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Market View

What are the prospects for U.S. and international stocks in the coming year? Lord Abbett experts offer their insights.

 

In Brief

  • What should equity investors be watching in the coming year? We asked Lord Abbett investment professionals for their views.
  • Joseph Graham, investment strategist, notes that current expectations for rising rates have resulted in an “interesting” valuation discount for U.S. dividend-paying equities.
  • Graham also notes that repatriation of foreign cash reserves under a revised U.S. tax code may prompt large, global companies to boost dividend payments.
  • Brian Foerster, investment strategist, says that ongoing solid economic growth in the United States could lead to continued strength in high-growth stocks across all market capitalizations.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. small-cap stocks likely would benefit more significantly than large caps from proposed changes to the corporate tax code.
  • Turning to international equities, Foerster says valuations outside the United States are notably lower than those in U.S. equity markets.
  • As for specific opportunities, Foerster thinks international small-cap equities, both in developed markets and in select emerging markets, show particular appeal.

 

With 2017 nearly in the books, investors are eager to look ahead to what might be in store for the new year. In previous weeks, we’ve covered the outlook for fixed-income investments and the global economy. Now, it’s equities’ turn. Here, we present insights on major equity categories in U.S. and international markets from Lord Abbett investment strategists Joseph Graham and Brian Foerster.

Dividend/Large-Cap Equity
Joseph Graham
Many dividend-paying stocks have enjoyed solid gains alongside the broader market in 2017. Still, as in other recent years, the prospect of rising interest rates has led to some lingering caution among equity investors regarding their exposure to dividend payers. Some of this caution is warranted. Rising rates can impede the relative performance of high dividend-payout stocks, often found in slower-growth sectors such as utilities, real estate investment trusts, telecom services, and consumer staples. 

Right now, though, current expectations for rising rates have resulted in an interesting valuation discount: dividend-paying stocks as a group appear more attractive now on a relative basis than they have in some time. J.P. Morgan research found that a basket of stocks representing a dividend yield style of investing currently trades with a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 16.2x, compared to the broader market (as represented by the S&P 500® Index) at 19.0x. While dividend payers historically have traded at a discount to the market, today’s spread is nearly four times wider than normal (-2.8x, versus the 10-year average discount of -0.8x).

To be sure, the specter of rising rates should at least be given a second thought. Remember that analysts have predicted long-term rate increases every year since 2009—to little avail. To put it mildly, experts’ prognostications concerning interest-rate moves have had little, if any, predictive value in recent years.

In addition, the impact of rising rates on dividend stocks as a group is often oversimplified. There are a great many stocks that have both earnings growth and pay a dividend. Technology stocks, for example, now make up 9% of all dividend payers in the Russell 1000® Index, up from 6% only 10 years ago, and actually are some of the largest dividend payers around. The earnings growth component of stocks, such as those in the technology sector, may well overwhelm the interest-rate sensitivity of the dividend component. We think it is important to include economically sensitive equities in any dividend-oriented portfolio in order to counterbalance the potential impact of rising rates on the slower-growth “bond proxy” sectors.

It is possible that sourcing these alternative sources of dividends will get easier next year. Less costly repatriation of foreign cash reserves under a revised U.S. tax code may well fill the coffers of many large, global companies, and increased dividend payments are a logical use of that cash. 

Growth and Small-/Mid-Cap Equities
Brian Foerster
We believe the U.S. economy is transitioning from a long period of slow and shallow growth, driven largely by quantitative easing, to a fundamentally driven phase of this expansion. And that's good news. Throughout 2017, we’ve seen strong earnings growth in many industries, and perhaps even more important, there has been evidence of strengthening top-line revenue growth, which reflects the organic growth of business itself, not just cost-cutting measures. And that's something that's been absent for quite some time. In such an environment, we would expect to see continued strength in high-growth stocks across all market capitalizations. Moreover, should we get long-anticipated fiscal stimulus out of Washington, D.C., we would anticipate the long-awaited resurgence of small-cap stocks and cyclically oriented value stocks that could benefit from broadening economic growth in the United States.

Segments of the U.S. economy experiencing secular growth (meaning, not dependent on strong economic growth) have returned to favor in 2017, and have delivered compelling growth rates. High-growth stocks in such areas as biotechnology, cloud software, e-commerce, and hosted software, all have experienced periods of robust growth. Many of these companies represent the engines of the technological revolution, and they, in turn, are influencing not only the information technology sector but also areas such as health care, industrials, and machinery.

Last, within the United States, the impact of proposed changes to the corporate tax code likely will benefit small-cap stocks more meaningfully than large caps, both because smaller companies derive most of their revenues from the United States and they have, on average, paid higher effective tax rates. Note that small caps now have underperformed mega-caps significantly in the United States for four calendar years. We think the market’s preference for the perceived safety of mature companies could be coming to an end as investor optimism about corporate earnings improves. 

International Equities
Brian Foerster
In terms of international equities, valuations outside the United States are meaningfully lower than what we see in the U.S. equity markets. We also see some interesting investment themes. For example, in India and Malaysia, we are seeing a rapid maturation of their housing finance markets over the last decade, creating opportunities for well-capitalized private lenders to structure attractive lending products for consumers, which in turn is creating the same type of wealth effect that evolved in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s, as the nation regrouped after the war.

Where else might investors find opportunity? We believe that investors should consider a meaningful allocation to international small-cap equities, both in developed markets and in select emerging markets. This is an asset class that is largely under-covered by Wall Street analysts, making it a highly inefficient market where active managers can uncover attractive opportunities that can be substantially mis-priced relative to future earnings growth. Investment exposures in this asset class are also more idiosyncratic as well as country- and sector-specific, meaning they are less directly exposed to global macro risks. 

Always mindful of such risks, we are nonetheless bullish on non-U.S. small-cap stocks in both the near term, due to attractive economic conditions, and for long-term strategic positioning. In particular, we think multiple expansion and strengthening corporate earnings could unfold in the eurozone, as GDP growth finally begins to creep higher. Also, China’s economic activity appears to be much stronger than the dour expectations that caused such grave concern in late 2015 and early 2016. [Remember that international investing involves risks, which are often heightened for investments in emerging/developing markets or smaller capital markets.]

 

MARKET VIEW PDFs


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