consider the growth in internet users worldwide. By 2023, 5.3 billion people (66% of population) will be using the internet, up from 3.9 billion (51% of population) in 2018.

This growth has resulted in an incredible amount of data being produced each day, whether its from streaming music on Spotify or buying goods on Amazon. But how is all this data being processed?

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we shed light on the importance of data centers, and why they should be considered as core infrastructure.

The Role of the Data Center

A data center is a facility that stores, processes, and disseminates data. There are thousands of them around the world, and collectively, they’re referred to as the “cloud”.

This puts data centers at the center of nearly everything we do online: e-commerce, communications, storage and back-up, and even online gaming. To gain a better sense of what this all looks like, the following table breaks down the storage capacity of the world’s data centers.

Segment2016 Storage Capacity (exabytes)2021 Storage Capacity (exabytes) 
Compute160470
Collaboration170400
Database & analytics150380
Enterprise resource planning180420
Video streaming50180
Social networking60160
Search engine30100
Other consumer apps70190
Total8702,300

Source: Statista (2021)

One exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes, which means the world currently has 2.3 trillion gigabytes of total storage.

The largest segment is compute instances, which are cloud-based workstations used by data scientists. At the lower end of the scale are segments like video streaming (includes Netflix and Hulu) and social networking (think Facebook or LinkedIn).

Cloud Spending Reaches a Historic Milestone

For businesses that create and use data, moving to the cloud (as opposed to maintaining their own servers) has plenty of advantages like cost savings, flexibility, and security.

This is driving exponential growth in cloud infrastructure spending, which reached a record $130 billion in 2020. At the same time, spending on data center hardware decreased from $96 to $90 billion. These results are partly attributed to COVID-19, which forced many businesses to switch to a work-from-home operating model.

A survey conducted by 451 Research found that 40% of businesses had increased their usage of cloud services during the pandemic. In addition, 85% of those who were impacted indicated that the move would be a permanent one.

Data Centers are Infrastrcture

The scope of an infrastructure investor has historically been limited to companies in construction, energy, and transportation.

But what defines infrastructure?

It’s any physical system that is vital for an economy’s development and prosperity—and in a world where over 5 billion people are expected to be online by 2023, the data center is the perfect embodiment of that.

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