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A Return to Normalcy?

Concentrating on Technology

Deciphering Decrement Indices

Political Risk: Why It Matters

Credit Risk Premium in the Equity Market

A Return to Normalcy?

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Fei Mei Chan

Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago produced the highest-ever monthly volatility reading for the S&P 500® in March 2020. Volatility began to decline as the market’s recovery began, but if we measure volatility on a 12-month trailing basis, as we do in Exhibit 1, we see the sustained impact of last year’s ructions.

Not only is overall market volatility now close to pre-pandemic levels, the same seems to be true for all sectors of the S&P 500. Exhibit 2 shows that one-year volatility declined significantly in every sector compared to three months earlier. While volatility in all sectors declined by at least 10%, the biggest drops came in Energy, Financials, and Utilities, which declined by approximately 20%.

Significant changes also took place in the latest rebalance for the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index, effective after market close May 21, 2021. The new allocation, as shown in Exhibit 3, is much closer to the allocations of pre-pandemic times. Stalwarts like Financials, Real Estate, and Utilities resumed their places in the index; Utilities added 11% to its weight. Health Care, Communication Services, and Technology (sectors that were the lifelines of locked-down livelihoods) scaled back to make room. Energy’s volatility remained too high to make the cut. In all, 34 names changed in the index, the largest change since the record rebalance of May 2020.

The S&P 500 Low Volatility Index chooses its constituents based on volatility at the stock level, but sector level volatility can give us insight into the dynamics that drive the changes. Hopefully, in this instance, sector volatility is also a narrative of better things to come.

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

Concentrating on Technology

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Anu Ganti

Senior Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

After the dominant performance of large-cap technology stocks in 2020, concentration concerns naturally come to mind. The HHI, or Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, is a widely-used concentration measure; it’s defined as the sum of the squared index constituents’ percentage weights (usually taken as whole numbers). For example, the HHI for an equally-weighted 50 stock portfolio is 200 (50 x 22); the HHI for the S&P 500 Equal Weight Index, which comprises 500 stocks, is 20 (500 x 0.22).

Other things equal, a higher HHI indicates an increased level of concentration, but as the simple illustration above shows, even for completely unconcentrated equal weight portfolios, the HHI level is inversely related to the number of names. So as we use the HHI to make comparisons within the Tech sector over time, we need to use an adjusted metric. The adjusted HHI is the sector’s HHI divided by the HHI of an equal-weighted portfolio with the same number of stocks. A higher adjusted HHI means that a sector is becoming more concentrated, independently of the number of stocks it contains.

Exhibit 1 shows a box-plot of the S&P 500 Information Technology’s adjusted HHI, using monthly observations since January 1990. We observe a median value of 4.3, interquartile range from 3.9 to 5.4, minimum of 2.7, and eight large outliers. Interestingly, the current adjusted HHI level of 7.2 is at the 95th percentile, indicating a historically high level of concentration for the Technology sector.

Exhibit 2 illustrates the relationship between the Tech sector’s adjusted HHI with the relative performance of the S&P 500 Equal Weight Information Technology compared to its cap-weighted counterpart. After peaks in concentration (such as during 1990, 1999, and 2002), equal-weighted Tech seems to outperform.

Another way to understand the relationship between concentration and relative performance is to plot the change in Tech’s adjusted HHI versus equal-weighted Tech’s relative performance (see Exhibit 3). We observe a positive relationship between concentration and subsequent performance of equal weighting within Tech, with an R2 of 0.4. 

The strong performance of large-cap Tech names last year led to an increase in the sector’s concentration levels.  History tells us that after peaks in concentration, equal-weighted Tech has tended to outperform. We can look to history to provide perspective on these trends.

 

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

Deciphering Decrement Indices

Low interest rates and dividend risk are two challenges commonly faced by equity-linked structured products. Explore how the design of S&P DJI’s range of decrement indices could help address these challenges and potentially deliver more favorable terms for structured products.

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

Political Risk: Why It Matters

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Laura Assis

Analyst, Global Research & Design

S&P Dow Jones Indices

International opportunities to diversify equity allocations are increasing, along with globalization, and as a result, political risk matters now more than ever. More so, the interplay of macroeconomic policymaking and government instability continues to have far-reaching effects in political risk, augmenting the uncertainty that goes hand in hand with allocating to emerging markets.

Mindful of this, S&P Dow Jones Indices collaborated with GeoQuant, an AI-driven political risk data firm, to devise the Emerging Markets Political Risk-Tilted Concept Index (hereafter the “Concept Index”).

Offering a reduced-political-risk alternative to the exposure of the S&P Emerging BMI, the Risk-Tilted Concept Index overweights (underweights) countries with relatively low (high) political risk, leading to higher cumulative returns during the back-tested period (see Exhibit 1).1 Allocation decisions are made in accordance with GeoQuant’s custom “Macro-Government Risk Indicator,” which assesses both the riskiness of policies derived from macroeconomic management and the uncertainty around the capacity of incumbent governments.

GeoQuant’s “Macro-Government Risk Indicator” is a weighted combination of macro-economic policy risk and government risk. In Exhibit 2 we can note the inverse correlation between a weighted cross-country aggregate of the indicator (r = -0.27) and the S&P Emerging BMI. This shows the inverse relationship between rising political risk and declining index performance. In fact, a sharp increase in macro-government risk from 2014 to 2015 among several high-weight countries (Taiwan, Brazil, and Russia) in the S&P Emerging BMI coincides with the largest drawdown from the benchmark index.

By incorporating political risk as a factor in emerging market allocation decisions, the Concept Index outperformed the S&P Emerging BMI while exhibiting lower volatility. The outperformance was mainly driven by mitigating losses in down markets. The Concept Index maintained a low annualized tracking error of 2.03% and a monthly average turnover of 1.84%, similar to the 1.65% of the benchmark. In fact, the risk/return characteristics presented in Exhibit 3 confirm that tilting the Concept Index according to countries’ relative political risk levels helped it to outperform the benchmark across the short and long term.

The ability of the Concept Index to decrease drawdown severity is noteworthy. Furthermore, it has the potential to hedge returns against unfavorable market conditions faster than with traditional methods, accomplished by controlling the downside.

Between 2013 and 2020, whenever the benchmark exhibited negative monthly returns, the Concept Index outperformed its benchmark 70% of the time. Moreover, the largest drawdown of the S&P Emerging BMI was -28.27%, compared to -26.13% for the Concept Index.

Incorporating political risk in allocation decisions can yield outperformance through lower volatility and higher returns. The Concept Index provides market participants with new tools to measure and assess the impact of political risk and to adapt equity allocation decisions accordingly.

To learn more about how political risk affects emerging market equities, see our paper Political Risk and Emerging Market Equities: Applications in an Index Framework.

1 The “Macro-Government Risk Indicator” covers 22 of the 26 total countries included in the S&P Emerging BMI between 2013 and 2020. The four countries not covered by the indicator are Czech Republic, Greece, Kuwait, and Morocco. The first three countries have a combined weight of 0.99% in the S&P Emerging BMI as of December 2020; Morocco has not been included the benchmark index since Q4 2015. The countries not covered are kept neutral to their weights in the S&P Emerging BMI.

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

Credit Risk Premium in the Equity Market

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Bill Hao

Director, Global Research & Design

S&P Dow Jones Indices

Firms with low credit risk generally have higher stock market returns than firms with high credit risk.1 The S&P 500® Higher Credit-Rating Ex Insurance Equity (HCREIE) Index is designed to capture the credit risk premium in the equity market. In this blog, we will introduce the index design, performance, and factor exposure.

Index Design

The S&P 500 HCREIE Index uses a company’s issuer credit rating (ICR)2 from up to three rating agencies—S&P Global Ratings, Moody’s, and Fitch—to select its constituents from the S&P 500 universe. To be eligible for index inclusion, a company’s long-term credit rating needs to be at or above ‘A-’/‘A3,’ from at least one rating agency.3

This index can be used by trusts, funds, or mandates seeking to invest in high quality assets. One example is Regulation 114 Trusts by reinsurers.4 The index requires that its constituents be U.S.-incorporated companies and excludes those classified by the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS®) as insurance companies (GICS Code: 4030).

Once selected, index constituents are first weighted by float-adjusted market capitalization (FMC), then those FMC weights are adjusted so that the sector weights in the index equal the sector weights in the S&P 500. That is, the S&P 500 HCREIE Index is sector neutral relative to S&P 500.

Performance

During the back-testing period from June 30, 2015, to April 30, 2021, the S&P HCREIE Index outperformed the S&P 500 by 10.22%. Rebasing the S&P 500 HCREIE Index and the S&P 500 to 100 on June 30, 2015, the S&P 500 HCREIE Index reached 237.7 on April 30, 2021, while the S&P 500 reached 227.4 (see Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 2 shows the detailed risk/return profile of the S&P 500 HCREIE Index versus the S&P 500. Over the studied period, the S&P 500 HCREIE Index outperformed the S&P 500 by 0.87% on an annualized return basis. The reduced volatility helped the strategy deliver a better risk-adjusted return (1.10) than the S&P 500 (1.00). Furthermore, the S&P 500 HCREIE Index also had superior risk-adjusted returns over the three- and five-year periods.

Factor Exposure

Using the risk factors from a commercial risk model, we present the active exposures5 of risk factors. In comparison with the S&P 500, the S&P 500 HCREIE Index had higher exposures to size, dividend yield, and profitability,6 and lower exposures to liquidity, growth, and leverage (see Exhibit 3). The factor exposure results imply that the constituents in the S&P 500 HCREIE Index tend to be the larger, more mature, and higher quality companies in the S&P 500 universe.

Conclusion

To capture the credit risk premium in the equity market, the S&P 500 Higher Credit-Rating Ex Insurance Equity Index selects stocks with higher long-term credit ratings at or above of ‘A-’/‘A3’. Factor exposure analysis shows that the index constituents tend to be larger, more mature, and higher quality companies. Moreover, the S&P 500 HCREIE Index had better return and risk-adjusted return than the S&P 500 during the period studied.

 

1 Avramov, Doron, Chordia, Tarun, Jostova, Gergana, and Philipov, Alexander, Credit Ratings and the Cross-Section of Stock Returns (2009). EFA 2008 Athens Meetings Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=940809.

2 If long-term issuer defaulting rating is not available, then senior unsecured debt rating is used as a proxy.

3 See the S&P 500 Higher Credit Rating Ex Insurance Equity Index Methodology for more details.

4 Regulation 114 is the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the New York State Insurance Department (NYSID). Regulation 114 Trusts are created under a relatively standard form of tripartite agreement involving a single ceding insurance company, i.e. the beneficiary; a financial institution, i.e., the trustee; and a single non-admitted reinsurer, i.e., the grantor, who grants the beneficiary control over the ceded premiums.

5 Active factor exposure is defined as the strategy factor exposure minus the benchmark factor exposure.

6 Refer to Axioma United States Equity Factor Risk Models for more information about factor definitions.

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