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Visualizing S&P Performance in 2020, By Sector

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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

Infrastructure Megatrends: The Clean Energy Transition

Governments are keen to make the transition to clean energy, but what will it take to get there? In this chart, we examine two scenarios through 2050.

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Infrastructure Megatrends: The Clean Energy Transition

Demand for clean energy is ramping up as a majority of countries target 2050 as the year to achieve net-zero emissions. But how much will this all cost?

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), upwards of $100 trillion is needed to build a system capable of keeping global temperatures from rising above 2C° (3.6F°).

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we take a closer look at the outcomes of such a massive endeavor.

Investment Required to Reshape Global Energy Markets

The IRENA believes there are two scenarios for how the clean energy transition plays out by 2050.

Their first scenario involves a total investment of $95 trillion (112% of global GDP in 2020) and is based on current policies and targets. Despite the lofty amount, this scenario is expected to fall short in achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

Their second scenario involves a more ambitious set of targets, as well as a 16% larger investment of $110 trillion. Thanks to economies of scale, this scenario will reduce carbon emissions much further and keep the global temperature rise below 2C° (3.6F°).

The estimates behind these two scenarios are outlined in the table below.

 Current SituationScenario 1 ($95T in investment)Scenario 2 ($110T in investment)
Renewable Share in Electricity Generation26%55%86%
Electrification Share of Final Energy20%30%49%
Energy-Related CO2 Emissions (gigatonnes)34gt 33gt
9.5gt

How Do We Get There?

For scenario 2 to become reality, significant changes would need to be made across the entire economy.

For starters, the IRENA estimates that 1.1 billion electric vehicles will be on the road by 2050, up from 8 million in 2019. The resulting need for charging infrastructure is reflected by Scenario 2’s higher share of electrification (49% vs 30%).

Government subsidies around the world would also need to be adjusted, with much less money flowing to fossil fuels. The chart below provides a roadmap for these adjustments—on the left is the dollar value of subsidies, and on the right is each segment’s share of the total.

Government energy subsidies

Fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. are facilitated through tax cuts, and are estimated to be worth around $20 billion per year. This may change very soon, as the Biden administration has signaled its intention to eliminate these subsidies as part of its 2021 tax plan.

With Great Change Comes Great Opportunity

The demand for clean energy is expected to kick-off a monumental transformation of the world’s infrastructure.

For investors, gaining exposure to this megatrend may combine attractive return potential with positive environmental impact. In fact, many listed companies in the utilities sector are establishing themselves as leaders in this regard.

Consider Enel, an Italian multinational with activities in Europe and the U.S. The firm has directed capital towards renewable energy since 2015 and is now the world’s largest player in renewables with 46GW of installed capacity across solar, wind, and hydro.

Further developments are planned, and Enel expects to grow its earnings (represented by EBITDA) at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5%-6% over the next decade.

To learn more about the opportunities surrounding clean energy, consider this infographic on the global sustainable recovery.

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Can Foreign Currencies Act as an Inflation Hedge?

To determine if foreign currencies were a good inflation hedge, we looked at their performance relative to U.S. inflation over the last four decades.

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Inflation Hedge

This infographic is available as a poster.

Can Foreign Currencies Act as an Inflation Hedge?

Inflation is like corrosion. Initially, it can make investment returns less attractive. Over time, it can significantly eat away at an investment’s value. For U.S. investors looking for an inflation hedge, holding foreign currencies may be one option.

But just how effective are they at managing inflation risk? In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we look at how the performance of foreign currencies compared to U.S. inflation rates over the last four decades.

How to Hedge Against Inflation

Inflation reduces the value of a dollar over time. To manage this risk, investors look for returns that are higher than the inflation rate. For example, a currency that appreciates 6% during 2% inflation may be considered a relatively good inflation hedge.

What makes a currency appreciate? A currency will perform well against the U.S. dollar if investors consider the issuing economy to be strong. This is because foreign investors will look to purchase investments in the applicable currency, driving up its demand.

Foreign Currency Appreciation vs. U.S. Inflation

Here is how the four largest non-U.S. reserve currencies have performed from 1981-2020. We measured a foreign currency’s appreciation against the U.S. dollar using annual exchange rates. U.S. inflation was measured by the percentage change in the average consumer price index for all urban consumers. Neither metric was seasonally adjusted.

YearAverage U.S. InflationEuropean euroChinese yuanJapanese yenBritish pound
20201.2%1.9%0.1%2.1%0.5%
20191.8%-5.6%-4.5%1.3%-4.7%
20182.4%4.4%2.2%1.5%3.5%
20172.1%2.0%-1.8%-3.2%-5.2%
20161.3%-0.2%-5.7%10.2%-12.8%
20150.1%-19.8%-2.0%-14.5%-7.9%
20141.6%0.1%-0.2%-8.3%5.1%
20131.5%3.2%2.6%-22.3%-1.4%
20122.1%-8.3%2.4%-0.2%-1.2%
20113.1%4.8%4.5%9.2%3.7%
20101.6%-5.1%0.9%6.3%-1.4%
2009-0.3%-5.7%1.7%9.4%-18.4%
20083.8%6.9%8.7%12.2%-8.0%
20072.9%8.4%4.6%-1.3%7.9%
20063.2%0.9%2.7%-5.6%1.3%
20053.4%0.1%1.0%-1.8%-0.7%
20042.7%9.0%0.0%6.7%10.8%
20032.3%16.5%0.0%7.4%8.1%
20021.6%5.3%0.0%-3.0%4.2%
20012.8%-3.1%0.0%-12.8%-5.3%
20003.4%-15.4%0.0%5.2%-6.7%
19992.2%N/A0.3%13.2%-2.5%
19981.5%N/A0.2%-8.2%1.2%
19972.3%N/A0.2%-11.3%4.7%
19962.9%N/A0.4%-15.8%-1.1%
19952.8%N/A3.1%8.0%3.0%
19942.6%N/A-49.5%8.0%2.0%
19933.0%N/A-4.7%12.4%-17.6%
19923.0%N/A-3.5%5.8%-0.1%
19914.2%N/A-11.3%7.2%-0.9%
19905.4%N/A-27.2%-5.0%8.2%
19894.8%N/A-1.0%-7.7%-8.7%
19884.1%N/A0.0%11.4%7.9%
19873.6%N/A-7.8%14.1%10.5%
19861.9%N/A-17.6%29.4%11.6%
19853.5%N/A-26.3%-0.4%-3.0%
19844.4%N/A-17.6%0.0%-13.4%
19833.2%N/A-4.4%4.6%-15.3%
19826.2%N/A-11.0%-12.9%-15.8%
198110.4%N/A--2.7%-14.8%

Note: The euro was created in 1999, which is why annual appreciation data against the U.S. dollar is not applicable prior to 2000. The Chinese yuan / U.S. dollar foreign exchange rate was not available for 1980, which is why annual appreciation for 1981 is unavailable.

The Best and Worst Inflation Hedges, Historically

Based on available data, here is the percentage of time each currency’s annual appreciation was greater than the U.S. inflation rate.

European euroChinese yuanJapanese yenBritish pound
43%18%48%33%

The Japanese yen acted as the best inflation hedge, with its annual appreciation beating U.S. inflation 48% of the time. Demand for the safe haven currency has historically been strong for three main reasons:

  • After the Japanese banking crisis of the late 1990s, the government introduced a number of policy measures. This helped Japan enter the global financial crisis with a relatively stable banking system.
  • Japan is the largest creditor nation, meaning the value of foreign assets held by Japanese investors is higher than the value of Japanese assets owned by foreign investors. In times of market uncertainty, the money of Japanese investors tends to return home—driving up demand for the yen.
  • To take advantage of near-zero interest rates in Japan, investors conduct “carry trades” where they borrow funds in Japan and lend or invest in countries where returns are higher. During turbulent markets, investors may unwind these trades, furthering demand for the yen.

The Chinese yuan has been the worst inflation hedge, with the yuan’s appreciation beating U.S. inflation only 18% of the time since 1982. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the yuan was pegged against the U.S. dollar in 1994 to keep the yuan low and make China’s exports competitive.

In 2005, China moved to a “managed float” system where the price of the yuan is allowed to fluctuate in a narrow band relative to a basket of foreign currencies. This shift led to the yuan appreciating against the U.S. dollar in some years.

The Risks of Currency as an Inflation Hedge

As the chart makes clear, investing in foreign currencies can be very volatile. Not only can currency depreciation lead to losses, there are additional factors for investors to consider such as geopolitical risks.

Of course, the effectiveness of foreign currencies as an inflation hedge depends on their attractiveness relative to the U.S. dollar. If a country is also affected by the factors causing U.S. inflation—such as an increase in the money supply—its currency could be negatively affected.

Given the uncertainties associated with this strategy, investors may want to consider foreign currencies alongside other asset classes to help manage inflation risk.

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