Shifting to value stocks just in the nick of time

Signals are flashing that growth stocks are giving way to value strategies

Nov 11, 2019 @ 1:32 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Without officially admitting or denying that growth stocks' decade-long run has come to a close, some financial advisers and market watchers are giving a committed nod toward value stocks as the next train to ride.

Last week at Charles Schwab Corp.'s annual conference in San Diego, Jeffrey Kleintop, Schwab's chief global investment strategist, pegged the shift in momentum from growth to value to the inverted yield curve, which he said has historically triggered such transitions.

Mr. Kleintop, who was making the point that an inverted yield curve can signal more than just a looming recession, showed that growth and value swapped leads following each of the past three periods when the yields on longer-term bonds fell below those on shorter-term bonds.

"This is part of a longer-term trend that most investors are going to miss," he said.

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Mr. Kleintop's is not the only data showing that the shift toward value is underway.

Research from CFRA chief investment strategist Sam Stovall shows that from Aug. 23 through last Friday, the S&P 500 Value Index gained 12.3%, beating its growth-stock counterpart by a margin of two-to-one.

Investors and financial advisers can be forgiven if they aren't yet fully on board because growth stocks have been overshadowing value for more than a decade.

Since the start of the year, large-cap growth mutual funds, as tracked by Morningstar, averaged a 25% gain, which compares to 21% for large-cap value funds.

Over the trailing 10 years, the growth fund category had an annualized gain of 13.3%, which compares to 10.8% for the value fund category.

"It makes perfect sense that the market will start changing toward the value side, but we've seen a growth bias for a while and so far, we haven't seen enough to change that," argued Tim Holsworth, president of AHP Financial Services.

Mr. Holsworth added that his rationale for sticking with his growth-stock overweight in part reflects "our deep love for tech and health care, which are sectors that automatically put us in the growth camp."

While advisers like Mr. Holsworth might have momentum on their side, much of the data favors value.

According to CFRA, the S&P value index is trading at a 4% discount to its average price-to-earnings ratio since 2003, while its growth index counterpart is trading at a head-turning 24% premium.

In comparing the valuations with the broader market, Mr. Stovall finds that the value index's relative price-earnings ratio is 10% below its 15-year average, while the growth index's P/E ratio is 13% above normal.

"I'm seeing it and I have already allocated into it," Vance Barse, wealth strategist and founder of Your Dedicated Fiduciary, said regarding the recent shift in momentum toward value.

Mr. Barse believes the shift is a combination of "smart money" strategies and macroeconomic factors, including three interest-rate cuts this year that make dividend-paying stocks more attractive relative to bonds.

"Historically, value has outperformed growth during recessions and bear markets," he said. "The smart money may be aiming to capture the higher dividends offered by value equities while positioning portfolios a little more defensively."

Paul Schatz, president of Heritage Capital, said there is a strong case for allocating to value in the later stages of a bull market, but he also noted that investors have been fooled in the past by similar-looking data.

"The growth-value relationship recently was as rich as at any time since the dot-com bubble peaked" in early 2000, Mr. Schatz said. "Since bottoming in 2007, growth has steadily marched higher versus value. In 2009, 2011 and 2015, pundits called the end of the growth rally, only to be proven wrong, and here we are again."

Mr. Stovall of CFRA said investors and advisers who might not appreciate the growth-value momentum shift should take some solace in knowing that the market is transitioning, "rather than cashing out altogether."

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