Eq: Small Caps
If you think the economy is going to keep humming along, then buy small caps, as they look set to gain the most from that scenario, at least according to Leuthold group. Small caps look likely to benefit disproportionately from the rising inflation and higher appetite for risky assets that accompany a strong economy. That said, small caps have lagged large caps for the last decade, so there is some reason to be skeptical about this call. Accordingly, “If 2020 should prove difficult for earnings growth, we would expect large-caps to maintain their earnings growth superiority”.
FINSUM: We can see the economy continuing to roll, but we have a harder time seeing inflation jumping up. We think the status quo will continue.
Small cap stocks are starting to have their day in the sun. The Russell 200 has started to catch up to large cap indexes this autumn, and some stocks look ready to surge. The index is now up 21.2% for the year, just a few points behind the S&P 500’s 25.5%. According to Merrill Lynch, economic recoveries “tend to be the best phase for small-caps …That’s one key reason we think we could be poised for a shift from large to small”. According to a Jefferies analyst, “I think small is primed to outperform as the economy and earnings improve in 2020 … That’s going to be the whole ballgame”.
FINSUM: It is hard to imagine the US is going to enter an “economic recovery phase” at the end of a ten-year bull run, but the market’s perception of the current economy is exactly that, so these forecasts might be spot on.
Any small cap investor can tell you that the end of the year is not usually a good time. Small caps historically suffer in November and December compared to the rest of the year. However, 2019 looks to be shaping up differently according to the Wall Street Journal. The reason small caps are usually weak at the end of the year is that managers sell off their holdings and mirror the market at the year-end as a way of insulating their annual bonus (which is based on outperformance). However, in years where overall stock performance has been strong, this pattern is less obvious. So, given 2019’s strong gains, it seems like small caps probably won’t suffer so much.
FINSUM: This is by no means a guarantee, but it certainly seems like a more positive structural consideration.
A lot of demographers think there is going to be a coming baby boom, as Millennials finally have children. There is some disagreement over this as many think the boom is already a bust, but the reality is that there is likely to be a lot of babies born the next few years as Millennials make a last push to have children. The parents are likely to be older, which means more disposable income, and more spending. Therefore, buying into baby-oriented stocks seems like a good idea. Take a look at Carter’s, Bed Bath & Beyond (which has a baby unit), and Children’s Place.
FINSUM: We think there will be a baby rush over the next five years as Millennials try to have kids before aging out. That presents an opportunity for the baby sector.
If there were ever a small cap sector overwhelmed by their larger cousins, it would be in technology. Small cap tech stocks are so overshadowed by FAANGs and the like that one would be forgiven for not even realizing they exist. However, they do, and they may very well be a good buy at the moment. The S&P 600 Small-Cap Technology currently trades at half the valuation of the S&P 500 Technology index, way down from its historical spread. What’s more, profit estimates are healthier too. Calling small cap stocks “mini-fangs”, Leuthold Group argues that “the mini-Fangs offer a significantly higher growth profile at a substantially lower valuation”.
FINSUM: A couple notes here. Firstly, the FAANGs aren’t even really “tech” stocks anymore after the sector realignment, so the valuation comparisons are not perfect. Secondly, what is the catalyst? Leuthold argues that if the economy does a little better than expected then higher inflation will boost tech stocks. That sounds flimsy.
Small caps socks are having a rough year relative to the S&P 500. The Russell 2000 is up 15%, but behind the 19% gain of large caps. However, one area of small caps is doing great—momentum small caps, which are ahead of even their large cap cousins. Funds like the Invesco DWA SmallCap Momentum (DWAS), are up 26% this year through Wednesday. The fund aims to match the performance of the best 10% of stocks in the Russell 2000. Speaking broadly on the performance, the head of research at Nasdaq Dorset Wright says “Momentum can thrive in a market where you have a wide range of dispersions, and that’s especially true in the small-cap space, where you can have a big difference between the best and worst performers”.
FINSUM: There is a quite a variance in performance and financial conditions of small cap companies, and given the prevailing environment, that is creating highly differential results, which is great for momentum funds.