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US labor: Is the discouraged worker bad for stocks and bonds?

Part 6
US labor: Is the discouraged worker bad for stocks and bonds? (Part 6 of 9)

Labor implications for equity ETF investors: Value versus growth

Growth has outperformed value since 2008, but…

The below graph looks at the performance of value versus growth indices in comparison to much broader indices—the Russell 2000 (IWM) and S&P 500 (SPY). While the broadest of indices, the Russell 2000, outperformed all other indices, it’s important to note that, relative to the S&P 500, the Growth Index outperformed both the S&P 500 and the Value Index, and that the Value Index was the lowest performing index of all. This pattern suggests that, in the case of economic recovery and rising stock prices, exposure to growth companies may outperform value companies, and that the broadest index exposure to a larger number of smaller companies in general, as reflected in the Russell 2000 index, may offer the best upside potential.

Broad Market Indices vs Value  Growth IndicesEnlarge Graph

For a more comprehensive review of the U.S. macroeconomic environment driving the labor market data in this series, please see Must-know 2014 US macro outlook: The crack in the debt ceiling.

Value stocks outperform growth stocks in the long run

Despite the recent outperformce of growth stocks in the post-2008 economic recovery, in the long run, and over several business cycles, academic studies tend to show that value stocks outperform growth stocks. One value-versus-growth study, by Chan & Lakonishok, involving data from 1969 to 2001—the peak of the Dot Com bubble growth stock phase—showed that even during this 22-year period, smaller-value companies outperformed growth stocks by 18%.

Value stocks tend to hold up better in declining markets

Plus, as the below chart demonstrates, during weak equity market periods, such as the Dot Com crisis of 2002, or the financial crisis of 2008, value stocks held up much better than growth stocks, and they tend to do so when the future direction of the economy looks bleak.

Category/Index     2002     2003     2004    2005   2006   2007     2008   2009    2010     2011

Large Growth        -27.64   28.66     7.81    6.71     7.05   13.35   -40.67   35.68   15.53    -2.46
LargeValue           - 18.69    28.44    12.97    5.95   18.15    1.42   -37.09   24.13   13.66    -0.75
S&P 500                -22.10    28.69    10.88   4.91     15.79    5.49   -37.00   26.46   15.06     2.11

Mid-cap Growth    -27.24   35.96    13.23    9.84     9.00   15.09   -43.77   39.11   24.61    -3.96
Mid-cap Value        -13.25   33.85    17.85    8.82     15.87    0.83   -36.77   35.41   21.92    -3.96
S&P Midcap 400   -14.53   35.62    16.48   12.56    10.32   7.98   -36.23   37.38   26.64   -1.73

Small-cap Growth -27.88    45.54    12.41    6.02    10.81   7.59   -41.55    35.46   26.98    -3.55
Small-cap Value    -10.12     42.38    21.14    6.40    16.27   -6.08   -32.24   31.32   26.17    -4.45
Russell 2000           -20.48     47.25   18.33   4 .55    18.37   -1.57   -33.79   27.17   26.86   -4.18

Source: Morningstar

As a result, investors concerned about a major decline in global equity prices or suddenly weakening economic data may wish to consider weighting value shares over growth shares in their portfolio. Alternatively, if investors are confident that global economic growth will remain firm, and that earnings will continue to be strong, an allocation to growth stocks over value stocks may be more appropriate.

A note on credit: Verizon versus Sprint

Verizon (VZ) has a market capitalization of $198.36 billion, and a credit rating of BBB+. Reducing the firm’s $96.61 billion of debt by the firm’s very large $54.13 billion cash position, we are left with approximately $42 billion of net debt, and a 0.98 debt to equity ratio. In contrast to Sprint (S), Verizon has a positive net profit margin of 9.54%, and a positive 26.03% return on equity, versus Sprint’s negative 8.5% profit margin and negative 18.48 return on equity. Verizon’s revenues are $120.55 billion (roughly three times larger than Sprint), and Verizon also has a whopping $48.57 in earnings before interest and taxes, or EBITDA (six times larger than Sprint) to service its net debt of $42 billion—only 1.68 times larger than Sprint.

Clearly, Verizon’s very large EBITDA relative to its modest debt levels would suggest that even in the case of economic weakness—related to labor and consumption or most anything else—Verizon has a far superior ability to service its debt. Perhaps a strengthening labor market and overall economy can support Sprint’s operating margins and debt service capabilities relative to Verizon in the future. Sprint currently has a August 15, 2007, senior unsecured bond yielding 2.95%, versus Verizon’s February 15, 2008, senior unsecured bond yielding 2.00%, T-Mobile USA’s February 19, 2019, senior unsecured bond yielding 3.00%, CIT Group’s February 19, 2019, senior unsecured bond yielding 3.46%, and Caesar’s Entertainment’s June 1, 2017, senior secured bond yielding around 11.00% (Bloomberg & Capital IQ, December 31, 2013 Quarter).

To see how fixed income ETF performance varies depending on credit quality and duration of the portfolio holdings, please see the next article in this series.

To see how various fixed income ETFs compare to one another in the current macroeconomic environment, please see Key strategy: Will deflation contain the bear market in bonds?

Equity outlook: Cautious

Should the debt ceiling debate re-emerge after the mid-term elections in November, and macroeconomic data fail to rebound in sync with record corporate profits, investors may wish to consider limiting excessive exposure to the U.S. domestic economy, as reflected more completely in the iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM). Alternatively, investors may wish to consider shifting equity exposure to more defensive consumer staples-related shares, as reflected in the iShares Russell 1000 Value Index (IWD).

Plus, even the global blue chip shares in the S&P 500 (SPY) or Dow Jones (DIA) could come under pressure in a rising interest rate environment accompanied by slowing consumption, investment, and economic growth. So investors may exercise greater caution when investing in the State Street Global Advisors S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) or the State Street Global Advisors Dow Jones SPDR (DIA) ETFs. Until there’s greater progress on the budget and federal debt issue, and consumption, investment, and GDP start to show greater signs of self-sustained growth, investors may wish to exercise caution and consider value and defensive sectors for investment, or individual companies such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT).

Without sustained improvement in economic growth data, there’s little doubt that the debt level issue and tax reform will be a big issue later in the year. Current economic data noted in this series suggests that the probability of the 2013 sequester issue returning—in one form or another—could be higher than many think. The data is simply not that robust—yet.

Equity outlook: Constructive

However, if investors are confident in the ability of the USA to sustain the current economic recovery as a result of the improving macroeconomic data noted in this series, they may be willing to take a longer-term view and invest in U.S. equities at their current prices. With the S&P 500 (SPY) price-to-earnings ratio standing at 19.65 versus the historical average of around 15.50, the S&P is slightly rich in price—though earnings have been solid. However, with so much wealth sitting in risk-free and short-term financial assets, it’s possible to imagine that a large reallocation of capital that is “on strike,” including corporate profits, into long-term fixed investments. This could lead to greater economic growth rates and support both higher equity and housing prices as well. In the case of a constructive outlook, investors should consider investing in growth through the iShares Russell 1000 Growth Index (IWF) or through individual growth-oriented companies such as Google (GOOG).

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