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Understanding the Disconnect Between Consumers and the Stock Market

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Understanding the Disconnect Between Consumers and the Stock Market

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The Disconnect Between Consumers and Stock Markets

Consumer sentiment indices are relatively accurate indicators for the outlook of an economy. They rise during periods of growth as consumers become more financially confident, and fall during recessions as consumers cut back on discretionary spending.

Since the direction of the overall economy also affects stock markets, measures of consumer sentiment have historically moved in tandem with major indices like the S&P 500. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, however, consumers and stock markets have become noticeably disjointed from one another.

To help us understand why this may be the case, this infographic charts the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment against the S&P 500, before diving into potential underlying factors for their divergence.

A Tale of Two Indices

Before we compare these two indices, it’s helpful to first understand how they’re comprised.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment

The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) is derived from a monthly survey of consumers that aims to get a snapshot of personal finances, business conditions, and buying conditions in the market.

The survey consists of five questions (paraphrased):

  • Are you better or worse off financially compared to a year ago?
  • Will you be better or worse off financially a year in the future?
  • Will business conditions during the next year be good, bad, or other?
  • Will business conditions over the next five years be good, bad, or other?
  • Is it a good time to make large purchases such as major household appliances?

A score for each of these questions is calculated based on the percent of favorable and nonfavorable replies. The scores are then aggregated to arrive at the final index value, relative to 6.8—the 1966 base period value.

The S&P 500

The S&P 500 is a market capitalization-weighted index of the 500 largest publicly traded U.S. companies. A company’s market capitalization is calculated as its current stock price multiplied by its total number of outstanding shares.

Market caps change over time, with movements determined by daily stock price fluctuations, the issuance of new stock, or the repurchase of existing shares (also known as share buybacks).

The COVID-19 Divergence

Throughout past market cycles, these two indices have displayed some degree of correlation.

During the bull market of the ‘90s, the S&P 500 generated an astonishing 417% return, and was accompanied by a 75% increase in consumer sentiment. Critically, both indices also peaked at roughly the same time. The ICS began to decline after reaching its record high of 112.0 in January 2000, while the S&P 500 began to falter in August that same year.

Fast forwarding to 2020, we can see that these indices have responded quite differently during the pandemic so far:

IndexJan 2020 Feb 2020 Mar 2020 Apr 2020 May 2020 June 2020 July 17, 2020 
ICS Value99.810189.171.872.378.173.2
ICS YTD0.5%1.7%-10.3%-27.7%-27.2%-21.4%-26.3%
S&P 500 Value3225.52954.22584.62912.43044.33100.33224.7
S&P 500 YTD-0.2%-8.6%-20.0%-9.9%-5.8%-4.0%-0.2%

All figures as of month end unless otherwise specified. Source: Yahoo Finance

The ICS has not yet recovered from its initial decline beginning in March, whereas the S&P 500 has seemingly bounced back during the same time frame.

Examining the Disconnect

Why are stock markets failing to recognize the hardships that consumers are feeling? Let’s examine two central factors behind this disconnect.

Reason 1: Tech’s Dominance of the S&P 500

Recall that a company’s weight in the S&P 500 is determined by its market cap. This means that certain sectors can form a larger part of the index than others. Here’s how each sector sizes up:

S&P 500 SectorIndex weight as of June 30, 2020 (%)
Information technology 27.5%
Health care14.6%
Consumer discretionary10.8%
Communication services10.8% 
Financials10.1%
Industrials8.0%
Consumer staples7.0%
Utilities3.1%
Real estate2.8%
Energy2.8%
Materials2.5%

Source: S&P Global

Based on this breakdown, we can see that the information technology (IT) sector accounts for over a quarter of the S&P 500. With a weighting of 27.5%, the sector alone is bigger than the bottom six combined (Industrials to Materials).

This inequality means the performance of the IT sector has a stronger relative impact on the index’s overall returns. Within IT, we can highlight the FAANGM subset of stocks, which include some of America’s biggest names in tech:

StockMarket Cap as of June 30, 2020 ($)
Apple$1.6 trillion
Microsoft$1.5 trillion
Amazon$1.4 trillion
Google$930 billion
Facebook$668 billion
Netflix$200 billion
S&P 500 average$53 billion

Source: Yahoo Finance

These companies have grown rapidly over the past decade, and continue to perform strongly during the pandemic. If this trend continues, the S&P 500 could skew even further towards the IT sector, and become less representative of America’s overall economy.

Reason 2: The U.S. Federal Reserve

Stock prices typically reflect a company’s future earnings prospects, meaning they are influenced, to a degree, by the outlook for the broader economy.

With an ongoing pandemic and steep decline in consumer sentiment, it’s reasonable to believe that many company prospects would look bleak. This is especially true for consumer cyclicals—companies like automobile manufacturers that rely on discretionary spending.

In a somewhat controversial move, the U.S. Federal Reserve has stepped in to counter these effects by creating the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF). This facility operates two programs which ensure businesses have access to funding during the pandemic.

Corporate Bond Purchase Program
The SMCCF is currently buying corporate bonds from an index of nearly 800 companies. Of the ten largest recipients of this program, five are categorized as consumer cyclical:

IssuerCategoryIndex Weight (%)
Toyota Motor Credit CorpConsumer cyclical1.74%
Volkswagen Group AmericaConsumer cyclical1.74%
Daimler Finance NA LLCConsumer cyclical1.72%
AT&T IncCommunications1.60%
Apple IncTechnology1.60%
Verizon CommunicationsCommunications1.60%
General ElectricCapital goods1.48%
Ford Motor Credit Co LLCConsumer cyclical1.34%
Comcast CorpCommunications1.32%
BMW US Capital LLCConsumer cyclical1.25%

Source: Investopedia

This program is intended to support the flow of credit, but its announcement in June also gave stock markets a boost in confidence. With the Fed directly supporting corporations, shareholders are being shielded from risks related to declining sales and bankruptcy.

By the end of June, the SMCCF had purchased $429 million in corporate bonds.

ETF Purchase Program
The SMCCF is also authorized to purchase corporate bond ETFs, a historic first for the Fed. The facility’s five largest ETF purchases as of June 18, 2020, are detailed below:

ETF Name Purchase size ($)ETF Description
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD)$1.7 billionTracks an index composed of USD-denominated, investment grade corporate bonds.
Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF (VCSH)$1.3 billionInvests primarily in investment grade corporate bonds, maintaining an average maturity of 1 to 5 years.
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond ETF (VCIT)$1.0 billionInvests primarily in investment grade corporate bonds, maintaining an average maturity of 5 to 10 years.
iShares Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF (IGSB)$608 millionTracks an index composed of USD-denominated investment-grade corporate bonds with maturities between 1 and 5 years.
SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK)$412 millionSeeks to provide a diversified exposure to USD-denominated high yield corporate bonds.

Source: Investopedia

Although the SMCCF’s purchase of ETFs outsize those of corporate bonds, the Fed has signaled its intention to make direct bond purchases its primary focus going forward.

Will Markets and Consumers Reconnect Anytime Soon?

It’s hard to see the S&P 500 moving towards a more balanced sector composition in the near future. America’s big tech stocks have been resilient during the pandemic, with some even reaching new highs.

The Fed also remains committed to providing corporations with credit, thereby enabling them to “borrow” their way out of the pandemic. These commitments have propped up stock markets by reducing bankruptcy risk and potentially speeding up the economic recovery.

Consumer sentiment, on the other hand, has yet to show signs of recovery. Surveys released in early July may shed some light on why—63% of Americans believe it will take a year or more for the economy to fully recover, while 82% are hoping for an extension of COVID-19 relief programs.

With both sides moving in opposite directions, it’s possible the disconnect could grow even larger before it starts to shrink.

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Markets

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.

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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.

CompanyTickerCategoryMarket Cap: 03/11/20 ($B)Market Cap: 03/11/21 ($B)Change
American AirlinesAALAirlines7.214.296%
Southwest AirlinesLUVAirlines23.534.446%
Alaska Air GroupALKAirlines5.78.142%
United AirlinesUALAirlines13.017.233%
Air CanadaACAirlines5.97.933%
Delta Air LinesDALAirlines29.130.96%
Expedia GroupEXPEBooking12.024.6105%
Allegiant TravelALGTBooking2.04.198%
Booking HoldingsBKNGBooking64.096.051%
Caesars EntertainmentCZRCasino & Hotel2.220.8824%
Norwegian Cruise LinesNCLHCruise & Casino4.310.9151%
Royal Caribbean CruisesRCLCruise & Casino10.822.4108%
CarnivalCCLCruise & Casino16.431.893%
Penn National GamingPENNEntertainment & Live Events2.620.4661%
Six FlagsSIXEntertainment & Live Events1.74.1142%
Live NationLYVEntertainment & Live Events10.819.379%
The Walt Disney CoDISEntertainment & Live Events201.2357.177%
Cedar FairFUNEntertainment & Live Events1.82.857%
HiltonHLTHotels25.034.638%
Marriott InternationalMARHotels35.648.235%
Choice Hotels InternationalCHHHotels4.55.930%
Hyatt HotelsHHotels6.78.729%
Marriott Vacations WorldwideVACHotels & Resorts3.87.7103%
Vail ResortsMTNHotels & Resorts7.113.488%
Park Hotels & ResortsPKHotels & Resorts3.45.358%
Wyndham Hotels & ResortsWHHotels & Resorts4.26.451%
MGM Resorts InternationalMGMResorts & Casino10.219.389%
Wynn ResortsWYNNResorts & Casino9.715.964%
Las Vegas SandsLVSResorts & Casino40.748.218%

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.

Laggard: Airlines

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.

Airline COVID RPKs

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.

Laggard: Hotels

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.

Airbnb room count vs hotels

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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Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities

Where do the most billionaires live? For years, NYC has topped the list of billionaire cities, but 2020 marked a monumental shift.

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top 10 cities for billionaires

Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities in 2020

In 2020, the world gained 493 new billionaires—that’s one every 17 hours.

For the last seven years, New York City has been home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. However, last year marked a monumental shift in the status quo.

Beijing has unseated the Big Apple, and is now home to 100 billionaires. That’s one more billionaire than the 99 living in New York City.

Today’s map uses data from Forbes to display the top 10 cities that house the most billionaires.

Where do the Most Billionaires Live?

The richest of the rich are quite concentrated in cities, but some cities seem to best suit the billionaire lifestyle. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 billionaire capitals and the collective net worth of all the ultra wealthy that live there.

RankCityRegionNumber of BillionairesNet Worth of the City's Billionaires
#1Beijing🇨🇳 Asia100$484.3B
#2New York City 🇺🇸 North America99$560.5B
#3Hong Kong🇨🇳 Asia80$448.4B
#4Moscow🇷🇺 Europe79$420.6B
#5Shenzhen🇨🇳 Asia68$415.3B
#6Shanghai 🇨🇳 Asia64$259.6B
#7London 🇬🇧 Europe63$316.1B
#8Mumbai🇮🇳 Asia48$265.0B
#9San Fransisco🇺🇸 North America48$190.0B
#10Hangzhou🇨🇳 Asia47$269.2B

Some cities have some obvious billionaires that come to mind. New York’s richest person and former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is worth $59 billion. Beijing’s richest billionaire is the founder of TikTok (among other things), Zhang Yiming with a net worth of $35.6 billion.

In terms of the locations themselves, London, New York, and San Francisco are the only Western cities to make the list. Though New York was ousted from the top position last year, altogether the city’s billionaires are still worth more than Beijing’s.

One new city to make the top 10 list of billionaire cities was Hangzhou, the home of Jack Ma. It booted out Singapore from the 10th spot.

East Meets West

More than half of the top 10 cities are located in Asia, providing evidence of the shift eastwards when it comes to seats of wealth. Five of the six Asian cities listed are all in China.

What’s helped lead to this?

The country has seen an e-commerce boom, not in the least thanks to the pandemic. Additionally, the efficient handling of COVID-19 has allowed the economy to get back on track much more quickly than other countries. According to the BBC, 50% of China’s new billionaires have made their wealth either through tech or manufacturing.

Four of the Chinese cities on the list also had the biggest billionaire growth in 2020. Each of them gained more than 10 net new billionaires:

  • 🇨🇳 Hangzhou: 21
  • 🇨🇳 Shanghai: 18
  • 🇨🇳 Shenzhen: 24
  • 🇨🇳 Beijing: 33

The only other city to gain more than 10 new billionaires in 2020 was San Francisco with 11.

Now sitting at 698 billionaires, China is coming up on the 724 held by the United States. Beijing overtaking NYC could be the beginning of a larger tipping point.

Shifting Tides

Asia-Pacific’s collective 1,149 billionaires are worth $4.7 trillion, while U.S. billionaires are worth $4.4 trillion in total wealth.

Overall, it looks like the wealth tides may be turning as China continues to progress economically and more billionaires become based in the East over the West.

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