Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Stocks have come a long way since the S&P 500 bear market low way back on March 23, 2020, but despite the general strength of the bull market we’ve seen two very different types of trades leading markets at different times. They include a “work-from-home” trade characterized by strength among large caps and growth-style oriented stocks, strong performance by U.S. stocks in particular, and well contained interest rates. At other times, we’ve seen a “reopening trade,” where mid- and small-cap stocks have performed well, cyclically-oriented value-style stocks have led, interest rates have pressed higher, and performance across geographical regions has been more even. For most of the last six months the work-from-home trade has dominated, but we’re seeing some signs of potential rotation toward a reopening theme once again.
“It’s increasingly looking like the Delta-related surge in COVID-19 cases, while still dangerous, has passed its peak, and there are signals that markets may be anticipating the next stage of economic reopening,” said LPL Chief Market Strategist Ryan Detrick. “After a mid-summer head fake, we’re seeing signs that this time the rotation might stick.”
It all starts with interest rates. The 10-year Treasury yield started to stabilize in early August, and since then we’ve seen steady movement higher as elevated inflation looks increasingly sticky in the near term, and markets start to anticipate global central bankers slowly winding down extraordinarily supportive monetary policy. The full transition to neutral policy will likely take years, and central banks will remain supportive for some time, but the change in direction does matter. Seeing the 10-year yield move higher despite stock losses on Tuesday may be a telling sign.
A higher 10-year Treasury yield has supported financial sector stocks, which are the largest sector in the Russell 1000 Value Index. The breakout in relative strength compared to the August peak may signal a more sustainable change in direction this time.
It’s still too early to call a reversal by value-style stocks overall, but financial sector strength helps. Rising interest rates also tend to increase the value of near-term earnings over less visible long-term earnings growth, which may also give value stocks an edge. While there are some signs of a reversal higher in the value trade, what we’ve seen so far isn’t persuasive in isolation. But added to the broader market signals, we see potential for further relative strength, particularly for cyclical value sectors.
The relative strength of small caps looks more robust, breaking out to the upside after treading water for several months. Small caps went through a stretch of extraordinarily strong performance between September 2020 and March 2021, and it’s not completely surprising that they gave back a good share of those gains after coming so far so fast, but we still think the economic environment is likely to be supportive for small- and mid-caps compared to large.
We’ve been anticipating a rotation back to the reopening trade for some time. If you look at the charts there’s really been relative stability between the two themes since mid-July, but the last few weeks have provided solid signals of a potential reversal. With the latest surge in COVID-19 cases likely past peak, vaccination rates slowly rising, and economic surprises starting to come back into balance after a series of disappointments, it’s no surprise to see the shift toward the reopening theme.
But there are some potential economic negatives that support this trade as well, such as high commodity prices, higher interest rates, and growing risk of stickier inflation. Nevertheless, we think the fundamental backdrop for equities remains positive on the whole, and we continue to recommend modest overweights to equities while leaning into cyclically-oriented value sectors and tilting away from large caps.
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