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Renewable Diesel Feedstock - An Alternative Clean Energy Investment Part 1

Study the Performance of Global Size Benchmarks

Happy Birthday to Low Vol and High Beta!

A Quiet End to a Strong Quarter for Commodities

Opportunity Does Not Equal Attainment

Renewable Diesel Feedstock - An Alternative Clean Energy Investment Part 1

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Fiona Boal

Head of Commodities and Real Assets

S&P Dow Jones Indices

Renewable diesel1 is one of the newer clean energy fuels on the market. It has become popular because it reduces emissions and has up to 85% less sulfur than ultra-low sulfur diesel. As clean air regulations and sustainability goals become more common, renewable diesel could continue growing in popularity. Renewable diesel can power conventional auto engines without being blended with diesel derived from crude oil, making it attractive for refiners aiming to produce low-pollution options.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Energy Information Administration does not report renewable diesel production, but data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that the U.S. consumed over 900 million gallons in 2019. Nearly all domestically produced and imported renewable diesel is used in California due to economic benefits under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. S&P Global Platts forecasts that the global renewable diesel supply will exceed 3 billion gallons by 2023 and 5 billion gallons by 2025.

Refiners can produce renewable diesel from animal fats and plant oils, in addition to used cooking oil. Several plant oils are widely traded via commodities derivatives, and for those market participants seeking exposure to green fuels, these commodities may offer an alternative avenue of investment.

The proportion of oil produced by crushing these so-called feedstocks varies, but apart from soybeans, they are all crushed for their oil, i.e., oil is the most valuable product from the crushing process and is the primary driver of demand (see Exhibit 1).

The performance of renewable diesel feedstocks was strong over the past 12-month period (see Exhibit 2), reflecting robust restocking demand from existing refiners, as well as expectations that production capacity would expand significantly over the coming years. The Biden Administration’s promise of a clean energy revolution may prove instrumental in cementing this new demand driver for plant and animal oils. However, more traditional food demand has also been strong for edible oil and meal. The U.S. Agriculture Department has forecasted record-high soybean demand from domestic processors and exporters in 2021, largely because of expanding global demand for livestock and poultry feed.

Over the long term, the adoption of electric passenger vehicles may limit the increased use of edible oil for renewable diesel, but it will still be required for heavy transport, such as trucks and trains.

For more information on S&P DJI’s renewable diesel feedstock indices, please visit https://www.spglobal.com/spdji/ and be sure to check back as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the S&P GSCI.

1 In Europe, renewable diesel is known as hydrotreated vegetable oil

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

Study the Performance of Global Size Benchmarks

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Rachel Du

Senior Analyst, Global Research & Design

S&P Dow Jones Indices

The S&P Global BMI serves as a benchmark that measures global stock market performance. The index consists of three mutually exclusive and exhaustive size benchmarks: The S&P Global LargeCap, the S&P Global MidCap, and the S&P Global SmallCap. These indices are float market capitalization weighted and reconstituted annually in September, following the same weighting scheme and rebalancing schedule as their benchmark index.

We compared risk/return profiles for the three size benchmarks, using monthly data from Dec. 30, 1994, to March 31, 2021. The S&P Global SmallCap and S&P Global MidCap outperformed the S&P Global LargeCap more than half of the time, with the S&P Global SmallCap defeating the S&P Global LargeCap 166 out of 315 months (a 52.7% outperformance hit rate) and the S&P Global MidCap beating the S&P Global LargeCap 162 out of 315 months (a 51.6% outperformance hit rate).

Exhibit 1 shows that over the long term, especially in periods longer than 15 years, the S&P Global SmallCap and S&P Global MidCap delivered higher returns than the S&P Global LargeCap. After showing underperformance for the 5- and 10-year periods, both smaller-cap indices carried on strongly during the volatile markets triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The S&P Global SmallCap consistently showed the highest rate of volatility, while the S&P Global LargeCap displayed the lowest volatility across the same periods.

Exhibit 2 shows the rank of performance by calendar year with 1 indicating the best performer and 3 representing the worst performer. Over the past 27 years, the S&P Global SmallCap and the S&P Global LargeCap took turns in the winning position, each taking the lead for 12 years, while the MidCap was positioned as second place for 22 years.

The historical average sector weights shown in Exhibit 3 indicate that there has been no significant difference in sector allocation among the three size indices overall. However, the S&P Global SmallCap and S&P Global MidCap have been overweighted in Industrials, Materials, and Consumer Discretionary sectors, while the S&P Global LargeCap has been overweighted in the Communication Services, Consumer Staples, and Energy. The Financials sector has had the highest weight in all three size indices throughout the history, with an average weight of more than 20%. The Communication Services sector (reclassified from Telecommunication Services in 2018) shows the lowest weight in all three indices.

While the S&P Global LargeCap led the markets over the 5- and 10-year periods, the S&P Global SmallCap had the best performance over the longer term, since the end of 1994. The S&P Global LargeCap displayed consistently lower volatility compared with the other two size indices across various time periods. On the other hand, the S&P Global SmallCap demonstrated relatively higher volatility, but kept a winning momentum over the past year.

The S&P Global LargeCap, MidCap, and SmallCap indices performed differently over different time horizons. Because of their return/risk patterns over these different time horizons, an investment in a particular size category that had higher returns during one period could potentially help to offset losses in another. Understanding the risk/return patterns of the size indices can potentially help achieve return/risk targets for certain investment portfolios.

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

Happy Birthday to Low Vol and High Beta!

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Fei Mei Chan

Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

On April 4, 2011, S&P DJI launched two strategy indices, the S&P 500® Low Volatility Index and the S&P 500 High Beta Index. Ten years of live history let us compare how the two indices actually performed versus their pre-launch back-tests.

Many investors take back-tested history with an understandable grain of salt. But even live history can be deceptive if it doesn’t encompass market environments that reflect the full spectrum of reality. All strategies should be tested through different market environments, particularly strategies like low volatility and high beta that explicitly seek to provide a particular pattern of relative returns. Low volatility strategies seek to attenuate, and high beta strategies to amplify, the performance of the overall market. The behavior of both is therefore highly dependent on the market’s returns.

In the back-tested period from 1991 through March 2011, Low Volatility outperformed the benchmark S&P 500 with lower risk, while High Beta underperformed with higher risk. In the live period, Low Volatility underperformed while maintaining its goal of lowering volatility. High Beta’s live relative performance and risk were both comparable to those of the back-tested period.

Does Low Vol’s live underperformance mean that the index is somehow “broken” or that the back-test was not trustworthy? It’s important to remember that Low Vol’s out-or underperformance is highly dependent on the return of the benchmark S&P 500. The back-tested period included two bear markets: the bursting of the technology bubble and the financial crisis of 2008. With the exception of some small hiccups, the years in the live period, even including a pandemic, were mostly good (if not great) years.

In good markets, a low volatility strategy should not be expected to outperform. Low Vol’s major outperformance comes in years like 2000-2002 and 2008, which, thankfully for us, have not recurred since 2011.

So, did the two indices do what they were designed to do? For that, we look to their performance relative to the market. Exhibit 2 shows the monthly performance differentials of Low Vol and High Beta based on the performance of the S&P 500. Their behaviors have exhibited the same pattern both in the back-tested and the live period. We sometimes compare our indices to children; these two, at least, have been well behaved. Happy birthday.

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

A Quiet End to a Strong Quarter for Commodities

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Fiona Boal

Head of Commodities and Real Assets

S&P Dow Jones Indices

The S&P GSCI will commemorate its 30th anniversary in April 2021 following one of the better quarterly performances in its history. Despite giving up some of its recent gains in March, the S&P GSCI rose 13.5% in Q1 2021. A robust, if uneven, post-pandemic recovery in economic activity, ongoing supply dislocations, and the global push toward decarbonization have combined to point a spotlight on the commodities market.

Across the petroleum complex, March was a month of price consolidation, but the S&P GSCI Petroleum still managed to end the quarter up 22.6%. In some regions, demand concerns have re-emerged, and market participants will be eagerly awaiting the OPEC+ decision on April 1 regarding production. OPEC+ has reduced output by approximately 7 million barrels per day (bpd) to support prices and reduce the oversupply seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Saudi Arabia has made an extra 1 million bpd voluntary cut.

Among the industrial metals, nickel cooled off in March after a hot start to the year. The S&P GSCI Nickel dropped 13.6% for the month, pulling YTD performance into slightly negative territory for the metal—mostly associated with electric vehicles. Most of the weakness came at the beginning of the month, when the world’s top stainless steel producer in China announced a deal in Indonesia, easing supply shortage concerns for the metal. While most industrial-focused metals were lackluster in March, despite positive economic data still showing signs that the global economic recovery continued, the S&P GSC Industrial Metals gained 9.0% YTD.

The first quarter of 2021 was one the S&P GSCI Precious Metals would rather forget, falling 9.5%. The S&P GSCI Precious Metals dropped again in March, following renewed strength in the U.S. dollar and continued market appetite for risk assets. One positive in the space came from the S&P GSCI Palladium, which rose 13.2% in March after a dismal start to the year.

Corn ended the quarter at the highest level since June 2013; the S&P GSCI Corn was up 3.1% for the month and 16.9% for the quarter. On the final day of the quarter, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual survey of planting intentions, which suggested U.S. farmers would plant significantly fewer corn and soybeans acres than expected. Considering the already strong demand from domestic and international processors, the smaller-than-expected planting of those two main cash crops in the U.S. has heightened concerns regarding global food and animal feed supplies. In the softs market, the S&P GSCI Sugar gave up all of its YTD gains in March, falling 10.2% over the month. Weak demand, particularly in Europe, and a stronger-than-expected finish to the harvest in Thailand have reportedly eased concern about nearby sugar supply tightness.

Once again, the livestock sector was dominated by an ongoing rally in lean hogs; the S&P GSCI Lean Hogs rose 10.4% in March and 27.4% for the quarter. Lean hog prices drew support from the USDA’s March 25, 2021, quarterly hog report, which showed a smaller-than-expected U.S. hog herd.

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

Opportunity Does Not Equal Attainment

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Anu Ganti

Senior Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

We’ve previously argued that most managers should prefer above-average correlation, because the incremental volatility a manager accepts to pursue an active strategy will be lower when correlations are high. In addition, active managers should prefer above-average dispersion, because stock selection skill is worth more when dispersion is high. Both correlation and dispersion rose in 2020. Despite these relatively auspicious conditions, most active managers still failed to outperform. Why?

The top half of Exhibit 1 illustrates how the required incremental return for large-cap active managers declined in 2020, as correlations rose. In order to understand how difficult it is to earn the incremental return, we can divide the required incremental return by dispersion, as shown in the bottom half of Exhibit 1. The decline in required incremental return below its long-run average suggests that conditions in 2020 were more favorable (or less unfavorable) than usual for active managers.

We see similar results in Exhibit 2 for smaller-cap active managers, as the required dispersion units for the S&P MidCap 400® and S&P SmallCap 600® declined below their historical average as well, signaling a relatively easier environment for active management.

However, our U.S. SPIVA results in Exhibit 3 show that most large-cap funds still underperformed in 2020, although by a bit less compared to their 2019 results. Most smaller-cap funds outperformed, but surprisingly they had done even better in 2019, when conditions for active were more challenging.

Most active managers did not take advantage of 2020’s relatively more favorable environment for stock selection. Higher dispersion, or lower required dispersion units, only help active managers if they have genuine stock selection skill. For other managers, high dispersion might mean larger performance shortfalls. The misalignment between the promising prospects for active management in 2020 and their subsequent performance remind us that true skill is rare and larger active opportunities do not automatically translate into actual outperformance. 

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