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Reviewing Sector Performance in 2021 and Positioning in 2022

Reviewing Sector Performance in 2021 and Positioning in 2022

A LOOK AT SECTOR PERFORMANCE

Every single U.S. sector, as determined by S&P Dow Jones Indices, posted gains in 2021. You heard that correctly, every single one! Of course, each sector doesn’t move in unison, so let’s explore this a bit further. 

The energy sector was the big winner in 2021, whether it be large-cap, mid-cap, or small-cap companies. They posted 2021 gains of 53.4%, 71.3%, and 60.0%, respectively. Real estate also had a solid 2021, posting gains of 46.2%. 

One thing that we talk a lot about is cyclicality and reversion to the mean. When we are talking about sectors, cyclicality means that sectors generally go in and out of favor. Said another way, a sector that outperforms one year may underperform the following year or vice versa. For example, let’s look at what energy did in 2020 (keep in mind we just talked about it being the big winner in 2021). Returns for large, mid, and small-cap energy stocks were -32.8%, -42.8%, and -40.0% respectively. From 2020 to 2021, energy went from the worst-performing to the best-performing sector. 

Financials is a sector that many are looking at opportunistically in 2022. The reason being is that banks are one of the few places that benefit from rising interest rates. One of the key points to take away is that it’s unlikely that a single sector can consistently be the “winner” year-in and year-out over the long haul.

A Look at Factor Performance

Factors are another variable, like sectors, that move in and out of favor. Most people are familiar with sectors, but might not be able to list as many investment factors off the top of their heads. BlackRock describes factor investing as “an investment approach that involves targeting specific drivers of return across asset classes.” Factor investing is not passive; one tries to find attractive attributes of a security that will enhance returns and/or reduce risk. There are macroeconomic factors and style factors. Similar to the sector discussion above, each of the seventeen factors (among S&P 500 companies) delivered positive returns in 2021. The top performing factor in 2021 was High Beta, at 40.9%. 

One item that many clients have asked about over the last several years is growth versus value. Growth has dominated value in recent memory, including in 2020 when it outperformed value with a 33.5% return vs. 1.4% return. In 2021, S&P 500 growth again outperformed S&P 500 Value, 32.0% to 24.9%. In 2022, we might see growth and value continue to have less of a dispersion compared to the 2010s, where growth significantly outperformed value. Momentum, the worst performing factor in 2021– granted it still produced a 22.8% return – was the third-best performing factor the year prior when it returned 28.3%. Momentum is another good example of a factor that outperformed the general index in one year (2020), only to underperform the index the following year (2021). 

Where to go from here?

Does this mean that you should only own energy? Or only own high beta? Of course not. There is generally a reversion to the mean. Again, most investors need exposure to a diversified portfolio and a disciplined investment process. Rebalancing is one technique to help take small gains over time and not become too concentrated on a single sector or factor. 

Note that diversification doesn’t imply that owning every sector equally-weighted is always the best approach, either. If you own an S&P 500 index fund, you own every sector, but in different weights. If we’re looking at the end of 2021, 29.2% of your S&P 500 exposure would be in information technology alone. Also, keep in mind that true diversification includes more than just sector diversification. Having a mix of uncorrelated assets from a geographic, asset class, and allocation perspective must all be considered when building a diversified portfolio.

Mitch DeWitt, CFP®, MBA

2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide

Mitch DeWitt’s piece is part of Walkner Condon’s 2022 Investment & Market Outlook Guide, a comprehensive reflection of 2021 and glimpse at the factors impacting the year ahead in 2022.