2020 has been an unusual and, at times, harrowing year for investors globally. With the onset of unprecedented market volatility as the COVID-19 Global Pandemic began to impact markets in March, and continued investor uncertainty as previously rosy economic reopening scenarios take unanticipated twists and turns, investors are looking for sources of market information that are objective, transparent and reliable. Global index providers, by performing their essential functions, have addressed this investor need in a time of crisis.
Let’s start with objectivity. With markets unprecedented short-term spikes in volatility, investors have been hungry for objective market data and information to help inform necessary investment decisions and navigate periods of market disruption and even dislocation. Investors have looked to independent index providers for unbiased content and data, and many providers have created online COVID-19 hubs for investors on their websites including up-to-date information and analysis on quickly changing global market measures. Others have launched recurring podcast series and weekly market updates with experts sharing perspective on the ever-evolving market landscape. This touches on a core tenet of indexes’ value: that providers are not selling financial products, but rather providing the most representative benchmarks and gauges of how the markets are behaving.
Next consider transparency. Index industry best practices dictate that indexes are run in an open and transparent way and not as a “black box.” Index methodologies are publicly available, with market participants free to review the process for index construction and maintenance on provider websites. Material changes to methodology are reviewed with market stakeholders and publicized. This focus on transparency has been even more important to investors during times of market crisis. The IIA Best Practice Guidelines also demand that index providers maintain appropriate policies and procedures governing any public announcements concerning indexes.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, let’s examine reliability. During times of crisis in particular, investors look for reliable measures that benchmark key markets without fail and in whatever direction they are headed. Imagine if the VIX stopped measuring US large cap equity market volatility as measured by the S&P 500? Or, if the Russell 2000 Index missed its and daily and intraday pricing of the US small-cap equity market due to volatile markets? Investors depend on these and a whole host of important measures from global index providers, and Index Industry Association guidelines dictate that index providers establish policy and procedures to ensure that indexes can be calculated on a consistent, regular and timely basis. Indexes provide important market measures to clients and need to function and deliver key measures like daily and intraday values, sector tracking and volatility measures.
Indexes are an essential part of the market ecosystem, similar to how “essential” or “key” workers such as health care workers or grocery stores are a critical part of our daily lives, and their continued smooth functioning has been an issue of major importance in recent months. These three core elements – objectivity, transparency and reliability – are not new to the index industry. In fact, they are essential elements of our industry principles and best practices. They are not new, but like many things that you rely on as essential, their value has been validated and visibility heightened through the prism of the Global Pandemic.