You can learn a lot about the world simply by observing. The same is true of the global investment landscape. Financial markets provide a short-cut to the global investment outlook. Share prices, for example, reflect the wisdom of millions of informed (some less so) investors with skin in the game. The crowd doesn’t always get it right (see China A-share market), but it is always a worthwhile exercise to listen to what the crowd is saying if only to know where your views differ.
What is the crowd saying about the global investment outlook today? The graphic below charts the year-to-date performance of the top and bottom S&P 500 sub-industries.
There are a few takeaways for you in the top performing group. With video game makers, internet retailers (these are your Amazon, Netflix, and Trip Advisors of the world), and managed care and health care facilities (up big because Obamacare is encouraging a merger frenzy) among the best performing sectors, there is still a strong element of speculation driving stocks.
On a more economically important note, it is encouraging for the still depressed housing market to see construction materials as well as home furnishing stocks among this year’s top performers. That probably bodes well for the housing market over coming quarters.
The good news stops there though. The makeup of the worst performing S&P 500 sub-industries YTD sends a signal of caution on the global investment outlook. Four of the worst performing sub-industries in the S&P 500 YTD are in the commodity space. Oil and gas stocks are down big as are coal, aluminum, and diversified metals. Falling commodity prices may signal global demand is waning—never an encouraging sign. The rails and the airlines are also among the worst performers YTD. Both are in the transportation sector of the economy. Transports tend to be a leading indicator of economic performance. Is the crowd telling us that global growth is headed into the tank? The economically sensitive semi-conductor index would seem to agree with that view as it is also down big YTD.
Putting it all together, one might interpret the YTD performance of the S&P sub-industries as sending a signal that the consumer oriented sectors of the U.S. economy still look OK, but the U.S. industrial sector as well as the global economy may face trouble in the months and quarters ahead.
Jeremy Jones, CFA
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