Looking to 2021 there are several reasons for economic optimism:
A Covid-19 vaccine is in the process of delivery.
Government stimulus will speed economic recovery.
Low interest rates will make capital affordable.
Pent-up demand for travel and other deferred needs will be released.
In addition, many companies have reduced their expenses during the pandemic, which will result in increased profitability during the ensuing economic recovery.
The big question facing investors is: How much of this projected economic recovery has been reflected in stock prices? Last year we witnessed a 32% decline in the S&P 500
Stock Index from February 19th to March 23rd. Since then, the Index has recovered to a new all time high. However, the rise in stock prices has been quite uneven. Investors seemed willing to pay almost any price for those companies that were showing the greatest earnings gains, while paying little attention to more reasonably priced stocks that had seen sales and earnings affected by the pandemic. The ten largest stocks in the S&P Index accounted for almost all the year-to-year gain. The top ten stocks in the S&P Index ended the year at an average of 33 times earnings, while the remaining stocks traded at a more reasonable 19.7 times earnings. These levels are both higher than average due to the low level of interest rates and the unattractive investment alternative offered by bonds. So, the answer to the big question may be that while some market sectors are discounting the recovery, others are not.
Much has been written about this disparity between growth stocks vs. value stocks during 2020. As the economy emerges from the effects of Covid-19 and earnings improve across the economy we may well see better market performance from the neglected group of more reasonably priced value stocks. We will continue to manage portfolios with a combination of those stocks that are experiencing faster growth and those that are more reasonably priced and not reflecting the full benefits of a recovery. Our strategy is to manage risk, while providing opportunity.
As always, please call with any questions or comments.
With best wishes for a happy and healthy New year,
William A. Goldstein