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Markets in a Minute

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

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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

How Did Investors React to the COVID-19 Outbreak?

During the COVID-19 outbreak, investors faced a remarkable period of volatility. We analyze fund flow data to see what types of assets they preferred.

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How Did Investors React to the COVID-19 Outbreak?

Throughout Q1, investors faced a truly remarkable period of volatility.

For starters, the S&P 500 fell by 30% from its record high in February, achieving the feat in just 22 trading days—the fastest such decline in history. Outside of capital markets, economic damage was abundant. Lockdown orders left entire industries struggling to survive, and unemployment claims across America skyrocketed.

In today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we analyze Q1 fund flow data to find out how U.S. investors navigated these highly uncertain times.

Seeking Shelter

A key theme of Q1 2020 was risk aversion, as evidenced by the $670B net inflow to money markets. Money market securities are an ideal investment during volatile periods, thanks to their relatively low risk and high liquidity.

Also of significance was the flow differential between the two main types of investment vehicles. By the end of March, net flows to mutual funds reached $400B, compared to just $58B to ETFs. This difference was fueled by the aforementioned demand for money markets, as mutual funds are the predominant vehicle used to access this asset class.

Below, we break down net flows by asset class, between ETFs and mutual funds:

Asset Class ETF FlowsMutual Funds FlowsNet Flows (Q1 2020)
Total+$58B+$400B+$458B
Money Market--+$670B+670B
International Equity-$1B+$21B+$20B
Commodities+$9B-$1B+$8B
Alternatives+$7B-$7B-$0.1B
Sector Equity-$4B-$7B-$11B
Municipal Bonds+$1B-$21B-$20B
U.S. Equity+$37B-$59B-$22B
Allocation-$0.2B-$33B-$33B
Taxable Bonds+$9B-$163B-$154B

Source: New York Life Investments (March 2020)

Taxable bonds fared the worst in terms of net flows, with -$154B pulled from both corporates and governments. This may come as a surprise, as these investments are generally considered to be safer than equities—so why were they sold off in such large amounts?

One trigger was the economic shock of COVID-19, which brought the creditworthiness of many U.S. companies into question. This issue is likely exacerbated by the record levels of corporate debt amassed prior to the disease hitting American shores.

The U.S. government’s rapidly rising fiscal deficit may be another trigger. If the supply of government debt were to overwhelm markets, the value of government bonds would fall, and investors would lose capital. It’s estimated that $4.5T will need to be borrowed to fund the government’s numerous COVID-19 support programs.

U.S. Equities Divided

Although U.S. equities saw net outflows in Q1, a deeper dive into the flow data uncovers a much more nuanced story. For example, with the exception of February, U.S. equity ETFs and mutual funds saw opposing net flows.

Vehicle TypeJanuary FlowsFebruary FlowsMarch Flows
Total-$14B-$13B+$5B
ETFs+$14B-$2B+$25B
Mutual Funds-$28B-$11B-$20B

Source: New York Life Investments (March 2020)

Overall, ETFs saw net inflows of $37B, while mutual funds saw net outflows of $59B. These findings suggest a strong investor preference for passively-managed products. Breaking down U.S. equity flows by investment style highlights another inequality.

Investment StyleNet Flows (Q1 2020)
Blend+$27B
Growth-$35B
Value-$14B

Source: New York Life Investments (March 2020)

Growth strategies prioritize capital appreciation, while value strategies seek stocks that pay dividends and are trading at a discount. Blend strategies, the only style to attract net inflows in Q1, offer investors a mix of both.

Betting on Oil

Within commodities, investors added $7B to precious metals funds. These inflows were not a surprise, given gold and silver’s status as safe-haven assets.

The only other subcategory to attract net inflows was energy—investors bet on a rise in the price of oil, adding $3B to energy funds over the quarter. Of this amount, $2B was added in March. Since then, oil prices have continued to slide (even falling below zero) due to plummeting demand and oversupply.

What’s in Store for the Rest of 2020?

Volatility is likely to continue throughout 2020. Uncertainty surrounding the duration of the pandemic remains, with countries such as South Korea and China reporting a resurgence in cases. Further questions arise as central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, continue to provide unprecedented levels of stimulus.

Nevertheless, sticking to a long-term investment plan, and avoiding common psychological pitfalls, can help investors prepare for whatever comes next.

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Markets in a Minute

Animated Map: An Economic Forecast for the COVID-19 Recovery (2020-21)

The global economy is projected to contract by 3% in 2020, followed by 5.8% growth in 2021. This animated map shows the IMF’s country-level economic forecast.

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Economic Forecast

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

COVID-19 Recovery: A Global Economic Forecast

As governments enact COVID-19 containment measures, economies around the world have slowed to a crawl. Many people find themselves out of work, and businesses are struggling to stay afloat amid strict regulations and plummeting demand.

However, while current economic conditions are bleak, some forecasts for the upcoming recovery provide room for investor optimism. According to the most recent forecast from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it’s projected that the global economy will contract by 3% in 2020, followed by 5.8% growth in 2021.

In today’s Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we take a look at the country-level economic forecast to highlight which areas may recover the fastest.

Emerging from The Great Lockdown

Given the numerous uncertainties COVID-19 brings, preparing an economic forecast was no easy task. The IMF’s most recent projections assume that the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020, containment efforts are gradually unwound, and governments provide policy support.

With this in mind, which countries are expected to see the strongest recoveries? Below is the full country-level forecast, sorted by projected real GDP growth in 2021.

Real GDP, Annual Percentage Change
2019 Actual, 2020-2021 Projected

Jurisdiction20192020P2021P
Libya9.9–58.780.7
Macao SAR–4.7–29.632.0
Palau0.5–11.914.4
Maldives5.7–8.113.2
Aruba0.4–13.712.1
Bangladesh7.92.09.5
China6.11.29.2
Malaysia4.3–1.79.0
Côte d'Ivoire6.92.78.7
St. Kitts and Nevis2.9–8.18.5
Djibouti7.51.08.5
Latvia2.2–8.68.3
Lithuania3.9–8.18.2
Indonesia5.00.58.2
Niger5.81.08.1
Mongolia5.1–1.08.0
Albania2.2–5.08.0
Antigua and Barbuda5.3–10.08.0
Kyrgyz Republic4.5–4.08.0
Seychelles3.9–10.88.0
Estonia4.3–7.57.9
Philippines5.90.67.6
Belize0.3–12.07.6
Guinea5.62.97.6
Czech Republic2.6–6.57.5
Myanmar6.51.87.5
Kosovo4.0–5.07.5
Serbia4.2–3.07.5
India4.21.97.4
Iraq3.9–4.77.2
Barbados–0.1–7.67.1
Malta4.4–2.87.0
Fiji0.5–5.87.0
Vietnam7.02.77.0
North Macedonia3.6–4.07.0
Uzbekistan5.61.87.0
St. Lucia1.7–8.56.9
Botswana3.0–5.46.8
The Bahamas1.8–8.36.7
Rwanda10.13.56.7
Montenegro3.6–9.06.5
The Gambia6.02.56.5
Turkmenistan6.31.86.4
Ireland5.5–6.86.3
Guyana4.752.86.3
Algeria0.7–5.26.2
Australia1.8–6.76.1
Cambodia7.0–1.66.1
Thailand2.4–6.76.1
Grenada3.1–8.06.1
Yemen2.1–3.06.1
Chad3.0–0.26.1
Kenya5.61.06.1
Denmark2.4–6.56.0
Iceland1.9–7.26.0
Bulgaria3.4–4.06.0
Benin6.44.56.0
New Zealand2.2–7.25.9
Eritrea3.80.15.9
Ghana6.11.55.9
Mauritius3.5–6.85.9
Burkina Faso5.72.05.8
Cyprus3.2–6.55.6
Lao P.D.R.4.70.75.6
Guatemala3.6–2.05.5
Tajikistan7.51.05.5
Cabo Verde5.5–4.05.5
São Tomé and Príncipe1.3–6.05.5
Senegal5.33.05.5
Slovenia2.4–8.05.4
San Marino1.1–12.25.4
St. Vincent and the Grenadines0.4–4.55.4
Chile1.1–4.55.3
Germany0.6–7.05.2
Sweden1.2–6.85.2
Peru2.2–4.55.2
Greece1.9–10.05.1
Lesotho1.2–5.25.1
Portugal2.2–8.05.0
Slovak Republic2.3–6.25.0
Israel3.5–6.35.0
Nepal7.12.55.0
Turkey0.9–5.05.0
Uruguay0.2–3.05.0
Qatar0.1–4.35.0
Madagascar4.80.45.0
Vanuatu2.9–3.34.9
Croatia2.9–9.04.9
Suriname2.3–4.94.9
Italy0.3–9.14.8
Luxembourg2.3–4.94.8
Armenia7.6–1.54.8
Morocco2.2–3.74.8
United States2.3–5.94.7
Mozambique2.22.24.7
Belgium1.4–6.94.6
Tanzania6.32.04.6
France1.3–7.24.5
Austria1.6–7.04.5
El Salvador2.4–5.44.5
Afghanistan3.0–3.04.5
Argentina–2.2–5.74.4
Spain2.0–8.04.3
Ethiopia9.03.24.3
Uganda4.93.54.3
Canada1.6–6.24.2
Sri Lanka2.3–0.54.2
Hungary4.9–3.14.2
Poland4.1–4.64.2
Mauritania5.9–2.04.2
Burundi1.8–5.54.2
Moldova3.6–3.04.1
Honduras2.7–2.44.1
Kazakhstan4.5–2.54.1
Tunisia1.0–4.34.1
Cameroon3.7–1.24.1
Mali5.11.54.1
United Kingdom1.4–6.54.0
Dominican Republic5.1–1.04.0
Panama3.0–2.04.0
Paraguay0.2–1.04.0
Central African Republic3.01.04.0
Liberia–2.5–2.54.0
Sierra Leone5.1–2.34.0
South Africa0.2–5.84.0
Togo5.31.04.0
Hong Kong SAR–1.2–4.83.9
Romania4.1–5.03.9
Ecuador0.1–6.33.9
Switzerland0.9–6.03.8
Solomon Islands1.2–2.13.8
Timor-Leste3.1–3.03.8
Colombia3.3–2.43.7
Jordan2.0–3.73.7
Ukraine3.2–7.73.6
Gabon3.4–1.23.6
Taiwan Province of China2.7–4.03.5
Brunei Darussalam3.91.33.5
Tuvalu6.0–1.03.5
Belarus1.2–6.03.5
Bosnia and Herzegovina2.7–5.03.5
Russia1.3–5.53.5
Jamaica1.0–5.63.5
Democratic Republic of the Congo4.4–2.23.5
Korea2.0–1.23.4
Dominica9.2–4.73.4
Kuwait0.7–1.13.4
Republic of Congo–0.9–2.33.4
United Arab Emirates1.3–3.53.3
Marshall Islands2.4–0.23.2
Namibia–1.4–2.53.2
South Sudan11.34.93.2
Finland1.0–6.03.1
Iran–7.6–6.03.1
Comoros1.9–1.23.1
Netherlands1.8–7.53.0
Japan0.7–5.23.0
Singapore0.7–3.53.0
Costa Rica2.1–3.33.0
Mexico–0.1–6.63.0
Bahrain1.8–3.63.0
Georgia5.1–4.03.0
Oman0.5–2.83.0
Guinea-Bissau4.6–1.53.0
Norway1.2–6.32.9
Bhutan5.32.72.9
Papua New Guinea5.0–1.02.9
Bolivia2.8–2.92.9
Brazil1.1–5.32.9
Saudi Arabia0.3–2.32.9
Somalia2.9–2.52.9
Egypt5.62.02.8
Trinidad and Tobago–0.0–4.52.6
Angola–1.5–1.42.6
Malawi4.51.02.5
Zimbabwe–8.3–7.42.5
Nigeria2.2–3.42.4
Equatorial Guinea–6.1–5.52.3
Zambia1.5–3.52.3
Kiribati2.30.02.2
Pakistan3.3–1.52.0
Eswatini1.0–0.91.8
Puerto Rico2.0–6.01.5
Micronesia1.2–0.41.4
Nauru1.0–1.71.3
Tonga–0.1–1.21.2
Haiti–1.2–4.01.2
Azerbaijan2.3–2.20.7
Samoa3.5–3.70.5
Nicaragua–3.9–6.00.0
Sudan–2.5–7.2–3.0
Venezuela–35.0–15.0–5.0
Lebanon–6.5–12.0No data
SyriaNo dataNo dataNo data

Libya is forecast to have the highest growth in 2021, as well as the deepest contraction in 2020. However, the IMF notes the reliability of this data is low given Libya is currently facing a civil war and weak capacity.

Emerging and developing Asia is expected to have a strong recovery, with China and India predicted to see 2021 growth rates of 9.2% and 7.4% respectively. For China, this is a welcome change after its first quarter GDP contracted by 6.8%, the first decline since at least 1992.

The IMF predicts the U.S. will see GDP growth of 4.7% in 2021, which is slightly higher than the 4.5% average for advanced economies. Separately, the U.S. Federal Reserve also believes the economy will recover relatively quickly given the country entered the pandemic on strong economic footing.

There is every reason to believe that the economic rebound, when it comes, can be robust.

Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman

In the meantime, the Federal Reserve says it is committed to providing financing programs and maintaining low interest rates to help boost the economy.

Spotting Opportunity

As the pandemic subsides, broad-based stimulus will be critical for economic recoveries. Clear communication on the state of the pandemic, and the decline of new infections, will also help instill consumer confidence.

Investors can consider these factors, as well as the IMF’s forecast, as they look to diversify geographically. This allows investors to take advantage of areas with the highest potential growth.

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