A basic thesis on Wall Street is that what has worked well in the last market cycle is likely to underperform in a new cycle, and conversely, the underperformers of the last cycle can or should be the outperformers of the new cycle.
The basic logic is intuitive – an asset class that had been a leader in the previous run-up will, at some point, become overpriced and will struggle in the future without significant earnings growth to support the higher prices.
Historically speaking, small caps outperform large caps.
This makes sense because investors need to be compensated for the increased volatility and risk in the small-cap space.
Also, over the long term, value stocks outperform growth stocks.
Since 1926, value investing returned 1,344,600% vs. 626,600% for growth stocks, according to Forbes Advisor. And some of the most famous investors on the planet (think Warren Buffet and Benjamin Graham) are value investors.
But largely none of these long-term trends mattered over the last few years of this past market cycle.
The bull market of the last decade seemed to make investing quite easy, large-cap growth dominated, and as long as you held the big-name tech stocks your portfolio, probably did well.
This trend was exacerbated during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
During the 2020 bear market caused by the pandemic, U.S. markets bottomed on March 23, 2020. From that bottom, the S&P Growth Index initiated a historic recovery and peaked on September 1, 2020.
Much has been made in the media about how quickly markets recovered from the market bottom, but that outperformance was mostly a product of the “Big 5” stocks (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft).
As of September 2, 2020, those five stocks had a year-to-date performance of 65%, the other 495 stocks in the S&P 500 had a total YTD performance of just 3%. Since the fourth quarter of 2020, the story has begun to shift to the performance of small caps and specifically small-cap value.
At the end of the first quarter of 2021, the top two performing sectors of the S&P 500 were Energy and Financials.
What Does it Mean?
Is the “reversion to the mean” a story of small caps over larger caps, or is it Energy & Financials over Tech and Consumer Discretionary?
It is still early and we will continue to watch how this plays out. The main point here is to not be married to a thesis that worked very well in 2020, because the markets may have already started to revert to the mean.
“This time is different” is a phrase commonly heard toward the end of market cycles.
If you hear someone tell you that “this time is different”, run! This time is not different.
Math does not evolve over time. Corporate price/earnings ratios and other investment metrics matter just as much as they have in the past.
Don’t chase performance.
What happened in the past, even in the recent past, is not guaranteed to continue in the future.