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:
|Index||Jan 2020||Feb 2020||Mar 2020||Apr 2020||May 2020||June 2020||July 17, 2020|
|S&P 500 Value||3225.5||2954.2||2584.6||2912.4||3044.3||3100.3||3224.7|
|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 Sector||Index weight as of June 30, 2020 (%)|
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:
|Stock||Market Cap as of June 30, 2020 ($)|
|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:
|Issuer||Category||Index Weight (%)|
|Toyota Motor Credit Corp||Consumer cyclical||1.74%|
|Volkswagen Group America||Consumer cyclical||1.74%|
|Daimler Finance NA LLC||Consumer cyclical||1.72%|
|General Electric||Capital goods||1.48%|
|Ford Motor Credit Co LLC||Consumer cyclical||1.34%|
|BMW US Capital LLC||Consumer cyclical||1.25%|
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 billion||Tracks an index composed of USD-denominated, investment grade corporate bonds.|
|Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF (VCSH)||$1.3 billion||Invests primarily in investment grade corporate bonds, maintaining an average maturity of 1 to 5 years.|
|Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond ETF (VCIT)||$1.0 billion||Invests primarily in investment grade corporate bonds, maintaining an average maturity of 5 to 10 years.|
|iShares Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF (IGSB)||$608 million||Tracks 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 million||Seeks to provide a diversified exposure to USD-denominated high yield corporate bonds.|
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.
Saying Bye to Facebook: Why Companies Change Their Name
Facebook’s impending rebrand will impact the company’s future. Why do companies change their name, and what can we learn from past examples?
As anyone who’s started a company knows, choosing a name is no easy task.
There are many considerations, such as:
- Are the social handles and domain name available?
- Is there a competitor already using a similar name?
- Can people spell, pronounce, and remember the name?
- Are there cultural or symbolic interpretations that could be problematic?
The list goes on. These considerations are amplified when a company is already established, and even more difficult when your company serves billions of users around the globe.
Facebook (likely the parent company, not the social network) is on the eve of a name change, and we’ll unpack some probable reasons for that. But first we’ll look at historical corporate name changes in recent history, exploring the various motivations behind why a company might change its name. Below are some of the categories of rebranding that stand out the most.
Societal perceptions can change fast, and companies do their best to anticipate these changes in advance. Or, if they don’t change in time, their hands might get forced.
As time goes on, companies with more overt negative externalities have come under pressure—particularly in the era of ESG investing. Social pressure was behind the name changes at Total and Philip Morris. In the case of the former, the switch to TotalEnergies was meant to signal the company’s shift beyond oil and gas to include renewable energy.
In some cases, the reason why companies change their name is more subtle. GMAC (General Motors Acceptance Corporation) didn’t want to be associated with subprime lending and the subsequent multi-billion dollar bailout from the U.S. government, and a name change was one way of starting with a “clean slate”. The financial services company rebranded to Ally in 2010.
Hitting the Reset Button
Brands can become unpopular over time because of scandals, a decline in quality, or countless other reasons. When this happens, a name change can be a way of getting customers to shed those old, negative connotations.
Internet and TV providers rank dead last in customer satisfaction ratings, so it’s no surprise that many have changed their names in recent years.
We Do More
This is a very common scenario, particularly as companies go through a rapid expansion or find success with new product offerings. After a period of sustained growth and change, a company may find that the current name is too limiting or no longer accurately reflects what the company has become.
Both Apple and Starbucks have simplified their company names over the years. The former dropped “Computers” from its name in 2007, and Starbucks dropped “Coffee” from its name in 2011. In both these cases, the name change meant disassociating the company with what initially made them successful, but in both cases it was a gamble that paid off.
One of the biggest name changes in recent years is the switch from Google to Alphabet. This name change signaled the company’s desire to expand beyond internet search and advertising.
The Start-Up Name Pivot
Another very common name change scenario is the early-stage name change.
In the world of music, there’s speculation that limited melodies and subconscious plagiarism will make creating new music increasingly difficult in the future. Similarly, there are millions of companies in the world and only so many short and snappy names. (That’s how we end up with companies called Quibi.)
Many of the popular digital services we use today started with very different names. The Google we know today was once called Backrub. Instagram began life as Bourbn, and Twitter began life as “Twittr” before finding a spare E in the scrabble pile.
As mentioned above, many companies start out as speculative experiments or passion projects, when a viable, well-vetted name isn’t high on the priority list. As a result, new companies can run into problems with copyright.
This was the case when Picaboo, the precursor of Snapchat, was forced to change their name in 2011. The existing Picaboo—a photobook company—was not thrilled to share a name with an app that was primarily associated with sexting at the time.
The fight over the name WWF was a more unique scenario. In 1994, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Wrestling Federation had a mutual agreement that the latter would stop using the initials internationally, except for fleeting uses such as “WWF champion”. In the end though, the agreement was largely ignored, and the issue became a sticking point when the wrestling company registered wwf.com. Eventually, the company rebranded as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) after losing a lawsuit.
To err is human, and rebranding exercises don’t always hit the mark. When a name change is universally panned or, perhaps worse, not relevant, it’s time to course correct.
Tribune Publishing was forced to backtrack after their name change to Tronc in 2016. The widely-panned name, which was stylized in all lower case, was seen as a clumsy attempt to become a digital-first publisher.
Why Is Facebook Changing Its Name?
Facebook is eyeing a name change for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that the brand is irrevocably associated with scandals, negative externalities, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Even before the most recent outage and whistle-blowing scandal, Facebook was already the least-trusted tech company by a long shot. Mark Zuckerberg was once the most admired CEO in Silicon Valley, but has since fallen from grace.
It’s easy to focus on the negative triggers for the impending name change, but there is some substance behind the change as well. For one, Facebook recognizes that privacy issues have put their primary source of revenue at risk. The company’s ad-driven model built upon its users’ data is coming under increasing scrutiny with each passing year.
As well, there is substance behind the metaverse hype. Facebook first signaled their ambitions in 2014, when it acquired the virtual reality headset maker Oculus. A sizable portion of the company’s workforce is already working on making the metaverse concept a reality, and there are plans to hire 10,000 more people in Europe over the next five years.
It remains to be seen whether this immense gamble pays off, but for the near future, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s investors will be keeping a close eye on how this name change and transition play out. After all, there are billions of dollars at stake.
Visualizing Social Risk in the World’s Top Investment Hubs
In a third of the world’s top investment hubs, citizens face significant threats to their civil, political, and labor rights.
Visualizing the Social Risk of the World’s Top Investment Hubs
As social responsibility becomes an important aspect of doing business, it’s more crucial than ever for decision-makers to understand the risks associated with various global markets.
This graphic, using data from a report by Verisk Maplecroft, looks at the world’s top cities for foreign direct investment (FDI) and assesses their relative levels of social risk.
In the article below, we’ll take a look at the research methodology to explain how risk was assessed in the report and touch on some key markets that placed high on the ranking.
The Relationship Between FDI and Social Risk
To look at the relationship between FDI and social risk, the report identified the top 100 cities for FDI in 2020, using data from fDi Markets (the Financial Times’ foreign investment monitor).
From there, social risk in the top 100 FDI cities was measured using data from Verisk Maplecroft’s [email protected] Social Index. The index measures the social risk landscape of 575 different cities across the globe, using three key pillars:
- Civil and political rights: the right to protest, security force abuses
- Labor rights: child labor, modern slavery
- Poverty: portion of population in extreme poverty
After calculating scores based on these three metrics, cities were then grouped into four categories to measure their level of social risk:
- Low risk
- Medium risk
- High risk
- Extreme risk
Based on this analysis, citizens in 33 of the top 100 cities for FDI (representing $71 billion of inward investment) are at ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of social risk, meaning they face significant threats to their civil, political, and labor rights.
Of the top 100 places, Istanbul and Izmir rank the highest when it comes to overall human rights risks, largely because of labor rights violations and the exploitation of migrant and refugee workers. This is something manufacturers should take note of, especially those who outsource production to these Turkish cities.
In contrast, Beijing, which places third on the list, scores high due to China’s various civil rights issues. Other major manufacturing and commercial hubs in China, like Guangzhou and Shanghai, place high on the list as well.
Overall Social Risk Index
While a third of the top FDI cities are at high or extreme social risk, this figure is even higher when looking at all 575 cities included in the [email protected] Social Index.
Of the 575 cities, 75% are classified as ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk. Mogadishu, Somalia is the highest risk city, followed by Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs in Syria, Pyongyang in North Korea, and Sanaa in Yemen.
While the high-risk cities are spread across the globe, it’s worth noting that 240 of the high and extreme risk cities are located in Asia.
Civil and Political Risk Index
In addition to the overall ranking, the report provides insight into specific human rights violations, highlighting which cities are most at risk.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pyongyang, North Korea places first on the list when it comes to civil and political rights violations. Under the current North Korean regime, some significant civil rights violations include arbitrary arrests and detentions, the holding of political prisoners and detainees, and a lack of judicial independence.
In addition to North Korea, Syria places high on the civil rights risk index as well, with three of the top five cities located in the war-torn country.
Labor Rights Index
When focusing specifically on labor rights, almost half of the ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk cities are in Europe and Central Asia.
The biggest problems across a majority of ‘high’ risk cities include child labor, the exploitation of migrant workers, and modern slavery. Pakistan in particular struggles with child labor issues, with an estimated 3.3 million children in situations of forced labor.
What This Means for Foreign Investors
Understanding a country’s social landscape can help organizations make decisions on where to conduct business, especially those that prioritize ESG efforts.
And, while organizations who invest in ‘high’ risk locations aren’t directly involved in any human rights violations, being associated with a ‘high’ risk city could impact a corporation’s reputation, or cause financial damage down the line.
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