Growth Vs. Value
Style investors recently witnessed a rare event when, on February 13th, the P/E ratio of the S&P 500 Growth Index fell below that of the S&P 500 Value Index. At first glance, it is tempting to attribute this valuation flip-flop to the 2022 bear market, which saw Value outperform Growth by a whopping 24.2%. However, the bear-induced collapse of Growth stock prices in 2022 only served to return the P/E spread to a level just below its historical median of 5.1, meaning that the final move toward parity was caused by a force outside the market itself. That “something else” was the S&P 500 style reconstitution that occurs annually on the third Friday of December.
Deflating valuations in the Technology and Innovation space produced ghastly results for growth investors in 2022, with the S&P 500 Growth index experiencing an agonizing 29.4% loss. Meanwhile, last year’s bear market was no more than a mild irritation for value investors as the S&P 500 Value index lost just 5.2%. The collapse in exuberantly priced growth stocks produced a 24.2% return spread between the value and growth styles, which goes into the record books as the second biggest annual win for value since 1975.
The six-week rally that started mid-June featured advances from AAPL (+25%), AMZN (+30%), and TSLA (+39%), which accounted for one-fourth of the S&P 500’s gain. Despite the recent preference for Value, a spike in interest rates, and the bear market, the index’s concentration in the top-five firms is still near it’s all-time high set in August 2020.
Mystery writers are fond of creating misdirection by introducing multiple eyewitnesses that each describe the crime differently. This plot device confuses the storyline until a clever detective comes forward to unravel the conflicting evidence and solve the mystery.
This scenario played out in style returns for 2021, as shown in Table. Our first witness is a large cap manager who tracks the S&P 500 and reports another banner year for Growth, its seventh win in the last ten years. Our second observer is a small cap manager who watches the broader market and tells of Value’s excellent year. Meanwhile, our third bystander is an international manager tracking EAFE, who reports seeing a whole lotta’ nothing in the style derby last year. In this study, we channel our inner Hercule Poirot to determine what, in fact, did happen across domestic style returns in 2021.
One measure of a bubbly bull market is the degree of speculative fervor embedded in the prices of companies with nebulous, indeterminate, or even nonexistent intrinsic values. Since the bear market low in March 2020, speculative manias have evolved in a menagerie of asset classes including Innovators & Disruptors, SPACs, meme stocks, crypto currencies, and NFTs. Based on the breadth of valuation extremes across numerous and diverse assets, this bull market may rank second to none.
The performance derby between actively managed portfolios and passive benchmarks is strongly influenced by market conditions. Active manager success rates are cyclical, but not random, and are driven by slippage created from style, size, and weighting considerations that result from the imperfect slotting of active portfolios into single style boxes. Moreover, this slippage can be defined and measured, and shows a clear correlation with relative return spreads between benchmarks and their opposite boxes.
Top decile valuations are often the result of unduly positive investor sentiment that leads to inflated multiples. Bullishness comes in varying strengths: optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, and, at the extreme, the mania of crowds. Because bullishness manifests itself in aggressive valuations for speculative companies, we believe the prices being applied to such companies - for which intrinsic value is dependent on a future that looks significantly different than today - are an excellent measure of investor sentiment. In that spirit, we examined past cycles of extreme valuations with the goal of understanding how they relate to investor sentiment and what they might tell us about market conditions and relative returns.
Top decile valuations, such as those in place today, are usually the result of excessively positive investor sentiment that leads to inflated multiples. Bullishness comes in varying strengths: optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, and, at the extreme, the mania of crowds. Leuthold research typically tracks valuation sentiment by examining median P/E ratios, but in this study, we are taking the opposite tack. Rather than looking at medians, we are focusing on the outliers in each tail of the valuation distribution.
Investors looking for the long-awaited rebound in the Value style point to the potential for rising interest rates as a possible driver of style rotation. Higher rates would benefit many Financial companies, a sector closely linked to the Value style. In fact, many commentators believe that the Value style cannot experience a major run without the participation of Financials. We launched a research effort to examine the link between Financials and Value, seeking to understand whether there is truth in this old saw, or whether this connection is more properly classified as market folklore.
Investors looking for the long-awaited rebound in the Value style point to the potential for rising interest rates as a possible driver of style rotation. Higher rates would benefit many Financial companies—a sector closely linked to the Value style. In fact, numerous commentators believe that Value cannot experience a major run without the participation of Financials.
Presidents and the popular press have become obsessed with performance over the “first 100 days” in office. That prompted us to see if there have been any persistent stock market effects related to this 100-day window. There are many ways to slice the data, and the more we sliced it, the fewer the observations.
The strong market rebound in the second quarter lifted the relative return of Growth vs. Value to an all-time high by the end of June. Chart 1 reveals that the cumulative S&P 500 Growth / Value return spread hit a new record last month, surpassing the previous high reached at the end of the Tech bubble in June 2000.
As the market rebound has extended, we’ve noted its striking similarities with the rally of 1999—one that might have been the most speculative in U.S. history.
We thought Jerome Powell’s “Christmas Capitulation” would be tough to beat, but he accomplished that two days ago with what could be called his “Spring Surrender.” That, in turn, has rekindled hopes of a stock market melt-up along the lines of 1998-99, which, as old-timers will remember, followed a late-cycle correction that was nearly identical to the one seen last year.
Value is the philosophical cornerstone of many legendary portfolio managers and is widely recognized as one of the most robust quantitative investment factors. Yet, despite its compelling conceptual merits and long-term record of superior returns, recent years’ underperformance of Value has lasted long enough to weigh on even 10-year performance records.