How Every Asset Class, Currency, and S&P 500 Sector Performed in 2021
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How Every Asset Class, Currency, and S&P 500 Sector Performed in 2021

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2021 asset performance

How Every Market Performed in 2021

After the roller coaster of volatility in 2020, the majority of asset classes in 2021 saw positive returns as the world reopened for business.

The Federal Reserve’s accommodative monetary policy, supply chain struggles, and high demand for fuels and raw materials for the clean energy transition largely shaped the markets.

Alongside the rise in inflation, commodities and cryptocurrency outperformed as broad equity indices saw double-digit returns, with the S&P 500 rising by 26.9% in 2021.

Markets Roundup for 2021

Speculation and the energy fuels for the world’s reopening were two of the main themes for markets in 2021, reflected in Bitcoin (59.8%) and crude oil (56.4%) being the top two performing assets in that time frame.

The S&P GSCI commodity index (37.1%) was another top performer, as agricultural and livestock food prices rose alongside the Dow Jones Real Estate Index (35.1%).

Asset Class2021 ReturnAsset Type
Bitcoin59.8%Cryptocurrency
WTI Crude Oil56.4%Commodity
S&P GSCI37.1%Commodity
Dow Jones Real Estate Index35.1%Real Estate
S&P 50026.9%Equities
S&P/TSX Composite21.7%Equities
Russell 200013.7%Equities
MSCI EAFE7.8%Equities
U.S. Dollar6.4%Currency
Bloomberg Barclays Corporate Bonds Index-1.2%Bonds
Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Index-2.5%Bonds
Gold-3.6%Commodity
MSCI Emerging Markets-5.5%Equities
Silver-11.7%Commodity

Source: TradingView

Despite most physical and digital commodities seeing price gains, precious metals such as gold (-3.6%) and silver (-11.7%) struggled to hold onto their value, while industrial and battery metals like lithium (477.4%) and cobalt (207.7%) surged.

Large cap equity indices like the S&P 500 (26.9%) almost doubled the returns of small caps (Russell 2000, 13.7%), with emerging markets failing to keep up as they fell 5.5%.

How the S&P 500 Sectors Performed

After last year’s poor performance as the worst-performing S&P 500 sector, energy (47.7%) was 2021’s best performing sector alongside the rise in crude oil and other energy commodities.

Two other negative performers last year, real estate (42.5%) and financials (32.6%), also turned it around and were among the top performing sectors this year.

S&P 500 sector performance 2021

Despite many value equities performing well, growth equities still managed to keep a strong pace. Information technology (33.4%) continued to provide strong returns with Microsoft (51.2%) outperforming many of the other tech giants.

As Amazon (2.38%) and Netflix lagged behind (11.4%), Apple (33.8%) capped off its strong 2021 returns by becoming the first U.S. company to reach a $3T market cap at the start of 2022.

Foreign Exchange and Currency Returns in 2021

While the U.S. dollar struggled last year with most currencies outperforming it, 2021 saw the dollar index rise by 6.4%, outperforming most other currencies.

The Chinese yuan (2.7%) and Canadian dollar (0.7%) were the only major currencies that managed positive returns against the U.S. dollar, while the Australian dollar (-5.7%), Euro (-7.0%), and Japanese Yen (-10.2%) were among the worst performers.

currency performance 2021

The Turkish lira was the standout loser in foreign exchange, and the turmoil was punctuated by turnover in the country’s finance minister position. While most other emerging economies raised interest rates to fight against inflation, Turkey has continued cutting rates and looks set to default on its $446 million of external debt.

The Winners and Losers of 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic defined many of the winners and losers in 2020, the gradual reopening of international travel and business shaped the over and underperformers of 2021.

Cryptocurrencies had a standout year beyond Bitcoin (59.8%), which was greatly outpaced by many other cryptocurrencies and smart contract platforms like Ethereum (398.3%), Solana (11,177.8%), Avalanche (3,334.8%), and Luna (12,967.3%).

While Tesla (49.8%) had another strong year, Lucid and Ford Motors greatly outperformed Elon Musk’s company and the rest of the auto industry with their EV efforts. Demand was so great that Ford had to halt reservations for its F-150 Lightning pickup trucks at the end of 2021.

2021 winners and losers

The pain of Evergrande Group (89.3%) shareholders is set to end soon, with the company starting 2022 by halting shares in Hong Kong as its $300 billion in liabilities remain in limbo.

Peloton (-76.4%) was another big loser in 2021 as it gave back nearly all of its gains from last year, proving lockdown speculation fueled most of its former valuation. Just Eat (-52.9%) was similarly hit hard as restaurants reopened in 2021.

Robinhood’s (53.3%) weak performance since its IPO puts a bow on 2021’s retail “stonk” frenzy kicked off by the Wall Street Bets subreddit.

With 2021 being a breakout year for retail traders and investors online, we’ll see if 2022 remains risk-on as the Fed begins tapering, or if markets are due for a change in direction.

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Made in America: Goods Exports by State

The U.S. exported $1.8 trillion worth of goods in 2021. This infographic looks at where that trade activity took place across the nation.

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Made in America: Goods Exports by State

After China, the U.S. is the next largest exporter of goods in the world, shipping out $1.8 trillion worth of goods in 2021—an increase of 23% over the previous year.

Of course, that massive number doesn’t tell the whole story. The U.S. economy is multifaceted, with varying levels of trade activity taking place all across the nation.

Using the latest data on international trade from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, we’ve visualized the value of America’s goods exports by state.

Top 10 Exporter States

Here are the top 10 American states that exported the highest dollar value worth of goods during 2021. Combined, these export-leading states represent 59.4% of the nation’s total exports.

RankStateTotal Exports Value% share
#1Texas$375.3 billion21.4%
#2California$175.1 billion10.0%
#3New York$84.9 billion 4.8%
#4Louisiana $76.8 billion4.4%
#5Illinois$65.9 billion3.8%
#6Michigan$55.5 billion3.2%
#7Florida$55.5 billion3.2%
#8Washington$53.6 billion3.1%
#9Ohio$50.4 billion2.9%
#10New Jersey$49.5 billion2.8%
Top 10 States$1.04 trillion59.4%

Texas has been the top exporting state in the U.S. for an incredible 20 years in a row.

Last year, Texas exported $375 billion worth of goods, which is more than California ($175 billion), New York ($85 billion), and Louisiana ($77 billion) combined. The state’s largest manufacturing export category is petroleum and coal products, but it’s also important to mention that Texas led the nation in tech exports for the ninth straight year.

California was the second highest exporter of goods in 2021 with a total value of $175 billion, an increase of 12% from the previous year. The state’s main export by value was computer and electronic product manufacturing, representing 17.8% of the total U.S. exports of that industry. California was also second among all states in exports of machinery manufacturing, accounting for 13.9% of the U.S. total.

What Type of Goods are Exported?

Here is a breakdown of the biggest U.S. export categories by value in 2021.

RankProduct GroupAnnual Export Value (2021)Share of Total Exports
1Mineral fuels including oil$239.8 billion13.7%
2Machinery including computers$209.3 billion11.9%
3Electrical machinery, equipment$185.4 billion10.6%
4Vehicles$122.2 billion7.0%
5Optical, technical, medical apparatus$91.7 billion5.2%
6Aircraft, spacecraft$89.1 billion5.1%
7Gems, precious metals $82.3 billion4.7%
8Pharmaceuticals$78 billion4.4%
9Plastics, plastic articles$74.3 billion4.2%
10Organic chemicals$42.9 billion2.4%

These top 10 export categories alone represent almost 70% of America’s total exports.

The biggest grower among this list is mineral fuels, up by 59% from last year. Pharmaceuticals saw the second biggest one-year increase (45%).

Top 10 U.S. Exports by Country of Destination

So who is buying “Made in America” products?

Unsurprisingly, neighboring countries Canada (17.5%) and Mexico (15.8%) are the two biggest buyers of American goods. Together, they purchase one-third of American exports.

RankDestination CountryShare of U.S. Goods Exports
1🇨🇦 Canada17.5%
2🇲🇽 Mexico15.8%
3🇨🇳 China8.6%
4🇯🇵 Japan4.3%
5🇰🇷 South Korea3.7%
6🇩🇪 Germany3.7%
7🇬🇧 United Kingdom3.5%
8 🇳🇱 Netherlands3.1%
9🇧🇷 Brazil2.7%
10🇮🇳 India2.3%

Three Asian countries round out the top five list: China (8.6%), Japan (4.3%), and South Korea (3.7%). Together, the top five countries account for around half of all goods exports.

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Visualizing Global Income Distribution Over 200 Years

How has global income distribution changed over history? Below, we show three distinct periods since the Industrial Revolution.

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Global Income Distribution

Visualizing Global Income Distribution Over 200 Years

Has the world become more unequal?

With COVID-19 disrupting societies and lower-income countries in particular, social and economic progress made over the last decade is in danger of being reversed. And with rising living costs and inflation across much of the world, experts warn that global income inequality has been exacerbated.

But the good news is that absolute incomes across many poorer countries have significantly risen over the last century of time. And though work remains, poverty levels have fallen dramatically in spite of stark inequality.

To analyze historical trends in global income distribution, this infographic from Our World in Data looks at three periods over the last two centuries. It uses economic data from 1800, 1975, and 2015 compiled by Hans and Ola Rosling.

Methodology

For global income estimates, data was gathered by country across three key variables:

  • Population
  • GDP per capita
  • Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality by statistical distribution

Daily incomes were measured in a hypothetical “international-$” currency, equal to what a U.S. dollar would buy in America in 2011, to allow for comparable incomes across time periods and countries.

Historical Patterns in Global Income Distribution

In 1800, over 80% of the world lived in what we consider extreme poverty today.

At the time, only a small number of countries—predominantly Western European countries, Australia, Canada and the U.S.—saw meaningful economic growth. In fact, research suggests that between 1 CE and 1800 CE the majority of places around the world saw miniscule economic growth (only 0.04% annually).

By 1975, global income distribution became bimodal. Most citizens in developing countries lived below the poverty line, while most in developed countries lived above it, with incomes nearly 10 times higher on average. Post-WWII growth was unusually rapid across developed countries.

Fast forward just 40 years to 2015 and world income distribution changed again. As incomes rose faster in poorer countries than developed ones, many people were lifted out of poverty. Between 1975 and 2015, poverty declined faster than at any other time. Still, steep inequality persisted.

A Tale of Different Economic Outputs

Even as global income distribution has started to even out, economic output has trended in the opposite direction.

As the above interactive chart shows, GDP per capita was much more equal across regions in the 19th century, when it sat around $1,100 per capita on a global basis. Despite many people living below the poverty line during these times, the world also had less wealth to go around.

Today, the global average GDP per capita sits at close to $15,212 or about 14 times higher, but it is not as equally distributed.

At the highest end of the spectrum are Western and European countries. Strong economic growth, greater industrial output, and sufficient legal institutions have helped underpin higher GDP per capita numbers. Meanwhile, countries with the lowest average incomes have not seen the same levels of growth.

This highlights that poverty, and economic prosperity, is heavily influenced by where one lives.

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