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.
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.
Despite elevated uncertainty over pandemic developments and expected policy tightening, and in the face of aggressive valuations, the S&P 500 still managed to gain a delightful +28.7% in 2021. Even more noteworthy, in our opinion, is that this advance came with nary a single correction of more than 10%.
Hiker #1: Can you run faster than that hungry bear looking at us?
Hiker #2: I don’t need to run faster than the bear, I just need to run faster than you.
The Momentum style of investing has a long history of generating excess returns, and ranks near the top of the list of essential smart beta factors. However, Momentum also has a dark side; it is prone to severe drawdowns whenever the market makes a significant reversal.
Investment styles and factors are generally interpreted as having an inherent preference for either bullish or bearish market environments. The theoretical tilt of each style is based on its design and its sensitivity to economic, profit, and valuation cycles. However, theory and practice do not always agree, and we must look to actual performance to confirm our impressions.
As we review factor and style returns for 2020, it occurs to us that the “whole” is much less interesting than the sum of its parts. Many factors are considered to be either bullish or bearish in temperament, and last year’s round-trip offers an opportunity to test the reliability of those characterizations.
Driven by massive government stimulus, an imminent vaccine rollout, and the expectation of record earnings in 2021, investors seem to be on the verge of embracing a move away from Large Cap Growth stocks in earnest. The leading candidates offered as broad-based alternatives to Large Growth (LG) include Value, Small Caps, and Emerging Markets.