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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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The New Rules of Leadership: 5 Forces Shaping Expectations of CEOs

This infographic delves into five major forces reshaping our world and the new rules of leadership that CEOs should follow as a result.

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It’s common knowledge that CEOs assume a long list of roles and responsibilities.

But in today’s world, more and more people rely on them to go beyond their day-to-day responsibilities and advocate for broader social change. In fact, a number of external forces are changing how leaders are now expected to behave.

How can leaders juggle these evolving expectations while successfully leading their companies into the future?

The New Rules of Leadership

This infographic from bestselling author Vince Molinaro explores five drivers reshaping our world that leaders must pay attention to in order to bring about real change.

“the

How is the World Being Reshaped?

Leaders need to constantly stay one step ahead of the transformative forces that impact businesses on a broader scale.

Below we outline five key drivers that are changing what it means to be a leader in today’s world:

1. Transformative Technologies

Over the last number of decades, several technologies have emerged that could either accelerate the disruption of companies, or provide them with new opportunities for growth. According to KPMG, 72% of CEOs believe the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the previous 50 years.

For example, artificial intelligence (AI), can now provide companies with insights into what motivates their employees and how they can help them succeed. IBM’s AI predictive attrition program can even predict when employees are about to quit—saving them roughly $300 million in retention costs.

Leaders must accept that the future will be mediated by technology, and how they respond could determine whether or not their organization survives entirely.

2. Geopolitical Instability

Geopolitical risks—such as trade disputes or civil unrest—can have a catastrophic impact on a business’s bottom line, no matter its industry. Although 52% of CEOs believe the geopolitical landscape is having a significant impact on their companies, only a small portion say they have taken active steps to address these risks.

By being more sensitive to the world around them, leaders can anticipate and potentially mitigate these risks. Extensive research into geopolitical trends and leveraging the appropriate experts could support a geopolitical risk strategy, and alleviate some of the potential repercussions.

3. Revolutionizing the Working Environment

As the future of work looms, leaders are being presented with the opportunity to reimagine the inner workings of their company. But right now, they are fighting against a wide spectrum of predictions around what they should expect, with estimations surrounding the automation risk of jobs ranging from 5% to 61% as a prime example.

While physical, repetitive, or basic cognitive tasks carry a higher risk of automation, the critical work that remains will require human interaction, creativity, and judgment.

Leaders should avoid getting caught up in the hype regarding the future of work, and simply focus on helping their employees navigate the next decade.

By creating an inspiring work environment and investing in retraining and reskilling, leaders can nurture employee well-being and create a sense of connectedness and resilience in the workplace.

4. Delivering Diversity

Diversity and inclusion can serve as a path to engaging employees, and leaders are being asked to step up and deliver like never before. A staggering 77% of people feel that CEOs are responsible for leading change on important social issues like racial inequality.

But while delivering diversity, equity, and inclusion seems to be growing in importance, many companies are struggling to understand the weight of this issue.

An example of this is Noah’s Ark Paradox, which describes the belief that hiring “two of every kind” creates a diverse work environment. In reality, this creates a false sense of inclusion because the voices of these people may never actually be heard.

Modern day leaders must create a place of belonging where everyone—regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, or age—is listened to.

5. Repurposing Corporations

The drivers listed above ladder up to the fact that society is looking to businesses to help solve important issues, and leaders are the ones being held accountable.

With 84% of people expecting CEOs to inform conversations and policy debates on one or more pressing issues, from job automation to the impact of globalization, CEOs have the potential to transform their organization by galvanizing employees on the topics that matter to them.

For a long time, the purpose of corporations was purely to create value for shareholders. Now, leaders are obligated to follow a set of five commitments:

  1. Deliver value to customers
  2. Invest in employees
  3. Deal fairly and ethically with suppliers
  4. Support communities
  5. Generate long-term value for shareholders

Ultimately, these five commitments build currency for trust, which is critical for sustained growth and building a productive and satisfied workforce.

Lead the Future

If leaders understand the context they operate in, they can identify opportunities that could fuel their organization’s growth, or alternatively, help them pivot in the face of impending threats.

But organizations must invest in the development of their leaders so that they can see the bigger picture—and many are failing to do so.

By recognizing the new rules of leadership, CEOs and managers can successfully lead their organizations, and the world, into a new and uncertain future.

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3D Map: The U.S. Cities With the Highest Economic Output

The total U.S. GDP stands at a whopping $21 trillion, but which metro areas contribute to the most in terms of economic output?

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US Cities by Economic Output

3D Map: The U.S. Cities With the Highest Economic Output

At over $21 trillion, the U.S. holds the title of the world’s largest economy—accounting for almost a quarter of the global GDP total. However, the fact is that a few select cities are responsible for a large share of the country’s total economic output.

This unique 3D map from HowMuch puts into perspective the city corridors which contribute the most to the American economy at large.

Top 10 Metros by Economic Output

The visualization pulls the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA, 2018), and ranks the top 10 metro area economies in the country.

One thing is immediately clear—the New York metro area dwarfs all other metro area by a large margin. This cluster, which includes Newark and Jersey City, is bigger than the metro areas surrounding Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

RankMetro AreaState codesGDP (2018)
#1New York-Newark-Jersey CityNY-NJ-PA $1.77T
#2Los Angeles-Long Beach-AnaheimCA$1.05T
#3Chicago-Naperville-ElginIL-IN-WI$0.69T
#4San Francisco-Oakland-BerkeleyCA$0.55T
#5Washington-Arlington-AlexandriaDC-VA-MD-WV$0.54T
#6Dallas-Fort Worth-ArlingtonTX$0.51T
#7Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar LandTX$0.48T
#8Boston-Cambridge-NewtonMA-NH$0.46T
#9Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD$0.44T
#10Atlanta-Sandy Springs-AlpharettaGA$0.40T
Total GDP$6.90T

Coming in fourth place is San Francisco on the West Coast, with $549 billion in total economic output each year. Meanwhile in the South, the Dallas metroplex brings in $478 billion, placing it sixth in the ranks.

It’s worth noting that using individual metro areas is one way to view things, but geographers also think of urban life in broader terms as well. Given the proximity of cities in the Northeast, places like Boston, NYC, and Washington, D.C. are sometimes grouped into a single megaregion. When viewed this way, the corridor is actually the world’s largest in economic terms.

U.S. States: Sum of Its Parts

Zooming out beyond just these massive cities demonstrates the combined might of the U.S. in another unique way. Tallying all the urban and rural areas, every state economy can be compared to the size of entire countries.

US States and Country Comparison by GDP 2018

According to the American Enterprise Institute, the state of California brings in a GDP that rivals the United Kingdom in its entirety.

By this same measure, Texas competes with Canada in terms of pure economic output, despite a total land area that’s 15 times less that of the Great White North.

With COVID-19 continuing to impact parts of the global economy disproportionately, how will these kinds of economic comparisons hold up in the future?

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