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How Every Asset Class, Currency, and Sector Performed in 2019

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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:

Major asset class performance in 2019

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:

Performance of S&P 500 sectors in 2019

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):

Currency performance against USD in 2019

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.

Winners and Losers in 2019

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.

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Markets

The Dominance of U.S. Companies in Global Markets

U.S.-based companies have a heavy weighting in global equity markets. In most industries, their market capitalization exceeds 50% of the total.

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U.S. Companies Dominate Global Markets

Are global indexes as “global” as you think they are?

With the aim of tracking market performance around the world, these indexes incorporate securities from various regions. However, while the number of securities may be relatively well diversified across countries, a dollar perspective tells a different story. When market capitalization is taken into account, country weightings may become much more unbalanced.

Today’s visualization is based on a concept by S&P Dow Jones Indices that shows the percentage of U.S.-based companies in global sectors and industries as of December 31, 2019. The calculations reflect the market capitalization of companies in the S&P Global Broad Market Index (BMI), an index that tracks over 11,000 stocks across 50 developed and emerging economies.

Percentage of U.S. Companies by Sector

U.S-based companies—those that maintain their primary business affairs in the U.S.—are a major component of many global sectors and industries.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Sector% of U.S.-based CompaniesMost U.S.-heavy Subsector
Information technology73%Software (86%)
Health care65%Health care providers (82%)
Utilities53%Electric utilities (57%)
Real estate51%Equity REITs (69%)
Consumer discretionary49%Specialty retail (73%)
Consumer staples46%Household products (74%)
Industrials46%Aerospace & defense (73%)
Energy44%Energy - other (73%)
Financials44%Financials - other (73%)
Materials30%Chemicals (41%)

U.S.-based companies make up a staggering 73% of the information technology (IT) sector. However, China may soon threaten this dominance. The Made in China 2025 plan highlights new-generation IT as a priority sector for the country.

The U.S. is still the world’s leader, but China is coming up very fast.

Rebecca Fannin, Journalist & Author of Tech Titans of China

Healthcare is also heavily skewed towards U.S-based stocks, which make up 65% of the sector’s market capitalization. This weighting is perhaps not surprising given the success of many U.S. healthcare companies. In Fortune’s list of the 500 most profitable U.S. companies, 41 healthcare organizations made the cut.

The materials sector has the smallest weighting of U.S.-based stocks, but they still account for almost one-third of the overall market capitalization. Three American companies are in the sector’s top 10 holdings: Air Products & Chemicals, Ecolab, and Sherwin-Williams.

U.S. Equity Views in a Global Context

Given the high weighting of U.S. stocks in global sectors and industries, having a U.S. view is important. This refers to investors gaining a clear perspective on the risks and opportunities that exist in the country. Investors can consider the trends influencing American companies in order to help explain stock performance.

U.S. stock dominance also impacts geographic diversification. While it helps non-U.S. investors overcome their home bias, American investors may want to consider targeting specific international markets for well-rounded exposure.

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Finance

Intangible Assets: A Hidden but Crucial Driver of Company Value

Intangible assets – such as goodwill and intellectual property – have rapidly risen in importance compared to tangible assets like cash.

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valuing intangible assets

Intangible Assets Take Center Stage

View the high resolution version of this infographic by clicking here

In 2018, intangible assets for S&P 500 companies hit a record value of $21 trillion. These assets, which are not physical in nature and include things like intellectual property, have rapidly risen in importance compared to tangible assets like cash.

Today’s infographic from Raconteur highlights the growth of intangible asset valuations, and how senior decision-makers view intangibles when making investment decisions.

Tracking the Growth of Intangibles

Intangibles used to play a much smaller role than they do now, with physical assets comprising the majority of value for most enterprise companies. However, an increasingly competitive and digital economy has placed the focus on things like intellectual property, as companies race to out-innovate one another.

To measure this historical shift, Aon and the Ponemon Institute analyzed the value of intangible and tangible assets over nearly four and a half decades on the S&P 500. Here’s how they stack up:

Intangible vs. Tangible Assets

Source: Aon

In just 43 years, intangibles have evolved from a supporting asset into a major consideration for investors – today, they make up 84% of all enterprise value on the S&P 500, a massive increase from just 17% in 1975.

The Largest Companies by Intangible Value

Digital-centric sectors, such as internet & software and technology & IT, are heavily reliant on intangible assets.

Brand Finance, which produces an annual ranking of companies based on intangible value, has companies in these sectors taking the top five spots on the 2019 edition of their report.

RankCompanySectorTotal Intangible ValueShare of Enterprise Value
1MicrosoftInternet & Software$904B90%
2AmazonInternet & Software$839B93%
3AppleTechnology & IT$675B77%
4AlphabetInternet & Software$521B65%
5FacebookInternet & Software$409B79%
6AT&TTelecoms$371B84%
7TencentInternet & Software$365B88%
8Johnson & JohnsonPharma$361B101%
9VisaBanking$348B100%
10AlibabaInternet & Software$344B86%
11NestleFood$313B89%
12Procter & GambleCosmetics & Personal Care$305B101%
13Anheuser-Busch InBevBeers$304B99%
14VerizonTelecoms$300B83%
15ComcastMedia$276B92%
16MastercardBanking$259B99%
17NovartisPharma$252B101%
18WalmartRetail$252B68%
19UnitedhealthHealthcare$245B94%
20PfizerPharma$235B98%

Note: Percentages may exceed 100% due to rounding.

Microsoft overtook Amazon for the top spot in the ranking for 2019, with $904B in intangible assets. The company has the largest commercial cloud business in the world.

Pharma and healthcare companies are also prominent on the list, comprising four of the top 20. Their intangible value is largely driven by patents, as well as mergers and acquisitions. Johnson & Johnson, for example, reported $32B in patents and trademarks in their latest annual report.

A Lack of Disclosure

It’s important to note that Brand Finance’s ranking is based on both disclosed intangibles—those that are reported on a company’s balance sheet—and undisclosed intangibles. In the ranking, undisclosed intangibles were calculated as the difference between a company’s market value and book value.

The majority of intangibles are not reported on balance sheets because accounting standards do not recognize them until a transaction has occurred to support their value. While many accounting managers see this as a prudent measure to stop unsubstantiated asset values, it means that many highly valuable intangibles never appear in financial reporting. In fact, 34% of the total worth of the world’s publicly traded companies is made up of undisclosed value.

“It is time for CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs to start a long overdue reporting revolution.”

—David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance

Brand Finance believes that companies should regularly value each intangible asset, including the key assumptions management made when deriving their value. This information would be extremely useful for managers, investors, and other stakeholders.

A Key Consideration

Investment professionals certainly agree on the importance of intangibles. In a survey of institutional investors by Columbia Threadneedle, it was found that 95% agreed that intangible assets contain crucial information about the future strength of a company’s business model.

Moreover, 98% agree that more transparency would be beneficial to their assessment of intangible assets. In the absence of robust reporting, Columbia Threadneedle believes active managers are well equipped to understand intangible asset values due to their access to management, relationships with key opinion leaders, and deep industry expertise.

By undertaking rigorous analysis, managers may uncover hidden competitive advantages—and generate higher potential returns in the process.

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