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Equity Premium

Governments are largely insulated from market forces. Companies are not. Investments in stocks therefore carry substantial risk in comparison with holdings of government bonds, notes or bills. The marketplace presumably rewards risk with extra return. How much of a return premium should investors in equities expect? These blog entries examine the equity risk premium as a return benchmark for equity investors.

Evaluating Country Investment Risk

How should global investors assess country sovereign bond and equity risks? In his July 2021 paper entitled “Country Risk: Determinants, Measures and Implications – The 2021 Edition”, Aswath Damodaran examines country risk from multiple perspectives. To estimate a country risk premium, he considers measurements of both country government bond risk and country equity risk. Based on a variety of sources and methods, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Unemployment Rate and Stock Market Returns

Financial media and expert commentators often cite the U.S. unemployment rate as an indicator of economic and stock market health, generally interpreting a jump (drop) in the unemployment rate as bad (good) for stocks. Conversely, investors may interpret a falling unemployment rate as a trigger for increases in the Federal Reserve target interest rate (and adverse stock market reactions). Is this variable in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using monthly seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and monthly S&P 500 Index levels during January 1948 (limited by unemployment rate data) through June 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Employment and Stock Market Returns

U.S. job gains or losses receive prominent coverage in the monthly financial news cycle, with media and expert commentators generally interpreting employment changes as an indicator of future economic and stock market health. One line of reasoning is that jobs generate personal income, which spurs personal consumption, which boosts corporate earnings and lifts the stock market. Are employment changes in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using monthly seasonally adjusted non-farm employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and monthly S&P 500 Index levels during January 1939 (limited by employment data) through June 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Are ESG ETFs Attractive?

Do exchange-traded funds selecting stocks based on environmental, social, and governance characteristics (ESG ETF) typically offer attractive performance? To investigate, we compare performance statistics of seven ESG ETFs, all currently available, to those of simple and liquid benchmark ETFs, as follows:

  1. iShares MSCI USA ESG Select ETF (SUSA), with SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) as a benchmark.
  2. iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF (DSI), with SPY as a benchmark.
  3. iShares ESG MSCI EM ETF (ESGE), with iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) as a benchmark.
  4. iShares ESG MSCI USA ETF (ESGU), with SPY as a benchmark.
  5. Nuveen ESG Small-Cap ETF (NUSC), with iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) as a benchmark.
  6. Vanguard ESG U.S. Stock ETF (ESGV), with SPY as a benchmark.
  7. Vanguard ESG International Stock ETF (VSGX), with Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US Index Fund ETF (VEU) as a benchmark.

We focus on average return, standard deviation of returns, compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD), all based on monthly data. Using monthly dividend-adjusted returns for all specified ETFs since inceptions and for all benchmarks over matched sample periods through June 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Credit Spread as an Asset Return Predictor

A reader commented and asked: “A wide credit spread (the difference in yields between Treasury notes or Treasury bonds and investment grade or junk corporate bonds) indicates fear of bankruptcies or other bad events. A narrow credit spread indicates high expectations for the economy and corporate world. Does the credit spread anticipate stock market behavior?” To investigate, we define the U.S. credit spread as the difference in yields between Moody’s seasoned Baa corporate bonds and 10-year Treasury notes (T-note), which are average daily yields for these instruments by calendar month (a smoothed measurement). We use the S&P 500 Index (SP500) as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. We extend the investigation to bond market behavior via:

Using monthly Baa bond yields, T-note yields and SP500 closes starting April 1953 and monthly dividend-adjusted closes of VUSTX, VWESX and VWEHX starting May 1986, January 1980 and January 1980, respectively, all through June 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Green Factor in Stock Returns

Is outperformance of green (environmentally friendly) stocks relative to brown (not environmentally friendly) stocks due to firm performance or concern about the climate? In other words, do green stocks carry a climate concern premium? In their June 2021 paper entitled “Dissecting Green Returns”, Lubos Pastor, Robert Stambaugh and Lucian Taylor examine relative performance of green and brown stocks in the context of unexpectedly strong increases in environmental concerns (climate concern jumps). Specifically, they:

  • Construct a green factor as the return on a portfolio that is each month long (short) green (brown) stocks weighted by greenness based on environment-focused elements of MSCI ESG Ratings.
  • Devise and test a 2-factor (market and green) model of stock returns.
  • Compute a monthly measure of public climate concern based on an associated media index, with focus on series jumps.

Using stock return and factor data during November 2012 (based on availability of ESG ratings) through December 2020 and climate concern data during November 2012 through June 2018, they find that: Keep Reading

Expert Estimates of 2021 Country Equity Risk Premiums and Risk-free Rates

What are current estimates of equity risk premiums (ERP) and risk-free rates around the world? In their June 2021 paper entitled “Survey: Market Risk Premium and Risk-Free Rate used for 88 countries in 2021″, Pablo Fernandez, Sofia Bañuls and Pablo Acin summarize results of a May 2021 email survey of international economic professors, analysts and company managers “about the Risk-Free Rate and the Market Risk Premium (MRP) used ‘to calculate the required return to equity in different countries.'” Results are in local currencies. Based on 4,607 specific and credible premium estimates spanning 88 countries, they find that: Keep Reading

Real Interest Rates and Asset Returns

How sensitive are returns of stocks, bonds and gold to levels real interest rates (nominal rates minus inflation)? To investigate, we consider three nominal interest rates and two measures of inflation, as follows:

These choices offer six alternative real interest rates. We use end-of-month interest rates and inflation measures lagged by one month to account for release delay. We use the S&P 500 Index (SP500) capital gain only, the 10-year yield (with bond prices moving inversely) and spot gold price, all measured end-of-month, to represent returns for stocks, bonds and gold. We then relate monthly changes in real interest rates to asset class monthly returns in two ways: (1) calculate correlations of monthly real interest rates to asset class returns for each of the next 12 months to get a sense of how real rates lead asset returns; and, (2) calculate average asset class monthly returns by ranked tenths (deciles) of prior-month real interest rates to discover any non-linear relationships. Using monthly PCEPI and Core PCEPI since January 1961, interest rates since January 1962, SP500 level since December 1961 and spot gold price since December 1974 (when controls are removed), all through May 2021, we find that:

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Are Preferred Stock ETFs Working?

Are preferred stock strategies, as implemented by exchange-traded funds (ETF), attractive? To investigate, we consider seven of the largest preferred stock ETFs, all currently available, in order of longest to shortest available histories:

We use a monthly rebalanced portfolio of 60% SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and 40% iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD) (60-40) as a simple hybrid benchmark for all these funds except PGF, for which we use Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF). We focus on monthly return statistics, along with compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). Using monthly returns for the preferred stock ETFs and the benchmark ETFs as available through May 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Fama-French 5-factor Model and Global Stocks

Does the Fama-French  5-factor model (market, size, book-to-market, profitability, investment) of stock returns work for stocks worldwide? In their May 2021 paper entitled “Size, Value, Profitability, and Investment Effects in International Stock Returns: Are They Really There?”, Nusret Cakici and Adam Zaremba test the performance of the 5-factor model in global developed markets. They consider big and small stocks separately. They consider four regions (North America, Europe, Japan and Asia-Pacific), as well as the global market. They lag all accounting data by six months and calculate returns in U.S. dollars. Using data in U.S. dollars for 65,000 stocks from 23 countries during December 1987 through March 2019 (with tests starting July 1990), they find that:

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