How Every Asset Class, Currency, and Sector Performed in 2019
Another year is in the books, and for investors 2019 was quite the turnaround story.
Despite an early backdrop of heightened volatility, escalating trade tensions, Brexit uncertainty, and calls for a recession, the year progressed in an unexpectedly pleasant fashion. The Fed used its limited arsenal to provide additional stimulus, and global markets soaked it up to extend the decade-long bull run.
By the end of 2019, every major asset class was in the black — and the S&P 500 surged to finish with its best annual return since 2013.
Markets Roundup for 2019
Let’s take a look at major asset classes in 2019, to see how they fared:
Note: all indices here (i.e. S&P 500, Russell 2000, etc.) are using total returns, with dividends re-invested.
The first thing you’ll notice when looking at the above data is that every major asset class had a positive return for the year. The only real difference lies in the magnitude of that positive return.
Even though stocks experienced some of the best gains on the year, the winning asset may be a surprising one: crude oil.
The oil price (WTI) started the year at about $46/bbl and it closed the year at over $61/bbl, good for a 34% gain. And with escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, energy prices could be shooting even higher in 2020.
Performance by S&P 500 Sector
Strangely enough, rising oil prices did not do enough to buoy energy stocks — the poorest performing S&P 500 sector.
Although oil was up on the year, natural gas actually fell in price by about 26% in 2019. This effectively cancels out the gains made by oil, putting energy producers at the bottom of the list:
Not surprisingly, technology stocks excelled in 2019.
Tech was led by a big bounceback from Apple, a big winner that gained more than 80% over the course of the year. Other strong sectors in the benchmark U.S. index included communication services and financials.
The Currency Game
Now let’s look how currencies moved in 2019.
Below movements are all against the U.S. dollar, with the exception of the U.S. dollar itself, which is measured against a basket of currencies (U.S. Dollar Index):
The biggest currency mover on the year was the Canadian dollar, which jumped over 5% partially thanks to rising oil prices. Meanwhile, the biggest decrease went to the euro, which fell over 2% against the U.S. dollar.
It’s also worthwhile to note that Bitcoin had a particularly strong rebound in 2019, rising over 90% against the U.S. dollar.
Winners and Losers
Finally, we’ve put together a more arbitrary list of winners and losers for the year, incorporating all of the above and more.
Both the Greek and Russian stock markets had banner years, each returning close to 50% in dollar terms. Faux meat brands also captured investors’ imaginations, with Beyond Meat leading the charge. Palladium was a standout commodity, gaining 59% on the year.
We’ve chosen energy stocks as a loser, since they were the poorest performing sector on the S&P 500. Meanwhile, Macy’s and Abiomed were two of the worst large cap stocks to own in 2019.
Just 20 Stocks Have Driven S&P 500 Returns So Far in 2023
From Apple to NVIDIA, megacap stocks are fueling S&P 500 returns. The majority of these firms are also investing heavily in AI.
Just 20 Stocks Have Driven Most of S&P 500 Returns
Just 20 firms—mainly AI-related stocks—are propping up the S&P 500 and driving it into positive territory, signaling growing risk in the market.
The above graphic from Truman Du shows which stocks are making up the vast majority of S&P 500 returns amid AI market euphoria and broader market headwinds.
Big Tech Stock Rally
Tech and AI stocks have soared as ChatGPT became a household name in 2023.
The below table shows data from last month, highlighting that just a small collection of companies drove most of the action on the U.S. benchmark index.
|Company Rank||Name||Contribution to S&P 500 Return||Average Weight|
|7||Alphabet (Class A Shares)||0.34%||1.72%|
|8||Alphabet (Class C Shares)||0.31%||1.53%|
|10||Advanced Micro Devices||0.16%||0.39%|
|Top 20 Companies||7.05%||29.17%|
*Based on the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF as of April 11, 2023. Source: Vanguard S&P500 ETF, Bloomberg.
Microsoft invested $10 billion into OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT. It has also integrated generative AI into its search engine Bing. This large language model is designed specifically to make search capabilities faster, generate text, and perform other automations.
Also of interest is NVIDIA, which is the most valuable chipmaker in America. It sells $10,000 chips called A100s that allow machine learning models to run. These models perform multiple tasks simultaneously to develop neural networks and train AI systems, including OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Companies that are developing AI-related services, such as chatbots or image generation, may use up to thousands of these chips.
Despite being the world’s most valuable company and a key driver of returns, Apple is an outlier among tech giants with no major projects announced in AI (so far).
Implications of Market Divergence
The problem with the strong gains seen in a few select AI-related stocks is that it clouds wider stock market performance.
Without the AI-led rally, the S&P 500 would be returning -1.4%. as of May 17, 2023.
4. AI is fueling the stock market
A handful of stocks are spearheading the S&P 500's impressive 9% rally this year.
Here’s the kicker: if you excluded AI stocks, the S&P 500 would be down over 1% (according to Societe Generale). pic.twitter.com/SME1mJVpoW
— Rowan Cheung (@rowancheung) May 22, 2023
This form of steep divergence, known as market breadth, often signals higher risk in the market.
When more companies experience positive returns it is less risky than a small handful seeing the majority of the gains. Today market breadth is very narrow, and these companies make up over 29% of the entire index’s market capitalization.
How long AI-related firms mask the broader performance of the S&P 500 remains to be seen. A growing number of market pressures, from higher interest rates to banking uncertainty could add further challenges.
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