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Where Investors Put Their Money in 2019

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Fund Flows 2019

This infographic is available as a poster.

Where Investors Put Their Money in 2019

While a strong 2019 closed off an entire decade free of recessions, celebrations have been short. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has tapped the brakes on the global economy, has led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to declare a global recession.

So what were investors doing before the outbreak? To figure that out, today’s infographic from New York Life Investments visualizes where investors allocated their money in 2019.

Broad Comparisons

Virtually every asset class ended 2019 in the green, with U.S. equities among the highest gainers. In spite of this, investors appeared to be quite risk-averse. Even as the S&P 500 climbed 29% over the year, money was pulled away from equities and placed in safer assets such as money market securities and precious metals.

Let’s examine the data in more detail. In the tables below, net flows represents the difference between total inflows and total outflows.

Mutual Funds VS ETFs

Investors continued to invest in ETFs, but the interesting news is surrounding mutual fund activity. In a dramatic reversal from last year’s net outflows of $91B, mutual funds attracted $574B throughout 2019.

Type of Vehicle2018 Net Flows2018 Total Assets2019 Net Flows2019 Total Assets*
ETFs+$238B$3,385B+$281B$4,408B
Mutual Funds-$91B$16,345B+$574B$19,727B

*2019 total assets also include asset appreciation as a result of market movements.

ETFs once again grew their share of total invested assets, from 17.2% in 2018, to 18.3% in 2019.

Flows by Asset Class Group

To get more specific, investment vehicles are classified based on the type of assets they hold.

For example, a fund that holds a variety of American company stocks would be broadly classified as “U.S. Equity,” while a fund that targets specific industries would be classified as “Sector Equity.” Here are the flows each asset class experienced throughout 2019, starting with the largest net inflows:

Asset Class Group2019 Net Flows 2019 Total Assets 
Money Market+$522B$3,483B
Taxable Bonds+$413B$4,433B
Municipal Bonds+$106B$952B
International Equity+$11B$3,416B
Commodities+$8B$110B
Alternatives-$7B$212B
Sector Equity-$33B$995B
Asset Allocation-$38B$1,343B
U.S. Equity-$72B$9,162B

Investors pulled money from asset allocation funds, as well as alternatives, sector equity, and U.S. equity vehicles. Trade tensions between the U.S. and China, which have had a material impact on both countries’ economies, may have been a reason for this conservatism. Other likely factors include the Hong Kong protests and the culmination of Brexit.

In the face of these worrying developments, fixed income vehicles were in high demand, even as the Fed cut rates on three separate occasions. Money market funds had a massive year, and were responsible for much of the investor capital diverted to mutual funds in 2019.

In fact, with a Q3 net inflow of $224B, money market funds saw their strongest quarterly inflows since the global financial crisis.

Deeper Dive: Commodities

One of the most compelling flow trends of 2019 lies in commodities, which we can break down into five subcategories:

Commodities Subcategory2019 Net Flows 
Precious Metals+$11.4B
Industrial Metals-$0.1B
Energy-$0.2B
Broad Basket-$0.8B
Agriculture-$2.2B

Precious metals, which include safe-haven assets like gold and silver, were the only subcategory to see positive net flows in 2019. Likely driven by the fear of inflation, investors flocked to precious metals from June to October.

Gold and silver are often referred to as “safe-haven” assets because they outperform during periods of uncertainty.

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It’s interesting to note that investors pulled money out of precious metals in November and December—perhaps a sign of growing confidence in the economy.

2020 and Beyond

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, volatility has returned to global markets.

While the conservative asset allocation decisions made in 2019 may have given investors some shelter from this turmoil, it’s likely they paid a penalty for missing out on a robust year for equity markets.

In uncertain times like these, it’s important for every long-term investor to keep a cool head. After all, history has shown us that markets will eventually recover.

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What Lies Ahead: 2021 Economic Projections and the Year in Review

Are 2021 economic projections looking up? As we look back on a historic year, this graphic outlines key growth forecasts for the year ahead.

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What Lies Ahead? 2021 Global Economic Projections

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With over 1.4 million deaths worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every corner of society.

Yet, hope seems suddenly near. Crucial vaccine developments are emerging, with many of the 320 vaccines in advanced trials. Still, questions remain around the timing and effectiveness of the potential vaccine. With this in mind, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that this year, global real GDP will fall –4.4%, bouncing back 5.2% in 2021.

As we look back on a historic year, this infographic from New York Life Investments traces the notable events of 2020, along with growth forecasts for the year ahead.

2020: Year in Review

From a deadly virus to U.S. elections, how did we get to where we are now?

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, $12 trillion in global fiscal response helped stabilize the economy. Despite financial markets facing their sharpest drop in 30 years, the S&P 500 rebounded in record speed—recovering losses in under four months.

 S&P 500 Price Returns Global COVID-19 Cases
January-1%27
February-9%11,948
March-21%87,091
April-11%883,804
May-7%3.23M
June-5%6.15M
July0%10.48M
August7%17.63M
September3%25.57M
October0%34.09M
November11.7%*46.17M

Source: European CDC via Our World in Data
*As of November 27, 2020

In April, oil prices dropped into negative territory for the first time ever. The combination of both a demand shock and supply shock led oil futures to fall to -$37.63. Since then, oil prices recovered modestly, hovering close to $45 in November.

In another historic event, wildfires ravaged through the West Coast of the U.S., burning five million acres across Oregon, California, and Washington. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continued to climb. Global reported cases exceeded the 25 million mark by September.

Finally, on November 16, Moderna announced that its COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5% effective, just days after the 2020 president-elect, Joe Biden was announced.

Despite the number of record-breaking incidents over the year, the tech-dominated S&P 500 held steady. Here is how key economic figures have materialized against the backdrop of 2020:

1. Government Debt

Government debt rose 20% relative to GDP in advanced economies, while debt has grown at a slower pace in emerging market and low-income countries.

Gross Debt Position (% of GDP)20192020
Advanced economies105%125%
Emerging market and middle-income economies53%62%
Low-income developing countries43%49%

Source: IMF

2. Inflation

Overall, inflation was lower than pre-pandemic levels, sitting at around 1.5%.

While commodities and medical supplies saw their prices rise, weak global demand for overall goods cancelled out these inflationary effects.

3. Sector Performance

Service sectors were hit among the hardest as social distancing measures were enacted to stave off the pandemic.

In the first half of 2020, accommodation, arts, and entertainment sectors fell close to 15% compared to 2019. Meanwhile, banks were cushioned with cash reserves in the event of unexpected risks, breaking roughly even in year-over-year growth.

While the economy has encountered numerous challenges, the IMF expresses cautious optimism for the year ahead.

2021: Global Growth Outlook

Since the IMF’s June projections, economic growth forecasts have somewhat improved. Primarily, optimism is being driven from Q2 GDP growth that exceeded expectations.

Global Growth ForecastsApril JuneOctober
2020-3.0%-4.9%-4.4%
20215.8%5.4%5.2%

Source: IMF

By contrast, pre-pandemic projections for 2020 and 2021 were 3.3% and 3.4%, respectively.

Over 2020, China enacted several strict measures to contain COVID-19 early in the outbreak, a key factor behind its economic momentum. Meanwhile, India is projected to rebound 8.8%—higher than any other country in 2021, according to IMF-reported countries.

While several factors remain uncertain, what will pave the way for a global recovery?

Analysis of a Successful Global Recovery

Growth projections are improving, but economic success will hinge on these three layers.

 3 Layers for Economic Success 
1The path of COVID-19Public health measures & the race for a vaccine

Impact on domestic economic activity
2Global consumer demandTourism activity

Remittance flows
3Financial market sentiment and capital flowsSupply disruptions

Policy effectiveness

To prevent further unwanted outcomes, it will be essential that policy support is not withdrawn too soon.

The Road to Recovery

With these factors in mind, how could global conditions transform in the months ahead?

Best Case ScenarioWorst Case Scenario
Accelerating global demand

Maintaining liquidity for countries in need

International cooperation

Fair and equal vaccine
implementation across countries
Weakened economic activity

Tightening lending conditions for countries in need

Protectionist measures

Country-level vaccine disparities

In the face of these obstacles, the health of the global economy rests on sufficient consumer demand, capital flows and COVID-19 containment. With news of vaccine developments underway, the outlook is appearing a bit brighter.

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How Carbon Offsetting Works, and What Investors Should Know

Eliminating all harmful GHG emissions is not yet possible, but carbon offsetting offers a route for businesses and funds to become more sustainable.

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Carbon Offsetting: What Investors Should Know

In 2016, an international treaty known as the Paris Agreement was negotiated by member nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The long-term goal of this agreement is to limit the increase in global temperature to below 3.6°F (2°C) over the next century. Achieving this target will require the world to develop cleaner solutions across all areas of the economy, from energy to transportation.

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we introduce carbon offsetting, an activity used by both businesses and investment funds that has the potential to accelerate the development of a more climate-friendly economy.

What are GHG Emissions, and Where do They Come From?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are a family of gases known to trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The most prevalent among them is carbon dioxide (CO₂), which accounts for 80% of America’s GHG emissions. Common sources of CO₂ include fossil fuel consumption and deforestation.

Businesses are often significant emitters of CO₂, but due to the complexity of their production chains, emissions can be difficult to track. To combat this, a company’s carbon footprint is measured across three scopes:

  • Scope 1: These are direct emissions from a company’s operations. An example would be the CO₂ emitted by company-owned factories.
  • Scope 2: These are indirect emissions from a company’s operations, such as the pollution generated from purchased electricity.
  • Scope 3: These are indirect emissions from the company’s supply chains. Common sources include the extraction of raw materials and business travel.

Although we understand that GHGs are harmful to the planet, our ability to eliminate them is limited by technology and costs. Fortunately, this is where offsetting can help.

How Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

Carbon offsetting is a method of neutralizing one’s emissions by investing in GHG-reducing projects. The benefits of these projects are measured by the amount of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) that they avoid or absorb. Then, the company or fund that is engaging in the carbon offsetting project will then receive one carbon credit for every tonne of CO₂e negated.

Below are the three common types of GHG reduction programs.

1. Energy efficiency projects

These projects reduce energy consumption. One example is the distribution of energy-efficient cookstoves in Rwanda, a country where many people rely on firewood and charcoal. By distributing 10,800 cookstoves throughout the country, nearly 60,000 tonnes of CO₂e can be avoided each year.

2. Forestry projects

These projects nurture and protect our CO₂-absorbing forests. One notable example is the Garcia River forest protection program, which ensures the longevity of California’s redwood forests. The program oversees over 9,600 hectares which has been estimated to store almost 80,000 tonnes of CO₂e annually.

3. Renewable energy projects

These projects reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. They are especially effective in economies such as Taiwan, where 75% of electricity capacity relies on fossil fuels. Thanks to its strong coastal winds, Taiwan is able to remove 328,000 tonnes of CO₂e per year with just 62 wind turbines.

How is Offsetting Regulated?

Carbon offsetting in America is primarily a voluntary activity, but some state governments have made it mandatory for significant polluters. Here’s how both markets are regulated.

The Voluntary Market

The voluntary market is regulated by a variety of third-party organizations such as Verra, Gold Standard, and American Carbon.

They conduct audits on GHG reduction projects to ensure each one meets four broad criteria:

  • Measurability: The GHG savings of the project must be measurable
  • Verifiability: The results of the project must be verified on an annual basis
  • Sustainability: Each project should have a minimum lifespan of seven years
  • Additionality: GHG reductions of project must be considered in reference to a baseline scenario

Carbon credits are only issued after a project has passed this verification process.

The Mandatory Market

Some U.S. states have introduced carbon offsetting schemes to meet their climate goals. One of the largest is California’s Cap and Trade program which was introduced in 2013.

The program is targeted at businesses that emit over 25,000 tonnes of CO₂e annually, and works by setting a “cap” on total annual emissions. This cap is reduced each year, and overpolluting businesses must acquire carbon credits to offset their excess pollution. These can be purchased from state-administered auctions or from other firms.

Revenues generated from California’s carbon credit auctions are used to fund various GHG reduction projects, including:

  • 690,000 acres of land preserved or restored
  • 287,000 rebates issued for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid cars
  • 108,000 urban tree plantings
  • 150,000 energy efficiency projects installed in homes

By 2030, California’s emissions cap is intended to reach 200.5 million tonnes of CO₂e, marking a near 50% reduction from its 2015 level.

What Role can Investors Play?

A majority of U.S. investors consider themselves to be values-based, meaning they care about the societal and environmental impacts of their investments. This mentality is increasing the demand for ESG investing and placing pressure on corporations to become more sustainable.

For example, the percentage of S&P 500 firms that publish sustainability reports has risen from just 20% in 2011 to 90% in 2019. More importantly, a growing number of U.S. firms are cooperating with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to report their emissions and set formal reduction targets.

YearCompanies with active emissions reduction targetsAll other companies reporting to the CDPTotal
2013322166488
2014335164499
2015365143508
2016378124502
2017385123508
2018389117506
2019419138557

Source: CDP 2020

Some of the world’s largest oil producers are also taking action—a testament to the significance of these shareholder concerns. Royal Dutch Shell announced earlier in 2020 that it intends to fully offset its Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Does Offsetting Really Help?

Carbon offsetting programs such as the one implemented by California have the potential to generate revenues and encourage innovation. Critics, however, have suggested it has a number of design issues.

One such issue is the fact that California’s carbon credits do not expire. This could allow companies to stockpile credits and ignore future cuts to the emissions cap. Another concern is that the companies covered by California’s cap and trade will simply pass their higher costs to the consumer, although this claim didn’t seem to hold up in a 2016 study conducted by UCLA.

Other inefficiencies within the program may exist, but its benefits are hard to ignore. By the end of 2019, the revenue generated from California’s carbon credit auctions totaled $12.5 billion. Of this amount, over $5 billion has been invested in GHG reduction projects to date.

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