There was an inflection point for financial markets in October. Soft inflation data resulted in a change in consensus as Fed futures now indicate that the Fed’s next move is more likely to be a rate cut rather than a hike. One of the biggest winners of this dovish shift has been small-cap stocks as the Russell 2000 is up 12.1% over the last 90 days and 8.5% over the past month. Another reason for interest in the sector is that valuations are at historically low levels.
In theory, rate cuts are bullish for small-cap stocks since they lead to lower financing costs, puts upward pressure on multiples, and tends to be a leading indicator of an increase in M&A activity. In reality, rate cuts are often necessary due to a weakening economy. Thus, a major variable in whether small-caps deliver stellar returns is whether inflation can continue to moderate without the economy tumbling into a recession.
According to Mike Wilson, CIO and chief US equity strategist for Morgan Stanley, investors should pay close attention to earnings revisions, high frequency economic data, and small business confidence. At the moment, all of these measures are moving in the wrong direction. He adds that for small-cap outperformance to continue, GDP needs to reaccelerate, and inflation needs to stabilize at current levels.
Finsum: After years of underperformance, small-cap stocks are seeing huge gains on rising odds of a Fed rate cut next year. However, continued outperformance for the sector depends on certain variables.