Toughest Quarter Since GFC for Real Assets

Real asset returns were significantly challenged during the first quarter of 2020, March in particular, as almost the entire space (except gold and TIPS) experienced performance not seen since the Global Financial Crisis. The MLP space (Alerian MLP Index: -57%) and energy-related stocks (S&P 1200 Energy Index: -44%) were among the worst hit as Russia and Saudi Arabia engaged in an oil price war smack in the middle of a global pandemic that was already poised to cripple near-term energy demand.

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Both listed infrastructure (DJ-Brookfield Global Infrastructure Index: -21%) and real estate (FTSE Nareit Equity Index: -27%) were also hampered by the outlook and immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the sell-off in the fixed income markets, credit in particular, it’s likely that many investors fled these sectors to take advantage of higher nominal yields elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the impact on real estate is likely to be varied as several sectors are acutely sensitive to the fallout from the coronavirus (e.g., Retail, Hospitality) while other property sectors such as Industrial, Storage, and Office should be more insulated.

One silver lining, pun intended, was gold, which served its usual safe-haven role during the depths of March and throughout the first quarter; the Bloomberg Gold sub-Index rose 4.5% in the first quarter while equities of most companies tasked with mining the shiny metal were not so fortunate (GDX-Van Eck Gold Miners ETF: -14.5%).