The Best and Worst Performing Sectors of 2020
The Best and Worst Performing Sectors of 2020
To say that 2020 was an unusual year in markets would be a vast understatement.
In 2020, we saw the quickest and deepest bear market decline in history, trillions of dollars of global stimulus, the highest volatility (VIX) on record, negative oil prices, and the fastest recovery from a bear market ever—just to name a few of the abnormalities.
And while the broader economy is still in a state of repair, investors finished the year in the black. The S&P 500, for example, ended with 16.3% gains, which was an above-average outing for the benchmark index.
Winners and Losing Sectors of 2020
Today’s visualization uses an augmented screenshot of the FinViz treemap, showing the final numbers posted for major U.S.-listed companies, sorted by sector and industry.
As you can see, the best and worst performing sectors generally fall into two categories: those that benefitted from COVID-19, and those that didn’t.
This massive divergence is evident in the numbers. Companies in winning sectors are often up double or triple digits—while their losing counterparts were often down double digits, sometimes even halving in value from how they started the year.
1. Software Applications
It was another banner year for Big Tech, but some of the top performing companies were those that acted as enablers to remote working and ecommerce. Perhaps the most notable entry here is Shopify, which rose 178% on the year and is nearly a $150 billion company today.
2. Internet Retail
While Amazon is the undisputed 800-pound gorilla in ecommerce, companies like Etsy and Wayfair also had incredible years—as did many internet retail plays on the opposite side of the Pacific. Chinese company Pinduoduo, described as the fastest growing tech company in the world, gained 331% on the year as it capitalized on emerging trends such as social ecommerce, team purchasing, and consumer-to-manufacturing (C2M) sales.
3. Basic Materials
It’s been a long downtrend in the commodity super cycle, but materials have come back into vogue. Copper prices are at eight-year highs, and gold hit all-time highs in August 2020. Some companies, such as Albemarle—the largest supplier of lithium for electric vehicles—doubled their stock price over the course of the year.
4. Freight and Logistics
The shift to ecommerce has come faster than anticipated, and companies like FedEx and UPS couldn’t be happier. And with the transportation of ultra-refrigerated vaccines lining up to be a key need of 2021, it’s no surprise to see Cryoport up 165% on the year.
For a second straight year, semiconductor companies finished as winners on our list. The world needs more hardware to house and process the ever-expanding datasphere, and companies like Nvidia showed triple-digit gains in 2020, up 117%.
Honorable mentions: Discount stores, retail home improvement, farm and heavy construction machinery, medical care facilities, and consumer electronics
1. Oil and Gas
The oil sector was already struggling pre-COVID with price wars and a supply glut, but then lockdowns and the shutdown of non-essential travel provided another blow. BP finished the year at nearly half its market capitalization, falling 46% on the year.
2. Diversified Banks
With record-low interest rates, shuttered physical locations, and credit risks looming from unemployed borrowers, bank stocks struggled in 2020. Wells Fargo, for example, finished down the year 44%.
3. Real Estate – Retail
Many malls have not been collecting rent checks from their tenants, creating a challenging environment for many property owners and managers. Simon, the country’s largest shopping mall operator, felt the pain as its stock dropped 41% in 2020.
It goes without saying that less flying means less revenue for airlines. But going forward, with web conferencing now the professional norm, it’s also expected that lucrative business passenger numbers will take a hit in the future. United Airlines finished the year at less than half their market capitalization (-54%).
Many aerospace and defense stocks were unable to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Boeing, for example, finished the year down 36%.
Ranked: America’s Largest Semiconductor Companies
This graphic visualizes the market capitalizations of America’s 15 largest semiconductor companies.
Ranking America’s Largest Semiconductor Companies
As our world moves further into an era of widespread digitization, few industries can be considered as important as semiconductors.
These components are found in almost everything we use on a daily basis, and the ability to produce them domestically has become a topic of national security. For example, in 2022 the Biden administration announced the CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to strengthen America’s position in everything from clean energy to artificial intelligence.
With this in mind, we’ve ranked the top 15 U.S. semiconductor companies by their market capitalizations.
Data and Highlights
The data we used to create this infographic is listed in the table below. Year-to-date (YTD) returns were included for additional context. Both metrics are as of May 30, 2023.
|Rank||Company||Ticker||Market Cap (USD billions)||YTD Return|
|13||Marvell Technology Group||MRVL||$54||76.2%|
At the top is Nvidia, which became America’s newest $1 trillion company on Tuesday, May 30th. Shares pulled back slightly over the day and Nvidia closed at $992 billion. Over the past decade, Nvidia has transformed from a gaming-focused graphics card producer to a global leader in AI and data center chips.
In third and sixth place are two of America’s most well known chipmakers, AMD and Intel. These longtime rivals are moving in opposite trajectories, with AMD shares climbing 770% over the past five years, and Intel shares falling 47%. One reason for this is the data center segment, in which AMD appears to be stealing market share from Intel.
Further down the list we see Applied Materials in seventh, and Lam Research in ninth. Both firms specialize in semiconductor manufacturing equipment and thus play an important role in the industry’s supply chain.
Trade War Impacts
As tensions between the U.S. and China escalate, chipmakers are becoming increasingly entangled in geopolitical conflict.
In October 2022, the Biden administration introduced new export controls aimed at blocking China’s access to semiconductors produced with U.S. equipment. This impacted several companies in our top 15 list, including Lam Research and Applied Materials.
Shortly after the export controls were announced, Lam Research said it expected to lose upwards of $2.5 billion in annual revenues.
We lost some very profitable customers in the China region, and that’s going to persist, obviously.
– Doug Bettinger, CFO, Lam Research
In response, China announced in May 2023 that it would no longer allow America’s largest memory chipmaker, Micron, to sell its products to “critical national infrastructure operators”.
This is not the first time Micron has been involved in a controversy with China. In 2018, the firm alleged that Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, a Chinese state-owned company, had solicited a Micron employee to steal specifications for memory chips. The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export restrictions on Fujian Jinhua as a result.
Chipmakers on both sides of the Pacific will be closely watching as competition between these two countries heats up.
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