The ink hadn’t dried on 2020’s PPP checks when pundits began speculating that the new decade could be a repeat of last century’s “Roaring Twenties.” That’s become a popular view after a booming 5.7% real GDP growth and a nearly 30% stock market gain in 2021. Just how popular? Analysts are already extrapolating their bullish views into the 2030s!
There should be a name for the syndrome suffered by foreign stock investors over the last decade or so. “Groundhog Day” doesn’t quite cut it, because that event repeats only once a year. It seems like this time of year we always feature a chart showing a healthy YTD double-digit gain in the S&P 500, along with a bond-like gain in EAFE, and a bond-like gain or loss in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
The COVID rescue plan has generated a multi-trillion-dollar deluge of federal spending that has trickled down to government transfer payments, personal incomes, retail sales, and surging EPS. When considering all of these data series in relation to their long-term trends, it’s truly remarkable that the only item analysts consider to be “transitory” is inflation.
After the last two months’ violent reversal of the “re-opening” trade, the major indexes for U.S. Large Cap, Small Cap, Growth, and Value all stood with YTD gains in the 14-16% range. Yes, a few nimble portfolio managers might have migrated out of “re-opening” stocks in early April and into the “old” Large Cap Growth leadership but the surest route to superior performance has been to avoid what’s become an almost annual pitfall since the Great Financial Crisis: Foreign stocks. EAFE and MSCI Emerging Markets already trail the S&P 500’s 16.0% YTD gain by about 8% and 12%, respectively.
It’s near the year’s mid-point and U.S. equities are doing what they’ve done nearly every year since the onset of the Great Financial Crisis: trouncing their foreign counterparts. The S&P 500’s YTD gain of 13.5% is about 500 basis points better than EAFE’s, and 800 basis points above that of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
For years, we’ve noted the increasing valuation gap between domestic and foreign stocks. And for years, we contended that the most likely catalyst for a narrowing of that gap would be a recession-induced cyclical bear market in stocks. Evidently the 2020 bear market was not big enough to do the job.
Market momentum now seems to outweigh simple math in the minds of most investors, and we are not entirely immune. Today our tactical funds are positioned with net equity exposure of 50%, the midpoint of the normal 30-70% range. That’s a higher allocation than if we considered only business cycle dynamics and equity valuations.