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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

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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Technology

The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Capitalization

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The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Cap

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

Ever since Apple and other Big Tech companies hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion, many sectors are revving to follow suit—including the automotive industry.

But among those car brands racing to reach this total valuation, some are closer to the finish line than others. This visualization uses data from Yahoo Finance to rank the world’s top car manufacturers by market capitalization.

What could this spell for the future of the automotive industry?

A special hat-tip to Brandon Knoblauch for compiling the original, regularly-updated spreadsheet.

The World’s Top Car Manufacturers

It’s clear one company is pulling far ahead of the pack. In the competition to clinch this coveted title, Tesla is the undoubted favorite so far.

The electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy company first became the world’s most valuable car manufacturer in June 2020, and shows no signs of slowing its trajectory.

RankCompanyMarket Cap (US$B)Country
#1Tesla$795.8🇺🇸 U.S.
#2Toyota$207.5🇯🇵 Japan
#3Volkswagen$96.7🇩🇪 Germany
#4BYD$92.7🇨🇳 China
#5NIO$89.5🇨🇳 China
#6Daimler$72.8🇩🇪 Germany
#7General Motors$71.3🇺🇸 U.S.
#8BMW$54.2🇩🇪 Germany
#9Stellantis$54.2🇳🇱 Netherlands
#10Ferrari$52.5🇮🇹 Italy
#11Honda$46.9🇯🇵 Japan
#12Hyundai$46.8🇰🇷 South Korea
#13SAIC$45.2🇨🇳 China
#14Geely$39.5🇨🇳 China
#15Ford$39.4🇺🇸 U.S.
#16Xpeng$33.9🇨🇳 China
#17Maruti Suzuki$33.1🇮🇳 India
#18Li Auto$29.5🇨🇳 China
#19Suzuki$23.7🇯🇵 Japan
#20Nissan$20.1🇯🇵 Japan
#21Subaru$15.2🇯🇵 Japan
#22Changan$14.6🇨🇳 China
#23Mahindra$13.9🇮🇳 India
#24Renault$12.0🇫🇷 France

All data as of January 15, 2021 (9:30AM PST)

Tesla’s competitive advantage comes as a result of its dedicated emphasis on research and development (R&D). In fact, many of its rivals have admitted that Tesla’s electronics far surpass their own—a teardown revealed that its batteries and AI chips are roughly six years ahead of other industry giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen.

The Green Revolution is Underway

The sheer growth of Tesla may spell the inevitability of a green revolution in the industry. Already, many major brands have followed in the company’s tracks, announcing their own ambitious plans to add more EVs to their vehicle line-ups.

Here’s how a selection of car manufacturers are embracing the electric future:

Toyota: Ranked #2

The second-most valuable car manufacturer in the world, Toyota is steadily ramping up its EV output. In 2020, it produced 10,000 EVs and plans to increase this to 30,000 in 2021.

Through this gradual increase, the company hopes to hit an expected target of 500,000 EVs by 2025. Toyota also aims to debut 10 new models internationally to achieve this goal.

Volkswagen: Ranked #3

By 2025, Volkswagen plans to invest $86 billion into digital and EV technologies. Considering the car manufacturer generates the most gross revenue per second of all automakers, it’s no wonder Volkswagen is looking to the future in order to keep such numbers up.

The company is also well-positioned to ride the wave of a potential consumer shift towards EVs in Europe. In response to the region’s strict emissions targets, Volkswagen upped its planned sales proportions for European hybrid and EV sales from 40% to 60% by 2030.

BYD and Nio: Ranked #4-5

China jumped on the electric bandwagon early. Eager to make its mark as a global leader in the emerging technology of lithium ion batteries (an essential component of any EV), the Chinese government handed out billions of dollars in subsidies—fueling the growths of domestic car manufacturers BYD and Nio alike.

BYD gained the interest and attention of its billionaire backer Warren Buffett, while Nio is China’s response to Tesla and an attempt to capture the EV market locally.

General Motors: Ranked #7

Also with a 2025 target year in mind, General Motors is investing $27 billion into electric and fully autonomous vehicles. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too—the company also hopes to launch 30 new fully electric vehicles by the same year.

One particular factor is giving GM confidence: its new EV battery creations. They will be able to extend the range of its new EVs to 400 miles (644km) on a single charge, at a rate that rivals Tesla’s Model S.

Stellantis: Ranked #9

In a long-anticipated move, Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot S.A. finalized their merger into Stellantis N.V. on January 16, 2021.

With the combined forces and funds of a $52 billion deal, the new Dutch-based car manufacturer hopes to rival bigger brands and race even more quickly towards the electric shift.

Honda: Ranked #11

Speaking of fast-paced races, Honda has decided to bow out of future Formula One (F1) World Championships. As these competitions were usually a way for the company to show off its engineering prowess, the move was a surprising one.

However, there’s a noble reason behind this decision. Honda is choosing instead to focus on its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. To do so, it’ll be shifting its financial resources away from F1 and towards R&D into fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies.

Ford: Ranked #15

Ford knows exactly what its fans want. In that regard, its electrification plans begin with its most popular commercial cars, such as the Mustang Mach-E SUV. This is Ford’s major strategy for attracting new EV buyers, part of a larger $11.5 billion investment agenda into EVs through 2022.

While the car’s specs compare to Tesla’s Model Y, its engineers also drew from the iPhone and Netflix to incorporate an infotainment system and driver profiles to create a truly tech-first specimen.

Speeding into the Horizon

As more and more companies enter the racetrack, EV innovation across the entire industry may power the move to lower overall costs, extend the total range of vehicles, and put any other concerns by potential buyers to rest.

While Tesla is currently in the best position to become the first car manufacturer to reach the $1 trillion milestone, how long will it be for the others to catch up?

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2021 Edition)

Which commodity had the best returns in 2020? From gold to oil, we show how commodity price performance stacks up over the last decade.

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2011-2020)

Being a commodity investor can feel like riding a roller coaster.

Take silver. Typically known for sharp, idiosyncratic price movements, it faced double-digit declines in the first half of the decade, falling over 35% in just 2013 alone. By contrast, it jumped over 47% in 2020. Similarly, oil, corn, and others witnessed either steep declines or rapid gains.

The above graphic from U.S. Global Investors traces 10 years of commodity price performance, highlighting 14 different commodities and their annual ranking over the years.

Commodity Price Performance, From Best to Worst

Which commodities were the top performers in 2020?

The aforementioned silver tripled its returns year-over-year, climbing 47.9% in 2020. In July, the metal actually experienced its strongest month since 1979.

RankCommodity
Return (2020)
Return (2019)
Return (2018)
1Silver47.9%15.2%-8.5%
2Copper26.0%3.4%-17.5%
3Palladium25.9%54.2%18.6%
4Gold25.1%18.3%-1.6%
5Corn24.8%3.4%6.9%
6Zinc19.7%-9.5%-24.5%
7Nickel18.7%31.6%-16.5%
8Gas16.0%-25.5%-0.4%
9Wheat14.6%11.0%17.9%
10Platinum10.9%21.5%-14.5%
11Aluminum10.8%-4.4%-17.4%
12Lead3.3%-4.7%-19.2%
13Coal-1.3%-18.0%-22.2%
14Oil-20.5%34.5%-24.8%

Along with silver, at least seven other commodities had stronger returns than the S&P 500 in 2020, which closed off the year with 16.3% gains. This included copper (26.0%), palladium (25.9%), gold (25.1%) and corn (24.8%).

Interestingly, copper prices moved in an unconventional pattern compared to gold in 2020. Often, investors rush to gold in uncertain economic climates, while sectors such as construction and manufacturing—which both rely heavily on copper—tend to decline. Instead, both copper and gold saw their prices rise in conjunction.

Nowadays, copper is also a vital material in electric vehicles (EVs), with recent demand for EVs also influencing the price of copper.

Silver Linings

As investors flocked to safety, silver’s price reached heights not seen since 2010.

The massive scale of monetary and fiscal stimulus led to inflationary fears, also boosting the price of silver. How does this compare to its returns over the last decade?

silver returns 2011-2020

In 2013, silver crashed over 35% as confidence grew in global markets. By contrast, in 2016, the Brexit referendum stirred uncertainty in global markets. Investors allocated money in silver, and prices shifted upwards.

As Gold as the Hills

Like silver, market uncertainty has historically boosted the price of gold.

What else contributed to gold’s rise?

  • U.S. debt continues to climb, pushing down confidence in the U.S. dollar
  • A weaker U.S. dollar makes gold cheaper for other countries to buy
  • Low interest rates kept the returns of other safe haven assets low, making gold more attractive by comparison

Here’s how the price of gold has changed in recent years.

gold returns 2011-2020

Gold faced its steepest recent declines in 2013, when the Federal Reserve bank discussed tapering down its quantitative easing program in light of economic recovery.

Hitting the Brakes On Oil

Oil suffered the worst commodity price performance in 2020, with -20.5% returns.

For the first time in history, oil prices went negative as demand plummeted. To limit its oversupply, oil producers shrunk investment, closed wells, and turned off valves. Unfortunately, many companies still faced bankruptcies. By November, 45 oil producers had proceeded with bankruptcy filings year-to-date.

This stood in stark contrast to 2019, when prices soared 34.5%.

oil returns 2011-2020

As is custom for oil, prices see-sawed over the decade. In 2016 and 2019, it witnessed gains of over 30%. However, like 2020, in 2014 it saw huge losses due to an oversupply of global petroleum.

In 2020, total production cuts hit 7.2 million barrels a day in December, equal to 7% of global demand, in response to COVID-19.

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