In developed economies around the world, it’s generally expected that currencies will retain their purchasing power over time.
While this is most often the case, sometimes there are situations in which currency markets begin acting in ways that are less predictable.
Growing amounts of political or economic uncertainty, for example, can cause a currency to experience amplified levels of volatility — an environment in which it may see bigger ups and downs than most market participants are used to.
Brexit, Currency Risk, and the Pound
Today’s infographic comes to us from BlackRock, and it focuses in on the recent volatility of the British pound to illustrate how currency risk can impact a UK investor’s portfolio, and how this risk can be mitigated through currency hedging techniques.
Currency risk is present in any unhedged portfolio that holds investments denominated in international currencies.
When currencies experience increased levels of volatility — such as the British pound over the last five years — it can make this risk even more evident, ultimately impacting investor returns.
Brexit in Focus
In the lead-up to the EU Referendum in June 2016, and certainly afterwards, it’s been clear that the sterling has decoupled from its typical trading patterns.
Sterling volatility, as you would know, is at emerging market levels and has decoupled from other advanced economy pairs.
– Mark Carney, Bank of England (September 2019)
Every twist and turn in the Brexit saga has helped stoke fluctuations in the value of the pound, especially in usually stable pairs such as EUR/GBP or USD/GBP. It is possible that these swings could continue throughout 2020, and even beyond.
What impact can these fluctuations have on investment portfolios, and what can investors do to avoid them?
Currency Risk 101
The challenge of currency risk is that it can affect returns, either positively or negatively.
In other words, in addition to the risk you are exposed to by owning a particular investment, you are also at the mercy of foreign exchange rates. This means the performance of your investment could be canceled out by currency fluctuations, or returns could be amplified if exchange rate movements are to your advantage.
For example, in a typical UK portfolio that holds 60% global equities and 40% global bonds, currency risk actually has the highest projected risk contribution:
Projected Risk Contribution (60/40 Global Portfolio)
- Foreign Exchange Risk: 4.55%
- Equity Risk: 3.36%
- Interest Rate Risk: 0.44%
- Spread Risk: 0.06%
- Total: 8.40%
When there is added volatility in currency markets, like in recent times, even a home-biased portfolio can be adversely affected. Given this, how can investors be sure they are getting a return from the underlying assets in a portfolio, instead of from unpredictable currency swings?
To Hedge, or Not to Hedge
There is a range of strategies that allow investors to hedge currency risk, but one simpler option may be to simply buy a fund (such as an ETF) that is hedged.
That said, not all investors may want to hedge currency risk. For example, an investor has a specific foreign exchange view (i.e. that a currency will go up or down in value) may want to purposefully get exposure to currency risk to take advantage of this view.
While it may not always make sense to use currency-hedged funds, they can reduce the overall investment risk on international exposures.
And if you are not so sure of where the pound is heading in coming months, now could potentially be a good time to explore such a tool.
How Total Spend by U.S. Advertisers Has Changed, Over 20 Years
This graphic visualizes the fluctuations in advertising spend in the U.S., along with its brutal decline of 13% as a result of COVID-19.
Total Spend by U.S. Advertisers, Over 20 Years
With an advertising economy worth $239 billion in 2019, it’s safe to say that the U.S. is home to some of the biggest advertising spenders on the planet.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the major upheaval of advertising spend, and it is unlikely to recover for some time.
The graphic above uses data from Ad Age’s Leading National Advertisers 2020 which measures U.S. advertising spend each year, and ranks 100 national advertisers by their total spend in 2019.
Let’s take a look at the brands with the biggest budgets.
2019’s Biggest Advertising Spenders
Much of the top 10 biggest advertising spenders are in the telecommunications industry, but it is retail giant Amazon that tops the list with an advertising spend of almost $7 billion.
In fact, Amazon spent an eye-watering $21,000 per minute on advertising and promotion in 2019, making them undeniably the largest advertising spender in America.
Explore the 100 biggest advertisers in 2019 below:
|Rank||Company||Total U.S. Ad Spend 2019||Industry|
|#4||Procter & Gamble||$4.3B||Consumer Goods|
|#9||American Express||$3.0B||Financial Services|
|#11||JPMorgan Chase||$2.8B||Financial Services|
|#16||Nestlé||$2.3B||Food & Beverages|
|#18||Expedia Group||$2.2B||Travel & Hospitality|
|#19||Capital One Financial||$2.2B||Financial Services|
|#20||Fiat Chrysler Automobiles||$2.0B||Automotive|
|#24||PepsiCo||$1.7B||Food & Beverages|
|#25||Bank of America||$1.7B||Financial Services|
|#28||McDonald’s||$1.6B||Food & Beverages|
|#29||Booking Holdings||$1.6B||Travel & Hospitality|
|#31||Johnson & Johnson||$1.5B||Pharmaceuticals|
|#32||Anheuser-Busch InBev||$1.5B||Food & Beverages|
|#34||Merck & Co.||$1.5B||Logistics|
|#44||Wells Fargo||$1.1B||Financial Services|
|#45||Yum Brands||$1.1B||Food & Beverages|
|#51||Diageo||$918M||Food & Beverages|
|#53||Discover Financial Services||$883M||Financial Services|
|#54||Mars||$880M||Food & Beverages|
|#58||Molson Coors||$822M||Food & Beverages|
|#61||Coca-Cola||$816M||Food & Beverages|
|#64||Kraft Heinz||$782M||Food & Beverages|
|#70||Constellation Brands||$749M||Food & Beverages|
|#80||Marriott International||$667M||Travel & Hospitality|
|#89||Reckitt Benckiser||$593M||Consumer Goods|
|#90||Keurig Dr Pepper||$593M||Food & Beverages|
|#91||Restaurant Brands International||$589M||Food & Beverages|
|#92||Inspire Brands||$589M||Food & Beverages|
The report offers several ways of looking at this data—for example, when looking at highest spend by medium, Procter & Gamble comes out on top for traditional media spend like broadcast and cable TV.
On the digital front, Expedia Group is the biggest spender on desktop search, while Amazon tops the list for internet display ads.
The Rise and Fall of Advertising Spend
Interestingly, changes in advertising spend tend to fall closely in step with broader economic growth. In fact, for every 1% increase in U.S. GDP, there is a 4.4% rise of advertising that occurs in tandem.
The same phenomenon can be seen among the biggest advertising spenders in the country. Since 2000, spend has seen both promising growth, and drastic declines. Unsurprisingly, the Great Recession resulted in the largest drop in spend ever recorded, and now it looks as though history may be repeating itself.
Total advertising spend in the U.S. is estimated this year to see a brutal decline of almost 13% and is unlikely to return to previous levels for a number of years.
The COVID-19 Gut Punch
To say that the global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted consumer behavior would be an understatement, and perhaps the most notable change is how they now consume content.
With more people staying safe indoors, there is less need for traditional media formats such as out-of-home advertising. As a result, online media is taking its place, as an increase in spend for this format shows.
But despite marketers trying to optimize their media strategy or stripping back their budget entirely, many governments across the world are ramping up their spend on advertising to promote public health messages—or in the case of the U.S., to canvass.
The Saving Grace?
Even though advertising spend is expected to nosedive by almost 13% in 2020, this figure excludes political advertising. When taking that into account, the decline becomes a slightly more manageable 7.6%
Moreover, according to industry research firm Kantar, advertising spend for the 2020 U.S. election is estimated to reach $7 billion—the same as Amazon’s 2019 spend—making it the most expensive election of all time.
Can political advertising be the key to the advertising industry bouncing back again?
Visualized: A Breakdown of Amazon’s Revenue Model
Here’s a look at the different parts of Amazon’s revenue model, and how much money each business segment makes.
Visualized: A Breakdown of Amazon’s Revenue Model
Amazon has evolved into more than just an online store. While ecommerce makes up a significant portion of the company’s overall sales, its diverse revenue model generates billions through various business segments.
This visualization provides an overview of the different parts that make up Amazon, showing each business unit’s net sales from June 2019 to 2020.
A Diverse Revenue Model
With a market cap of $1.7 trillion, Amazon is currently the most valuable retailer in the world. The company is expected to account for 4.6% of total U.S. retail sales by the end of 2020—but the tech giant is more than just a one-trick pony.
A key factor in the company’s success is its diversification into other areas. Here’s a breakdown of Amazon’s revenue mix:
|Business Segment||Net Sales (June 2019 - 2020)|
|Online stores||$163 B|
|Third-party selling services||$63 B|
|Amazon Web Services||$40 B|
|Subscription services||$22 B|
|Physical stores||$17 B|
|Total Revenue||$322 billion|
While Amazon is truly more than an online store, it’s worth noting that online sales account for a significant amount of the company’s overall revenue mix. Over the period of June 2019 to 2020, product sales from Amazon’s website generated $163 billion, which is more than the company’s other business units combined.
A significant day for online sales is Prime Day, which has grown into a major shopping event comparable to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In 2020, Prime Day is projected to generate almost $10 billion in global revenue.
While ecommerce makes up a large portion of Amazon’s overall sales, there are many other segments that each generate billions in revenue to create immense value for the tech giant. For instance, enabling third-party sellers on the platform is the company’s second-largest unit in terms of net sales, racking up $63 billion over the course of a year.
This segment has shown tremendous growth over the last two decades. In 2018, it accounted for 58% of gross merchandise sales on Amazon, compared to just 3% in 2000. While third-party sellers technically outsold Amazon itself, the company still makes money through commission and shipping fees.
Amazon is Not Alone: Diversification is Common
Amazon isn’t the only major tech company to benefit from diverse revenue streams.
Other tech giants generate revenue through a range of products, services, and applications—for instance, while a healthy portion of Apple’s revenue comes from iPhone sales, the company captures 17% of revenue from a mix of services, ranging from Apple Pay to Apple Music. Microsoft is another example of this, considering it owns a wide range of hardware, cloud services, and platforms.
While there are several reasons to build a diverse business portfolio, a key benefit that comes from diversification is having a buffer against market crashes. This has proven to be particularly important in 2020, given the economic devastation caused by the global pandemic.
The Sum of its Parts
Despite varying levels of sales, each business unit brings unique value to Amazon.
For instance, while Amazon Web Services (AWS) falls behind online sales and third-party sellers in net sales, it’s one of the most profitable segments of the company. In the fourth quarter of 2019, more than half of Amazon’s operating income came from AWS.
In short, when looking at the many segments of Amazon, one thing is clear—the company is truly the sum of its parts.
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