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The Uncommon Average

S&P Composite 1500®: Measuring Market Trends

From “Hard to Beat” to Nigh-On Impossible

Strongest Annual Performance for the S&P GSCI Since 2007

The Rising Importance of Dividends When Earnings Slow

The Uncommon Average

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Wes Crill

Vice President, Research

Dimensional Fund Advisors

The US stock market has delivered an average annual return of around 10% since 1926.[1] But short-term results may vary, and in any given period stock returns can be positive, negative, or flat. When setting expectations, it’s helpful for investors saving for retirement to see the range of outcomes experienced historically. For example, how often have the stock market’s annual returns aligned with its long-term average?

Exhibit 1 shows calendar year returns for the S&P 500 since 1926. The shaded band marks the historical average of 10%, plus or minus 2 percentage points. The S&P 500 had a return within this range in only six of the past 93 calendar years. In most years, the index’s return was outside of the range—often above or below by a wide margin—with no obvious pattern. For investors, the data highlight the importance of looking beyond average returns and being aware of the range of potential outcomes.

Tuning in to Different Frequencies

Despite the year-to-year volatility, investors can potentially increase their chances of having a positive outcome by maintaining a long-term focus. Exhibit 2 documents the historical frequency of positive returns over rolling periods of one, five, and 10 years in the US market. The data show that, while positive performance is never assured, investors’ odds improve over longer time horizons.


While some investors might find it easy to stay the course in years with above average returns, periods of disappointing results may test an investor’s faith in equity markets. Being aware of the range of potential outcomes can help investors remain disciplined, which in the long term can increase the odds of a successful investment experience. What can help investors endure the ups and downs? While there is no silver bullet, understanding how markets work and trusting market prices are good starting points. An asset allocation that aligns with personal risk tolerances and retirement-planning goals is also valuable. By thoughtfully considering these and other issues, investors may be better prepared to stay focused on their long-term goals during different market environments.

[1]. As measured by the S&P 500 from 1926–2018.

Source: Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.
There is no guarantee investment strategies will be successful. Investing involves risks, including possible loss of principal. Diversification does not eliminate the risk of market loss.
All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

S&P Composite 1500®: Measuring Market Trends

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Hamish Preston

Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

The S&P Composite 1500 measures the U.S. equity market by combining three world-renowned benchmarks – the S&P 500®, S&P MidCap 400®, and S&P SmallCap 600® – which together encompass approximately 90% of U.S. equity market capitalization.  With 2019 in the rear-view mirror, it is obvious that last year was extremely positive for U.S. equities:  the S&P 1500 recorded its best calendar year total return since 2013, up 30.90%.  While this performance may not be surprising given the healthy gains posted by most size, sector, and style segments, it reflects a few broader market trends.

Large-cap stocks have outperformed their mid- and small-cap counterparts in every year since 2016 and this continued through 2019:  the S&P 500 (+31.49%) beat the S&P MidCap 400 (+26.20%) and the S&P SmallCap 600 (+22.78%) last year.   This continued outperformance meant that the collective weight of S&P 500 constituents in the S&P Composite 1500 – as measured at quarterly intervals between the end of 1994 and 2019 – hit an all-time high of 91% in December 2019.  This helps to explain why the S&P Composite 1500 outperformed the mid- and small-cap market segments last year.

At the sectoral level, Information Technology companies have played an increasingly important role in determining market performance.  For example, the S&P 1500 Information Technology sector gained an impressive 49.75% last year, 17.5% more than second-placed Communication Services.  Combined with it sizeable average weight in the S&P 1500 – over 20% in 2019 – Information Technology accounted for nearly a third of the market’s gains last year.

More broadly, and repackaging an infographic from our daily dashboard (I highly recommend subscribing to ensure you receive witty market commentary direct to your inbox) 2019 was positive for all the S&P 1500 sectors and industries.  Not bad when you consider many people’s market outlook at the start of the year!

Finally, some have argued that 2020 may be the year of the stock picker based on a recent decline in correlations.  However, as we have pointed out repeatedly, dispersion is a better measure of active management’s alpha opportunity: Exhibit 4 highlights that a greater proportion of active domestic U.S. equity managers typically underperformed the S&P 1500 when dispersion was lower.

Given the below-average dispersion in the S&P 1500 last year, most active managers may find it challenging to outperform the U.S. equity market benchmark.






The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

From “Hard to Beat” to Nigh-On Impossible

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Chris Bennett

Former Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

Our SPIVA® reports have shown, year after year, that market-cap weighted benchmarks are, to put it kindly, hard to beat.  However, in 2019 a range of circumstances made “hard to beat” become nigh-on impossible for the S&P 500®.

In general, there are three common ways by which an active portfolio can outperform its benchmark: over or under-weighting benchmark stocks, by tilting towards factors or sectors, or by venturing beyond the benchmark’s constituents to hold anything from cash to commodities.  Each of these options was uncommonly disadvantaged last year.

Based on the performance of a wide range of alternative markets, going outside the benchmark was not much help.  Smaller U.S. stocks, international equities, fixed income, and commodities all underperformed large-cap U.S. equities.

Stock selection within the benchmark was handicapped by the 51% average gain of the biggest five stocks in the S&P 500.  Since few active managers (and few factor indices) allocate as much to the largest companies as the benchmark does, when the very largest stocks outperform, stock selection becomes harder.

Relatedly, the larger sectors of the S&P 500 also outperformed their smaller peers.  The Information Technology sector – the largest in the S&P 500 – gained a whopping 50% on the year.

The performance of equal-weight indices provides an easy way to analyse the importance of size in stock and sector selection.  S&P 500 Equal Weight Index has the same constituents as the S&P 500, but weights each constituent equally, with the result that the sector allocations are also more balanced.  As illustrated in the latest S&P Equal Weight Sectors Dashboard, both underweighting the largest sectors and weighting equally within each sector helped to contribute to the 2.3% underperformance of the S&P 500 Equal Weight index in 2019.  In fact, sector allocations were responsible for the lion’s share of underperformance – with an underweight in the tech sector accounting for over 1% of the drag.

But …  some parts of the market must have outperformed?  If you didn’t overweight the largest sectors and stocks, the sting in the tail of the market’s performance this year was that, beyond portfolio construction, a degree of timing was also required to maintain outperformance.  As we highlighted in our year end S&P 500 Factor Dashboard , for several areas of the market, there were major reversals into the year end: the Health Care sector, for example, underperformed the S&P 500 by 15% in the first three quarters, and then outperformed by 5% in Q4.  In September, the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index looked certain to finish the year on top, but failed to keep pace with the fourth quarter’s rally.

What does this mean for active equity managers?  Early indications point to a rough year for stock pickers, with less than 1/3 of active U.S. equity managers estimated to have finished 2019 ahead of their benchmarks.   Whatever else may be true of the coming year, active managers might at least hope that the S&P 500 goes back to being just “hard” to beat.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Strongest Annual Performance for the S&P GSCI Since 2007

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Fiona Boal

Managing Director, Global Head of Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

The S&P GSCI ended 2019 up 17.6%. This was the S&P GSCI’s 10th-strongest performance since 1990 and its best annual return since the heights of the so-called commodity super cycle in 2007. Across the commodity markets, gains were driven by the petroleum complex and precious metals, while agriculture and livestock detracted from headline performance.

Petroleum prices climbed during the year due to sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, as well as continued OPEC+ production cut compliance. The S&P GSCI Crude Oil ended 2019 34.1% higher, but the bulk of the gains came in the first quarter after the U.S. introduced sanctions on Venezuela. As the new decade commences, the oil market will be forced to negotiate swelling supplies, particularly from the U.S., and some indications of weakening global demand. The U.S. is on track to be a net petroleum exporter on an annual basis for the first time in 2020. It was not all positive news for energy commodities this year. Natural gas ended the year with the poorest performance of all the single‑commodity S&P GSCI constituents. The S&P GSCI Natural Gas was down an eye-watering 32.3% for the year.

Gold proved one of the most popular assets for investors in 2019. The S&P GSCI Gold posted its best performance since 2010, gaining 18.0%, driven by safe-haven buying powered by escalating geopolitical tensions, a protracted trade war, and quantitative easing by major central banks. As more government bonds across the globe displayed negative yields throughout 2019, gold remains well positioned as a safe-haven alternative for investors going into the new year. The S&P GSCI Palladium ended the year 64.3% higher, continuing a multi-year price appreciation driven by its use in car exhaust to defuse emissions.

Among the industrial metals, nickel was the standout performer in 2019. While well off its late summer highs, the S&P GSCI Nickel ended 2019 up 32.8%. Supply constraints, in the form of an export ban from Indonesia, dictated price action in the nickel market for the bulk of the year. It would be folly not to mention the stellar performance of the S&P GSCI Iron Ore, which ended the year 83.1% higher, a function of several significant supply curtailments and persistent Chinese steel demand.

The agricultural markets struggled this year under the weight of the protracted U.S.-China trade war and plentiful global supplies. One of the main features of December’s “Phase One” trade deal between the U.S. and China was China’s commitment to purchase a large amount of U.S agricultural goods. There is skepticism that China will be both willing, and able, to purchase such volumes of U.S. commodities and, therefore, if these purchases will be enough to stimulate demand for agricultural commodities in 2020. Wheat was the outlier in the grain complex, with the S&P GSCI Wheat ending the year up 9.4%, a third straight year of gains, on tightening supplies, particularly from Australia, which is in its third year of drought.

Despite African swine fever ravaging the world’s largest pig herd, the S&P GSCI Lean Hogs fell 19.2% in 2019. On top of burgeoning U.S. hog supplies, the U.S.-China trade war greatly restricted the ability of U.S. pork producers to export their product to China.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

The Rising Importance of Dividends When Earnings Slow

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Kieran Kirwan

Director, Investment Strategy



  1. With Q3’s earnings season substantially complete, 2019 earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to decline on a year-over-year basis.
  2. After several strong quarters last year, the first three quarters this year have seen marked earnings deceleration.
  3. Providing 1/3 of historical S&P 500 total returns, dividends could become important when the market may be near full valuation and corporate earnings are decelerating
  4. Indexes such as the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats track companies with long-term track records of continuous dividend growth. As such, funds that follow them may be worth a closer look.

 Third Quarter Earnings on Pace to Decline Again

 Through November 15, 92% of the S&P 500 constituents have announced earnings, and investors have been paying close attention. Most companies that have reported thus far have exceeded estimates, which had in many instances been guided lower. On the surface this is, of course, positive news. But when looking for year-over-year growth, a different story begins to emerge. While 2018 saw three quarters with 20% advances, year-over-year earnings growth in the first two quarters of 2019 decelerated markedly and ended flat to slightly down. As of November 15, the estimated earnings decline for Q3 2019 as compared with the same period in 2018 currently stands at just over 2%. If that turns out to be the case, when all is said and done, it would mark the third consecutive quarterly decline. Soon enough, investors will begin to ask the question of where the earnings are going to come from to support current valuations.

Decelerating Earnings Could Make Dividends More Important

In a market susceptible to fits and starts, investors remain understandably attracted to dividend strategies. Beyond the obvious appeal of a potential income stream during a time of low fixed-income yields, dividends have historically provided a sizeable slice of total-returns pie. In fact, dividends have accounted for roughly one-third of S&P 500 Total Return Index performance going back to 1960.

Interestingly, the contribution of dividends to returns has varied considerably over time. Dividends accounted for more than 72% of returns during the 1970s but less than 16% during the 1990s. So, considering their historical average around 33%, how important will dividends be going forward? A credible argument can be made that dividends are likely to represent an above-average proportion of, and be a significant contributor to, near-term returns.

The rationale behind this argument becomes apparent if we look at the relationship between dividend yield, earnings growth rate, and potential valuation changes from current levels. If: 1) one considers the market to be currently at or very near full valuation; and 2) the recent trend of flat to slightly-down earnings growth continues; then 3) it follows that dividends may indeed represent a greater-than-average portion of total returns going forward.

Dividend Growth Could Hold Even Greater Appeal

Given the potential above-average contribution to returns going forward and general investor appetite for dividends, quality companies that continuously grow their dividends could become even more appealing if earnings continue to decelerate. In particular, investors might want to look into the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats—high-quality companies that have not just paid dividends but grown them for at least 25 consecutive years. In fact, the Aristocrats delivered positive, if moderate, earnings growth during the first two quarters of 2019. Over time, companies that have grown their dividends like this generally have had stable earnings and solid fundamentals.

There are several indexes tracking long-term dividend growth companies—the S&P 500® Dividend Aristocrats® Index, the S&P MidCap 400® Dividend Aristocrats® Index, the S&P® Technology Dividend Aristocrats® Index and others—and there are ETFs that follow many of them. So, in a market with decelerating earnings, high-quality dividend growth investments could be worth a closer look.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.