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Materials Sector Rating: Marketperform

Materials sector overview

The ongoing trade dispute with China and global growth worries have appeared to hurt the sector, which has foreign exposure, at times. However, if the trade environment improves, the materials sector could benefit.

Market outlook for the materials sector

The materials sector has struggled at times over the past year, as global growth concerns appear to have combined with trade dispute worries to undermine performance during certain periods. Risks to the group appear to be rising, as the Chinese Markit PMI moving lower, and the trade situation between China and the U.S. continues to drag on. Those risks haven’t risen to the level warranting a downgrade of the group, in our minds—but we are watching developments closely.

The U.S. economy still looks like it’s in decent shape to us, although there are signs of softening, such as the ISM Manufacturing Index moving lower, while China is attempting to stimulate its economy. Additionally, some indebted governments have scaled back their austerity plans and are focusing more closely on generating economic growth. This could provide a bit of fuel to the materials sector and helps to offset some of the above risks in our view.

Chinese economic growth has slowed compared to the past several years, and the country appears to be enacting measures to stimulate the economy (Bloomberg), while the U.S. Federal Reserve’s tone has gone from hawkish to dovish in the course of the last six months, with policymakers recently reversing last December’s rate hike and fed funds futures predicting further cuts, which, if they happen, could help to support this economically sensitive sector. As a result, for now, we're holding to our marketperform rating.

Factors that may affect the materials sector

Positive factors for the materials sector include:

  • Increased demand: Developing countries continue to need more raw materials to support their infrastructure building.
  • Reduction in austerity programs: Reduction in austerity programs: Some global fiscal restraint measures seem to be easing, which could help to stimulate growth.
  • More-accommodative central banks:  The Federal Reserve and European Central Bank both appear to be moving to an easier stance, which could help to support commodities demand. 

Negative factors for the materials sector include:

  • Reduction in demand from China: Chinese demand for processed commodities might be slowing as technological advances and a build-out of production facilities allow the country to produce more of its own materials. China recently transitioned from being a net importer to a net exporter of steel.
  • Larger inventories in China: Reports of large supplies could dampen hopes for a sharp rebound, as it could take time to work through those stockpiles.
  • Increased labor costs: Wage costs are rising in the materials sector, as we've seen skilled-labor shortages in certain segments of the market.
  • Trade concerns: If current trade disputes continue to escalate, the globally involved materials sector could be hurt.


Clients can see our top-rated stocks in the materials sector.

Want to learn more about a specific sector?  Click on a link below for more information or visit Schwab Sector Views to see how they compare.

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