Mid and Small Cap stocks underperformed in 2018 and 2019. However, after the collapse of February and March, these “SMID” Caps have largely kept pace with the torrid rebound in the blue chips. Today’s valuations are priming the SMIDs for a similar “decoupling” in the years ahead, like that following Y2K.
The first up-leg of the bull market has catapulted many Large Cap valuations to levels seen only in 1999, 2000, 2019, and pre-pandemic 2020. At the six-month point on September 23rd, the S&P 500 P/E on 5-Yr. Normalized EPS had already reached 26.9x—a reading that is 30% higher than at the same point of any other bull market.
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.
How does one value a stock market in which 12-month forward EPS estimates show their widest dispersion in history? A good start might be with methods we use when forward estimates show practically no dispersion (like three months ago). In either case, we place little weight on such estimates; each revision usually has only marginal impact on our 5-Year Normalized EPS.
A composite measure of Mid Caps and Small Caps are at bottom-decile valuations relative to their 26-year histories. From a shorter-term viewpoint, though, we find it scary that valuations are so low just a single month into the recession.
The coronavirus epidemic/pandemic is getting the bulk of the blame for the sudden collapse in U.S. equities, and certainly qualifies as one of the few “black swans” seen in modern market history. We do not think the ultimate path of the coronavirus contagion can be analyzed at this point, and medical experts foresee possible outcomes ranging from a serious epidemic to a short burst of illness that fades with the summer weather.
With 2020 representing The Leuthold Group’s 40th year of publishing Perception For The Professional, we perused the first few Green Books for relevant nuggets from 1981, but the backdrop could not have been more different. Therefore, we instead turned the clock back 20 years, thinking it might yield insights more resonant with today’s environment.
An occasional critique of our valuation work is that we consider “too much” market history to form a judgment as to what constitutes “high” or “low.” This type of feedback declined during and after the financial crisis (when historic valuation thresholds were temporarily revisited), but it has become more pointed as the U.S. market has soared to new highs.
For valuation work, we’ve traditionally favored the 1,200 company Leuthold Small Cap universe over the S&P SmallCap 600 because we get almost a full additional decade of perspective. But figures for the latter shed extra light on just how significant the revaluation in Small Caps has been.
The June 2016 Brexit referendum kicked off a tortured process for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. However, the wheels of international politics turn slowly, and the original date of formal withdrawal was set as March 29, 2019. As the calendar rolled into 2019 it became obvious that the March closing date was not going to be met, and concerns mounted over delays, procedures, deal-or-no-deal, a new prime minister, and even calls for another vote.
Investor sentiment seems to be unusually conflicted these days. There are worries aplenty, including numerous political skirmishes of consequence around the world, a slowing global economy, and lofty U.S. equity valuations. On the other hand, fiscal stimulus is high for this stage in an economic cycle and the Fed is easing monetary policy, two policy drivers it rarely pays to bet against.