Analyst activity is turning sharply higher after strong Q1 reports

8 May 2023 “Objects in the mirror are not as bad as you thought they were” After several sub-par quarters and a period of aggressive estimate cuts, Q1 earnings reports have broadly beaten the reduced earnings forecasts. This has triggered not just higher stock prices but a broad and rapid upturn in the pattern of […]

Large vs Small Caps: Fundamentals vs Risk

One of the asset allocation decisions we research is whether to favor large-caps or small-caps within an equity portfolio. Currently, we see a stark divergence in the broad categories of indicators: the fundamentals of earnings estimates and valuations are now more favorable for small-caps, while low risk appetite among investors and later cycle economic conditions have been favoring large-caps.

Stay with large-caps as volatility picks up

In our view, equity markets have been shifting toward a backdrop of higher volatility and thus more modest gains relative to the last 18 months. After an all-time high in early January, the S&P 500 recently endured its first 10% decline since September 2020 before rebounding sharply in recent days. This pickup in volatility is consistent with the pullback in fiscal and monetary stimulus, and the natural development of the economic cycle. Bonds are still unattractive on a relative valuation basis compared to stocks, but market and macro conditions are no longer as lopsidedly in favor of stocks as they have been.

That’s a BIG Apple

There have been a number of headlines recently highlighting the extraordinary market capitalization being awarded to Apple Inc. (AAPL), which has retaken the title as the world’s most valuable publicly-traded company.

The company’s value is now approaching $3 trillion, a level that places it not only as the largest individual company ever on public markets, but would rank it among the largest stock markets.

Small-caps are gaining traction as light appears at the end of the COVID tunnel

After a long period of either underperformance or mixed relative returns, small-caps in the US are now finally gaining meaningful traction relative to large-caps.

As shown below, the relative return of the small-cap Russell 2000 index versus the large-cap Russell 1000 index has broken out of the range it has been in since June. The latest move started after the Pfizer vaccine news hit on November 9th, after making an initial move in early October.

Vaccine news brought record style rotation in stocks

The headlines on Monday (Nov. 9th, 2020) from Pfizer announcing favorable early results in their COVID-19 vaccine trials, while certainly welcome, clearly caught investors off guard. While the major indices were either up or flat on the day, there was a historic level of divergence within the market among the various styles and sectors.

Such extreme rotations remind us that there is risk in the equity markets even when stocks overall do not fall. Investors focused on relative performance likely either had a huge win or huge loss on Monday.

Relative volatility risk in US small-caps remains high

Among the various asset allocation decisions for which we provide guidance to clients is whether to favor small-caps or large-caps (i.e., the “size” factor) within the US equity market. In our view, small-caps do not reliably outperform large-caps consistently over time (as some models and studies might suggest), and instead view the “size premium” (outperformance of small-caps) more as a cyclical phenomenon that tends to show up under certain macroeconomic and market conditions.