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The Top Performing Sectors in 2020, So Far

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The Top Performing Sectors in 2020, So Far

After a roller coaster start to the year, which S&P 500 sectors have seen positive returns, and which are still struggling to recover?

Energy prices collapsed as historic supply excesses hurt producers, refineries, and oil futures. Meanwhile, consumer behavior trends naturally bolstered the tech sector, as demand across online services soared. At the same time, the recent bounceback appeared to have been supported by a number of economic factors. Ultra-low interest rates, liquidity stimulus, and fiscal actions all helped to spur growth in stocks.

Today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments draws data from the S&P 500, showing how each sector has performed year to date amid historical volatility.

Coming Out On Top

Continuing the upswing seen in prior years, the tech sector has outperformed every other sector.

S&P 500 SectorsYear to Date Price Returns*
Information Technology
13.5%
Consumer Discretionary
7.6%
Communication Services
3%
Health Care
0.5%
Consumer Staples
-4.7%
Materials
-4.9%
Real Estate
-5.4%
Utilities
-5.9%
Industrials
-11.1%
Financials
-18.5%
Energy
-29.5%

*as of market close June 10, 2020

As of June 11th, the S&P 500 Information Technology sector has returned 13.5% YTD. This is impressive, considering that over the last decade, the sector averaged 17% in annualized returns. It goes without saying then, that large technology firms have proven resistant to 2020’s severe market upheavals.

Instead, housebound consumers are adopting tech at lightning-fast speeds.

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

—Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Sector Strength

Following tech, what are the most resilient sectors so far in 2020?

Both e-commerce and discount firms boosted the consumer discretionary sector. E-commerce sales are projected to rise 18% in 2020 according to one study. At the same time, travel-related stocks across the sector felt much of the pain as restrictions cratered demand and individuals stayed at home.

Top SectorsYear to Date Price Returns*
Information Technology13.5%
Consumer Discretionary7.6%
Communication Services3%
Health Care0.5%

*as of market close June 10, 2020

Also weathering the storm was the communication services sector. Gaming heavyweights outperformed the index as a whole, as engagement and revenues witnessed positive momentum.

Surprisingly, the health care sector barely broke even. On one hand, there’s been surging optimism surrounding the eight S&P biotech firms developing COVID-19 vaccines. Investor enthusiasm led their combined market caps to balloon from $160 billion to over $600 billion within a narrow time frame.

Still, these gains were offset by a number of other health subsectors. The impact of COVID-19 created vulnerabilities across healthcare firms in dental, surgery, and physical therapy with high levels of debt. Additionally, 60% of firms in this sector have a ‘B’, or low credit rating, meaning they are more likely to default on payments.

Lagging Behind

As for the worst performing sectors, three have witnessed double-digit losses.

So far, it has been a harrowing year for the energy sector. Shifting mobility patterns coupled with a Russia-Saudi Arabia oil price war pushed oil prices into negative territory for the first time ever. Although this was a temporary event, current prices have still not recovered to anywhere near pre-COVID levels.

Worst SectorsYear to Date Price Returns*
Energy-29.5%
Financials-18.5%
Industrials-11.1%
Utilities-5.9%

*as of market close June 10, 2020

While energy dropped almost 30% year-to-date, financials also sank 18.5% as banking stocks failed to participate in the recent market reversal. An expected increase in loan losses is one possible factor behind investor skittishness, along with dampened lending activity.

Industrials, too, faced headwinds as supply chain disruptions threw a wrench in returns. Supplier plant shutdowns and transportation challenges weighed heavily on their operations. However, inventories and imports began to show signs of recovery in May.

Of course, there is still a long way to go. While there is renewed optimism as economies reopen, sustained consumer demand and economic growth figure prominently. At the same time, investors can stay open to sector opportunities as a future economic recovery steers ahead.

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Markets in a Minute

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

Broadly speaking, Fed tapering is the reversal of quantitative easing. We show the history of Federal Reserve bond tapering and how it works.

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Fed Tapering

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

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The Federal Reserve began tapering its large-scale asset purchases in November 2021, a move likely influenced by:

  • Rising inflation
  • Improving unemployment
  • Strong U.S. GDP growth

More than $4 trillion in capital was injected into the economy through quantitative easing (QE), over the course of the pandemic, inflation is at 40-year highs, and unemployment levels hover below 4%.

As Fed policy responds to a recovering U.S. economy, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows how Fed tapering works, and its impact on the economy.

How Fed Tapering Works

Fed tapering is the unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases.

After the 2008 financial crisis, large scale asset purchases were introduced for the first time to inject liquidity into the market and help restore confidence. During the pandemic, they were introduced once more, at a rate of $120 billion per month.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The U.S. central bank buys government bonds typically in the form of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
  2. This influx of demand leads to a rise in these bond prices and their yields (interest rates) fall.
  3. As this lowers the interest rate on the government bonds, what often follows is lower interest rates on loans for households and businesses.
  4. Lower rates stimulate spending.
  5. When the economy is running well, the bank may unwind asset purchases to help keep inflation low, otherwise known as Fed tapering.
  6. Notably, Fed tapering and QE is hotly debated among economists. Those in favor say QE is a critical tool for stimulating the economy. Those against say that it inflates asset prices and contributes to inequality.

    Inflation Levels

    The consumer price index (CPI) rose 7% in December, the highest rise since 1982.
    Fed Tapering

    Given this increase, Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Jason Furman, former chief economist for President Obama say that the Fed didn’t taper soon enough. Other financial heavyweights suggest this is just the beginning of a hawkish approach to inflation.

    So how does Fed tapering impact inflation?

    By tapering asset purchases, the amount of money circulating in the economy that can be used to borrow to buy a house or car is reduced. According to this theory, when there is less spending, inflation will gradually cool down.

    Fed Tapering and Interest Rates

    The Federal Reserve has outlined that it will taper asset purchases before it increases targets on short-term interest rates. By current estimates, interest rates could rise in March.

    However, if the pandemic takes a turn for the worse, the Federal Reserve can shift direction. This gives the Fed time to assess how the market and economy will react before it raises rates.

    To prevent the taper tantrum of 2013, which led to market volatility and U.S. dollar appreciation, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has stated that the Fed must carefully communicate the sequence of QE and tapering to prevent any fear in the market.

    When Doves Cry

    Like the 1940s, the rise in money growth over the pandemic has been driven by government deficits. By contrast, leading up to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis or during the 1950s and 60s, the private sector spurred loan growth.

    Monetary inflation can impact consumer prices and financial asset inflation.

    As CPI and financial markets have soared over the pandemic, investors will be watching closely to see how Fed tapering impacts future monetary policy.

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Markets in a Minute

Ranked: Real Estate Returns by Property Sector (2012-2021)

From residential to retail, are there patterns in real estate return on investment? We rank them by sector over the last decade to find out.

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This infographic is available as a poster.

Real Estate Return on Investment by Sector

For the ninth year in a row, Americans say real estate is the best long-term investment.

However, what might be less clear to the average investor are the different types of investments available within the real estate sector, and how they compare. Real estate return on investment within property sectors has historically been uneven, and 2021 was no exception. While residential property soared, office real estate has performed relatively poorly.

Are there any patterns in the top performers over time?

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments ranks real estate return on investment by sector over the last decade.

Sector Returns Over Time

We used data from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts to show real estate return on investment by year. A real estate investment trust is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-producing real estate.

Here’s how total returns stack up by property sector, sorted from highest to lowest return in 2021.

 2012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Self Storage19.9%9.5%31.4%40.7%-8.1%3.7%2.9%13.7%12.9%57.6%
Residential6.9%-5.4%40.0%17.1%4.5%6.6%3.1%30.9%-10.7%45.8%
Industrial31.3%7.4%21.0%2.6%30.7%20.6%-2.5%48.7%12.2%45.4%
Retail26.7%1.9%27.6%4.6%1.0%-4.8%-5.0%10.7%-25.2%41.9%
Diversified12.2%4.3%27.2%-0.5%10.3%-0.1%-12.5%24.1%-21.8%20.5%
Infrastructure29.9%4.8%20.2%3.7%10.0%35.4%7.0%42.0%7.3%18.6%
Timber37.1%7.9%8.6%-7.0%8.3%21.9%-32.0%42.0%10.3%16.4%
Mortgage19.9%-2.0%17.9%-8.9%22.9%19.8%-2.5%21.3%-18.8%14.7%
Office14.2%5.6%25.9%0.3%13.2%5.3%-14.5%31.4%-18.4%13.4%
Healthcare20.4%-7.1%33.3%-7.3%6.4%0.9%7.6%21.2%-9.9%7.7%
Lodging/Resorts12.5%27.2%32.5%-24.4%24.3%7.2%-12.8%15.7%-23.6%6.3%

Data for 2021 is as of November 30. Specialty and data center sectors are excluded as this data was only available from 2015 onwards.

Self Storage real estate was the best performing sector for the last two years, and also performed well during the 2015 market correction. It tends to perform well when people’s lives are disrupted, such as when they’re moving for a new job, schooling, or due to marriage or divorce. In the case of COVID-19, self storage got an extra boost from people wanting more space in their home amid remote work.

Timber and Industrial real estate have been in the top three performing sectors for at least half of the last decade. Industrial real estate, a category including properties that enable the production, storage, and distribution of goods, has seen increased demand due to the rise of e-commerce. One estimate says the U.S. could require an extra billion square feet of warehouse space by 2025.

On the other hand, the Lodging/Resort sector has frequently been one of the bottom performers. A form of discretionary spending, hotel stays may be one of the first expenses people cut when the economy is in a downturn. This weakness was compounded by lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a Good Return on Investment in Real Estate?

In light of the above data, investors may be wondering which sectors are “the best” to invest in.

The short answer: it depends. Here’s how real estate return on investment has varied within sectors, using the minimum, median, and maximum returns. We’ve sorted the data from the highest to lowest standard deviation, a measure of risk.

Real Estate Return on Investment

While Timber and Self Storage have delivered strong returns, they have also been relatively risky, with some of the widest variations in returns.

Industrials have seen the highest median return, and their risk is about middle of the pack. The second highest median return goes to the Mortgage sector, which earns income from the interest on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The mortgage sector has seen less risk than most other real estate categories, at least in the last decade.

For investors with a lower risk tolerance, Infrastructure may be a sector to consider. These properties had a positive return on investment for all of the last 10 years, and had the lowest risk of any property sector.

Patterns Within Real Estate Return on Investment

By looking at historical patterns, investors can consider how economic conditions may affect real estate return on investment.

Sectors associated with discretionary spending, such as Retail and Lodging, have tended to perform poorly during downturns. On the other hand, Self Storage and Residential properties have historically been more resilient during the 2015 selloff and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Future trends may also offer food for thought. For example, as the population ages and the government puts an increased focus on critical facilities, could the Healthcare and Infrastructure sectors be poised for growth?

Whichever sector(s) an investor focuses in on, real estate serves as an alternative investment that can help diversify any portfolio.

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