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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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization (2022)

From the wealth held to billionaires to all debt in the global financial system, we look at the vast universe of money and markets in 2022.

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

The era of easy money is now officially over.

For 15 years, policymakers have tried to stimulate the global economy through money creation, zero interest-rate policies, and more recently, aggressive COVID fiscal stimulus.

With capital at near-zero costs over this stretch, investors started to place more value on cash flows in the distant future. Assets inflated and balance sheets expanded, and money inevitably chased more speculative assets like NFTs, crypto, or unproven venture-backed startups.

But the free money party has since ended, after persistent inflation prompted the sudden reversal of many of these policies. And as Warren Buffett says, it’s only when the tide goes out do you get to see “who’s been swimming naked.”

Measuring Money and Markets in 2022

Every time we publish this visualization, our common unit of measurement is a two-dimensional box with a value of $100 billion.

Even though you need many of these to convey the assets on the balance sheet of the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the private wealth held by the world’s billionaires, it’s quite amazing to think what actually fits within this tiny building block of measurement:

What fits in a $100 billion box?

Our little unit of measurement is enough to pay for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, while also buying every team in the NHL and digging FTX out of its financial hole several times over.

Here’s an overview of all the items we have listed in this year’s visualization:

Asset categoryValueSourceNotes
SBF (Peak Net Worth)$26 billionBloombergNow sits at <$1B
Pro Sports Teams$340 billionForbesMajor pro teams in North America
Cryptocurrency$760 billionCoinMarketCapPeaked at $2.8T in 2021
Ukraine GDP$130 billionWorld BankComparable to GDP of Mississippi
Russia GDP$1.8 trillionWorld BankThe world's 11th largest economy
Annual Military Spending$2.1 trillionSIPRI2021 data
Physical currency$8.0 trillionBIS2020 data
Gold$11.5 trillionWorld Gold CouncilThere are 205,238 tonnes of gold in existence
Billionaires$12.7 trillionForbesSum of fortunes of all 2,668 billionaires
Central Bank Assets$28.0 trillionTrading EconomicsFed, BoJ, Bank of China, and Eurozone only
S&P 500$36.0 trillionSlickchartsNov 20, 2022
China GDP$17.7 trillionWorld Bank
U.S. GDP$23.0 trillionWorld Bank
Narrow Money Supply$49.0 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Broad Money Supply $82.7 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Global Equities$95.9 trillionWFELatest available 2022 data
Global Debt$300.1 trillionIIFQ2 2022
Global Real Estate$326.5 trillionSavills2020 data
Global Private Wealth$463.6 trillionCredit Suisse2022 report
Derivatives (Market)$12.4 trillionBIS
Derivatives (Notional)$600 trillionBIS

Has the Dust Settled Yet?

Through previous editions of our All the World’s Money and Markets visualization, we’ve created snapshots of the world’s assets and markets at different points in time.

For example, in our 2017 edition of this visualization, Apple’s market capitalization was only $807 billion, and all crypto assets combined for $173 billion. The global debt total was at $215 trillion.

Asset2017 edition2022 editionChange (%)
Apple market cap$807 billion$2.3 trillion+185%
Crypto$173 billion$760 billion+339%
Fed Balance Sheet$4.5 trillion$8.7 trillion+93%
Stock Markets$73 trillion$95.9 trillion+31%
Global Debt$215 trillion$300 trillion+40%

And in just five years, Apple nearly quadrupled in size (it peaked at $3 trillion in January 2022), and crypto also expanded into a multi-trillion dollar market until it was brought back to Earth through the 2022 crash and subsequent FTX implosion.

Meanwhile, global debt continues to accumulate—growing by $85 trillion in the five-year period.

With interest rates expected to continue to rise, companies making cost cuts, and policymakers reining in spending and borrowing, today is another unique snapshot in time.

Now that the easy money era is over, where do things go from here?

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Ranked: The World’s 100 Biggest Pension Funds

The world’s 100 largest pension funds are worth over $17 trillion in total. Which ones are the biggest, and where are they located?

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A preview image of some of the largest pension funds in the world. The Government Pension Investment Fund in Japan is the biggest at $1.7 trillion in assets.

Ranked: The World’s 100 Biggest Pension Funds

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

Despite economic uncertainty, pension funds saw relatively strong growth in 2021. The world’s 100 biggest pension funds are worth over $17 trillion in total, an increase of 8.5% over the previous year.

This graphic uses data from the Thinking Ahead Institute to rank the world’s biggest pension funds, and where they are located.

What is a Pension Fund?

A pension fund is a fund that is designed to provide retirement income. This ranking covers four different types:

  • Sovereign funds: Funds controlled directly by the state. This ranking only includes sovereign funds that are established by national authorities.
  • Public sector funds: Funds that cover public sector workers, such as government employees and teachers, in provincial or state sponsored plans.
  • Private independent funds: Funds controlled by private sector organizations that are authorized to manage pension plans from different employers.
  • Corporate funds: Funds that cover workers in company sponsored pension plans.

Among the largest funds, public sector funds are the most common.

The Largest Pension Funds, Ranked

Here are the top 100 pension funds, organized from largest to smallest.

RankFundMarketTotal Assets
1Government Pension Investment Fund🇯🇵 Japan$1.7T
2Government Pension Fund🇳🇴 Norway$1.4T
3National Pension🇰🇷 South Korea$798.0B
4Federal Retirement Thrift🇺🇸 U.S.$774.2B
5ABP🇳🇱 Netherlands$630.4B
6California Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$496.8B
7Canada Pension🇨🇦 Canada$426.7B
8National Social Security🇨🇳 China$406.8B
9Central Provident Fund🇸🇬 Singapore$375.0B
10PFZW🇳🇱 Netherlands$315.5B
11California State Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$313.9B
12New York State Common🇺🇸 U.S.$267.8B
13New York City Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$266.7B
14Local Government Officials🇯🇵 Japan$248.6B
15Employees Provident Fund🇲🇾 Malaysia$242.6B
16Florida State Board🇺🇸 U.S.$213.8B
17Texas Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$196.7B
18Ontario Teachers🇨🇦 Canada$191.1B
19National Wealth Fund🇷🇺 Russia$180.7B
20AustralianSuper🇦🇺 Australia$169.1B
21Labor Pension Fund🇹🇼 Taiwan$168.9B
22Washington State Board🇺🇸 U.S.$161.5B
23Public Institute for Social Security🇰🇼 Kuwait$160.0B
24ATP🇩🇰 Denmark$155.4B
25Wisconsin Investment Board🇺🇸 U.S.$147.9B
26Future Fund🇦🇺 Australia$147.9B
27Boeing🇺🇸 U.S.$147.2B
28Employees' Provident🇮🇳 India$145.0B
29New York State Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$144.4B
30North Carolina🇺🇸 U.S.$137.1B
31Alecta🇸🇪 Sweden$136.7B
32GEPF🇿🇦 South Africa$129.1B
33California University🇺🇸 U.S.$125.3B
34Bayerische Versorgungskammer🇩🇪 Germany$122.0B
35Ohio Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$121.6B
36AT&T🇺🇸 U.S.$119.5B
37Public Service Pension Plan🇨🇦 Canada$117.9B
38National Federation of Mutual Aid🇯🇵 Japan$117.1B
39Metaal/tech. Bedrijven🇳🇱 Netherlands$115.8B
40IBM🇺🇸 U.S.$115.4B
41Universities Superannuation🇬🇧 UK$111.2B
42Virginia Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$110.0B
43Pension Fund Association🇯🇵 Japan$109.8B
44Raytheon Technologies🇺🇸 U.S.$108.9B
45Michigan Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$108.0B
46Aware Super🇦🇺 Australia$107.5B
47New Jersey🇺🇸 U.S.$104.5B
48Minnesota State Board🇺🇸 U.S.$102.9B
49PFA Pension🇩🇰 Denmark$102.7B
50Kaiser🇺🇸 U.S.$101.0B
51Georgia Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$100.9B
52Oregon Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$100.4B
53Massachusetts PRIM🇺🇸 U.S.$98.5B
54Qsuper🇦🇺 Australia$96.5B
55General Motors🇺🇸 U.S.$96.1B
56Ontario Municipal Employees🇨🇦 Canada$95.7B
57Ohio State Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$95.1B
58AP Fonden 7🇸🇪 Sweden$94.4B
59Healthcare of Ontario🇨🇦 Canada$90.5B
60General Electric🇺🇸 U.S.$90.5B
61Employees' Pension Fund🇮🇳 India$89.5B
62Bouwnijverheid🇳🇱 Netherlands$88.5B
63UPS🇺🇸 U.S.$86.8B
64United Nations Joint Staff🇺🇸 U.S.$86.2B
65Lockheed Martin🇺🇸 U.S.$85.7B
66Quebec Pension🇨🇦 Canada$81.4B
67National Public Service🇯🇵 Japan$79.9B
68Tennessee Consolidated🇺🇸 U.S.$79.0B
69Royal Bank of Scotland Group🇬🇧 UK$78.3B
70Bank of America🇺🇸 U.S.$76.3B
71BT Group🇬🇧 UK$74.3B
72Keva🇫🇮 Finland$73.3B
73Ford🇺🇸 U.S.$72.8B
74PME🇳🇱 Netherlands$72.7B
75Los Angeles County Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$72.7B
76Quebec Government & Public🇨🇦 Canada$72.4B
77UniSuper🇦🇺 Australia$72.1B
78Northrop Grumman🇺🇸 U.S.$72.0B
79Pennsylvania School Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$70.4B
80Lloyds Banking Group🇬🇧 UK$69.7B
81Ilmarinen🇫🇮 Finland$69.1B
82Colorado Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$68.6B
83Maryland State Retirement🇺🇸 U.S.$68.5B
84AMF Pension🇸🇪 Sweden$67.3B
85Varma🇫🇮 Finland$67.1B
86Wells Fargo🇺🇸 U.S.$66.0B
87Sunsuper🇦🇺 Australia$66.0B
88Verizon🇺🇸 U.S.$64.1B
89Illinois Teachers🇺🇸 U.S.$64.0B
90J.P. Morgan Chase🇺🇸 U.S.$62.8B
91Electricity Supply Pension🇬🇧 UK$62.5B
92FedEx🇺🇸 U.S.$60.7B
93Nevada Public Employees🇺🇸 U.S.$58.8B
94B.C. Municipal🇨🇦 Canada$58.7B
95AP Fonden 4🇸🇪 Sweden$57.7B
96Missouri Schools & Education🇺🇸 U.S.$57.0B
97AP Fonden 3🇸🇪 Sweden$55.9B
98Social Insurance Funds🇻🇳 Vietnam$55.7B
99Organization for Workers🇯🇵 Japan$55.6B
100Illinois Municipal🇺🇸 U.S.$54.9B

U.S. fund data are as of Sep. 30, 2021, and non-U.S. fund data are as of Dec. 31, 2021. There are some exceptions as noted in the graphic footnotes.

Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) is the largest in the ranking for the 21st year in a row. For a time, the fund was the largest holder of domestic stocks in Japan, though the Bank of Japan has since taken that title. Given its enormous size, investors closely follow the GPIF’s actions. For instance, the fund made headlines for deciding to start investing in startups, because the move could entice other pensions to make similar investments.

America is home to 47 funds on the list, including the largest public sector fund: the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), overseen by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. Because of its large financial influence, both political parties have been accused of using it as a political tool. Democrats have pushed to divest assets in fossil fuel companies, while Republicans have proposed blocking investment in Chinese-owned companies.

Russia’s National Wealth Fund comes in at number 19 on the list. The fund is designed to support the public pension system and help balance the budget as needed. With Russia’s economy facing difficulties amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the government has also used it as a rainy day fund. For instance, Russia has set aside $23 billion from the fund to replace foreign aircraft with domestic models, because Western sanctions have made it difficult to source replacement parts for foreign planes.

The Future of Pension Funds

The biggest pension funds can have a large influence in the market because of their size. Of course, they are also responsible for providing retirement income to millions of people. Pension funds face a variety of challenges in order to reach their goals:

  • Geopolitical conflict creates volatility and uncertainty
  • High inflation and low interest rates (relative to long-term averages) limit return potential
  • Aging populations mean more withdrawals and less fund contributions

Some pension funds are turning to alternative assets, such as private equity, in pursuit of more diversification and higher returns. Of course, these investments can also carry more risk.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, number 18 on the list, invested $95 million in the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX. The plan made the investment through its venture growth platform, to “gain small-scale exposure to an emerging area in the financial technology sector.”

In this case, the investment’s failure is expected to have a minimal impact given it only made up 0.05% of the plan’s net assets. However, it does highlight the challenges pension funds face to generate sufficient returns in a variety of macroeconomic environments.

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