Small caps are looking strong, and seem likely to outperform large caps over the next year. Small caps have seen two decidedly positive trends over the last month—an outperformance relative to the S&P 500, and increasing breadth. From a technical perspective, those are both encouraging. On the fundamental front, small caps are starting to follow a well-trodden path to success. Historically, every period since 1990 in which the Russell 2000 has outperformed the S&P 500, spreads have been widening. Bond watchers will have noticed that Treasuries have risen 28-40 bp recently across different maturities. Since that rise in yields seems likely to continue because of the growing debt needs of the US government, small caps may be in for a good run.
FINSUM: We really like this logic. Small caps tend to have a higher beta to GDP, so rising yields (hopefully indicating a better economic environment) should create additional spread widening, and thus be positive and create some continued outperformance.
Investors are increasingly betting on a blue wave. More interestingly, the market’s calculus for what that blue wave to could mean to stock prices and the economy is changing. For much of this election cycle, a sweep by the Democrats was seen as a negative for the economy versus the status quo. However, in recent weeks investors have been shifting the other way—seeing a blue wave as a win for the economy. The reason why has to do with infrastructure spending and bigger and longer-term stimulus packages. While the possibility for this has been hurting Treasury prices because of the likely increased debt load, it also means that both infrastructure stocks and small caps seem poised to gain as we approach the election and well after it.
FINSUM: Small caps have just recently started to outperform their large cap cousins, a sign of the shift in perspective. Infrastructure stocks seem a good bet because no matter who wins the election there will probably be some deal on that front.
Investors need to keep a very sharp eye on the bond market. The yield curve is steepening without any associated rise in economic activity. The reason why has to do with the election. Biden has been rising in the polls, and investors have been increasingly betting he will emerge victorious as part of a blue sweep. If that happens, it is assumed the US would issue a great deal more debt to fund stimulus packages. This means there would be significantly more Treasury bond supply than at present, and potentially calls into question the credit of the US government. As evidence of this trend, the spread between 5- and 30-year Treasuries just hit its largest since 2016.
FINSUM: This is a potential black swan event that no one has seen coming. The election seemed like it would be a dead heat through election day, but if the needle moves more towards Biden, the whole picture for fixed income will change.
The fixed income market used to be where you went for safety and steady income. Those days seem long ago, and fixed income is not just as likely as any other asset class to eb the riskiest and most volatile in your portfolio. Between COVID and the Fed, interest rates are extremely low, with yields low and bond price very high, and vulnerable. Some have been comparing the situation to Japan in the 1990s and beyond, but there is a huge difference that makes the US bond market much worse than Japan ever was—inflation. When Japan started its massive zero rate, ultra-low yield period, it was experiencing deflation, which meant there was still a positive real rate. But that is not true in the US today, as yields are actually well below real-world inflation, meaning genuinely negative real interest rates.
FINSUM: There is ultimately going to have to be a reckoning in the bond market, because real returns are not sustainable. That said, it does not seem like the Fed is going to let that happen any time soon.
The muni market is doing great, at least on paper that is. Muni bonds have seen an absolutely furious rally over the last few months, which has driven yields to the lowest level since the 1950s. However, many municipalities have huge budget deficits, so the trick is to buy prudently. Eaton Vance published a piece with a state by state analysis of financial health, since the pain of tax revenue losses is not spread evenly. There are multiple ways to look at the info. The states who will see a 20%+ fall in revenue include: Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, New York, Alaska, Maine, West Virginia, Louisiana, and New Jersey. The top ten states for creditworthiness (meaning the most creditworthy) according to Eaton Vance are Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Iowa, Virginia, and Minnesota.
FINSUM: New York and New Jersey are the most alarming ones on this list, since they are seeing big revenue falls and were already in quite poor financial condition. Illinois is obviously troubling too, as it is dead last in creditworthiness and likely to see a 13%+ fall in revenue.
Muni bonds have been on a relentless rally. Any advisor is surely aware of this because there is likely a lot of their client’s money in the space. The inflows have been so sharp, and the price action so swift, that average ten-year yields in munis are at 0.7%, the lowest since the 1950s. At the same time, the COVID pandemic has decimated local and state budgets and there is a $1 tn budget deficit. Worse, the federal government has no clear plans in place to help local and state governments, meaning such municipalities may not be bailed out any time soon.
FINSUM: So on the one hand you have soaring prices, and on the other, significantly eroding credit quality. In any normal circumstance this would be seen as a bubble. However, given that Washington does seem likely to offer some aid to local governments, a meltdown will probably be avoided—but not without some volatility along the way.