The Best and Worst Performing Sectors in 2019
If you think back almost 12 months, you’ll remember that the markets opened the year with extreme levels of volatility.
Stocks had just finished the worst year in a decade. Then in early January, Apple cut its earnings guidance after the company had already lost over $400 billion in market capitalization. The S&P 500 and DJIA seesawed, suggesting that the lengthy bull run could come to an end.
Yet, here we are a year later — we’re wrapping up the decade with a banner year for the S&P 500. As of the market close on December 30, 2019, stocks were up 28.5% to give the index what is expected to be its second-best performance since 1998.
Winners and Losers
Today’s infographic pulls data from Finviz.com. We’ve taken their great treemap visualization of U.S. markets and augmented it to show the sectors that beat the frothy market in 2019, as well as the ones that lagged behind.
Below, we’ll highlight instances where sectors stood out as having companies that, with few exceptions, saw ubiquitously positive or negative returns.
Top Performing Sectors
Semiconductor stocks soared in 2019, despite sales expected to shrink 12% globally. Although this seems counterintuitive at first glance, the context helps here: in 2018, there was hefty correction in the market – and the future outlook for the industry has also been revised to be rosier.
2. Credit Services
In case you didn’t get the memo, the world is increasingly going cashless — and payments companies have been licking their lips. Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Capital One, and Discover were just some of the names that outperformed the S&P 500 in 2019.
3. Aerospace / Defense
The vast majority of companies in this market, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and United Technologies, all beat the market in 2019. One notable and obvious exception to this is Boeing, a company that saw its stock get hammered after the Boeing 737 Max model was grounded in the wake of several high-profile crashes.
4. Electronic Equipment
Apple shareholders had a bit of a wild ride in 2018. The company had risen in value to $1.1 trillion, but then it subsequently lost over $400 billion in market capitalization by the end of the year. Interestingly, in 2019, the stock had a strong bounce back year: the stock increased 84.8% in value, making it the best-performing FAANG stock by far.
5. Diversified Machinery
Manufacturers such as Honeywell, General Electric, Cummins, and Danaher saw solid double-digit gains in 2019, despite a slowing U.S. industrial sector. For GE in particular, this was a bit of a comeback year after its stock was decimated in 2018.
Construction Materials, Medical Labs & Research, Gold, Medical Appliances, Insurance Brokers
Worst Performing Sectors
Big oil, independent oil, and many oil services companies all had a year to forget. While this is not unusual in a highly cyclical industry, what is strange is that this happened in a year where oil prices (WTI) increased 36% for the best year since 2016.
2. Wireless Communications
Growing anticipation around 5G was not enough to buoy wireless companies in 2019.
3. Foreign Banks
It’s a tough environment for European banks right now. Not only is it late in the cycle, but banks are trying to make money in an environment with negative rates and large amounts of Brexit uncertainty. The strong U.S. dollar doesn’t help much, either.
The CEO of The Gap has described U.S. tariffs as “attacks on the American consumer”, providing just another nail in the coffin to the bottom line of the retail industry. Given these additional headwinds, it’s not surprising that companies like The Gap, American Eagle, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Abercrombie & Fitch all finished the year in the red.
5. Foreign Telecoms
Continued strength of the U.S. dollar weighed on foreign telecoms, which make the majority of their revenues in other currencies.
Mapped: The State of Small Business Recovery in America
Compared to January 2020, 34% of small businesses are currently closed. This map looks at the small business recovery rate in 50 metro areas.
Mapped: The State of Small Business Recovery in America
In the business news cycle, headlines are often dominated by large corporations, macroeconomic news, or government action.
While mom and pop might not always be in focus, collectively small businesses are a powerful and influential piece of the economy. In fact, 99.9% of all businesses in the U.S. qualify as small businesses, collectively employing almost half (47.3%) of the nation’s private workforce.
Unfortunately, they’ve also been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy amid the pandemic. From the CARES Act to the new budget proposal, billions of dollars have been allocated towards helping small businesses to get back on their feet.
Small Business Recovery in 50 Metro Areas
During the pandemic, many small businesses have either swiftly pivoted to survive, or struggled to stay afloat. This map pulls data from Opportunity Insights to examine the small business recovery rate in 50 metro areas across America.
So, has the situation improved since the last time we examined this data? The short answer is no—on a national scale, 34% of small businesses are closed compared to January 2020.
San Francisco is one of the most affected metro areas, with a 48% closure rate of small businesses. New York City has spiralled the most since the end of September 2020.
|U.S. Metro Area||% Change in # of|
Small Businesses Open
(As of Sep 25, 2020)
|% Change in # of|
Small Businesses Open
(As of Apr 23, 2021)
|7-month change (p.p.)|
|New York City||-21%||-42%||-21|
|Salt Lake City||-18%||-23%||-5|
Data as of Apr 23, 2021 and indexed to Jan 4-31, 2020.
On the flip side, Honolulu has seen the most improvement. As travel and tourism numbers into Hawaii have steadily risen up with lifted nationwide restrictions, there has been a 16 p.p. increase in open businesses compared to September 2020.
Road to a K-Shaped Recovery
As of April 25, 2021, nearly 42% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, even with this rapid vaccine rollout, various segments of the economy aren’t recovering at the same pace.
Take for instance the stark difference between professional services and the leisure and hospitality sector. Though small business revenues in both segments have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, the latter has much more catching up to do:
This uneven phenomena is known as a K-shaped recovery, where some industries see more improvement compared to others that stagnate in the aftermath of a recession.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit Endures
Despite these continued hardships, it appears that many Americans have not been deterred from starting their own businesses.
Many small businesses require an Employer Identification Number (EIN) which makes EIN applications a good proxy for business formation activity. Despite an initial dip in the early months of the pandemic, there has been a dramatic spike in EIN business applications.
Even in the face of a global pandemic, the perseverance of such metrics prove that the innovative American spirit is unwavering, and spells better days to come for small business recovery.
Pandemic Recovery: Have BEACH Stocks Bounced Back?
BEACH stocks—bookings, entertainment, airlines, cruises, and hotels—were pulverized at the beginning of the pandemic. Here’s how they’ve bounced back.
Pandemic Recovery: Have BEACH Stocks Bounced Back?
The travel and entertainment industries have had a volatile ride over the last year.
During the initial stages of the pandemic, when panic and uncertainty ran rife, BEACH stocks–booking, entertainment, airlines, cruises, and hotels—were left scrambling. Collectively, $332 billion in market cap washed away.
Now, it appears the tide might be turning for these companies, buoyed by vaccine breakthroughs and glimmers of hope for a return to normalcy.
This infographic looks at the growth in market cap value across BEACH stocks one year from when the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Washing Back to Shore?
BEACH stocks have gained a collective $376 billion in market cap in the year since the pandemic was declared, with about half the companies trading at their respective all-time highs.
In fact, about 70% of BEACH stocks have actually outperformed the S&P 500, which returned 43.7% during the same period.
|Company||Ticker||Category||Market Cap: 03/11/20 ($B)||Market Cap: 03/11/21 ($B)||Change|
|Alaska Air Group||ALK||Airlines||5.7||8.1||42%|
|Delta Air Lines||DAL||Airlines||29.1||30.9||6%|
|Caesars Entertainment||CZR||Casino & Hotel||2.2||20.8||824%|
|Norwegian Cruise Lines||NCLH||Cruise & Casino||4.3||10.9||151%|
|Royal Caribbean Cruises||RCL||Cruise & Casino||10.8||22.4||108%|
|Carnival||CCL||Cruise & Casino||16.4||31.8||93%|
|Penn National Gaming||PENN||Entertainment & Live Events||2.6||20.4||661%|
|Six Flags||SIX||Entertainment & Live Events||1.7||4.1||142%|
|Live Nation||LYV||Entertainment & Live Events||10.8||19.3||79%|
|The Walt Disney Co||DIS||Entertainment & Live Events||201.2||357.1||77%|
|Cedar Fair||FUN||Entertainment & Live Events||1.8||2.8||57%|
|Choice Hotels International||CHH||Hotels||4.5||5.9||30%|
|Marriott Vacations Worldwide||VAC||Hotels & Resorts||3.8||7.7||103%|
|Vail Resorts||MTN||Hotels & Resorts||7.1||13.4||88%|
|Park Hotels & Resorts||PK||Hotels & Resorts||3.4||5.3||58%|
|Wyndham Hotels & Resorts||WH||Hotels & Resorts||4.2||6.4||51%|
|MGM Resorts International||MGM||Resorts & Casino||10.2||19.3||89%|
|Wynn Resorts||WYNN||Resorts & Casino||9.7||15.9||64%|
|Las Vegas Sands||LVS||Resorts & Casino||40.7||48.2||18%|
BEACH Stocks Leaders and Laggards
When dissecting this basket of stocks by industry, it’s clear that much of the recovery story is lopsided. One reason for this, despite the pandemic, is that there are more granular, idiosyncratic trends occurring within these sectors.
Let’s look at what’s propelling the leaders, and dragging down the laggards:
Leading: Online Betting
There’s reason to be bullish on gambling stocks. Since late 2018, some 20 states have legalized sports betting, with more expecting to follow. Relative to other areas, the pandemic has been kind to gambling stocks. Many of those with an online presence have witnessed a spike in traffic, as more people continue to flock towards online betting.
Within the BEACH stocks basket, Penn National Gaming and Caesars Entertainment are clear outliers, having grown an epic 661% and 823% respectively. In addition, the broader industry (measured by the BETZ ETF) has nearly doubled the performance of the S&P 500 since its inception.
The return to normalcy will be much more delayed for airlines. Global RPKs, an industry metric, are not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Actions of insiders also seem to match this negative sentiment. Warren Buffett, once a staunch supporter of airlines, decided to call it quits during the pandemic—dumping his entire position.
U.S. airline executives have collectively been selling their stakes much more aggressively than in the last few years. To add insult to injury, there’s significant shorting of airline stocks as well. At a short interest of 11.6%, American Airlines is most heavily shorted BEACH stock.
In a year where social interactions and gatherings have largely disappeared, so too has much of the business activity for hotels. For instance, Hilton sales suffered a 58% decline year-over-year.
But even without the pandemic, the hotel industry had their work cut out for them, through a growing and formidable competitor in Airbnb. Airbnb can scale its network beyond what any hotel can. This is evident in its room count, which is greater than the largest hotels combined.
More Bumps On The Road Ahead?
The investing landscape today looks to be disconnected from reality, in part because of the forward-looking nature of markets. Even though things are dire today, there’s a belief that light exists at the end of the tunnel.
But the path to recovery isn’t quite so linear. When the dust settles, it’ll become more apparent which industries will “return to normal” and which have set out permanently on a new trajectory.
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