Burt White, chief investment officer for LPL Financial, checks in on some “so-called Trump trades” – like small caps, financials and industrials – in his weekly market commentary this week.
Recently, these trades have given back some of their pre-election gains.
“Small caps, financials and industrials are each very sensitive to Washington’s policies, so how much the Trump administration can get done will go a long way toward determining if these investments perform well over the balance of the year,” White writes. “Recent underperformance of each of these areas likely reflects some loss of confidence in the Trump agenda.”
While policy is not the only factor to consider when evaluating these investments, it is a “very important one,” White says.
White examines the recent weakness in small caps, financials and industrials stocks – and how they each fair under the Trump agenda.
Small-cap stocks may be the most sensitive to the Trump policy agenda, according to White.
“Smaller companies would generally benefit more from a lower corporate tax rate than their larger-cap counterparts because of their greater proportion of domestic revenue and resulting higher tax rates (global multinationals earn more profits overseas in low tax countries),” White says.
According to White, the median corporate tax rate for the companies in the small-cap Russell 2000 is 4% to 5% higher than that of the large-cap S&P 500.
Many smaller, U.S.-focused companies also stand to benefit from the Trump administration’s efforts to bring overseas production back to the states. Small caps also generally benefit more from financial deregulation because they tend to be more credit sensitive than large caps and rely more on bank loans than larger companies that tend to have stronger balance sheets.
“Small caps have underperformed in recent months, begging the question of whether the relative weakness reflects dampened enthusiasm for the Trump agenda (our sense is it does), and whether the weakness presents a buying opportunity,” White writes.
According to White, the latest dip in small caps is more likely to present a potential opportunity than the start of a period of prolonged weakness, largely because he continues to believe corporate tax reform will pass. Though, he says, corporate tax reform will likely be scaled down from earlier proposals from Trump and congressional Republicans and it may not get done until early 2018.
In addition to the potential boost of corporate tax reform, White notes the improving underlying health of the economy and credit markets.
White considers the financials sector in the Trump trade category for two reasons.
“First, the Trump agenda has been viewed as likely to put upward pressure on interest rates and steepen the yield curve,” he writes, adding, “Second, Trump is a big proponent of financial deregulation and has already taken steps to ease the regulatory burden on financial institutions through executive orders.”
But, like small caps, financials have more going for them than just a potential policy boost, which is why White views financials’ recent underperformance as a potential opportunity.
“[F]inancials enjoyed a very strong fourth-quarter earnings season with little help from Washington, D.C.,” White writes.
According to White, the sector is benefiting from underlying recent improvement in the U.S. economy. He notes that inflation has picked up and is starting to put some upward pressure on interest rates. In addition, the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate twice in the past four months with “little consideration for prospective pro-growth policies,” White says.
Healthy credit markets reflect oil’s rebound, while financials enjoyed a very strong fourth quarter earnings season with little help from Washington, D.C.
“Even if only a scaled-down version of the Trump agenda is implemented, we believe the underlying improvement in the U.S. economy and potential for higher interest rates are enough for at least a moderately positive view of financials,” White writes.
Trump’s plans to increase spending on infrastructure and defense have made the industrials sector a popular Trump trade, White writes. However, White is skeptical of Trump’s ambitious infrastructure plans.
“Trump has proposed a massive $1 trillion spending plan over 10 years ($100 billion per year) through public-private partnerships; numbers we believe are very unlikely to even be approached,” he writes. “We have expected the deficit hawks in Congress to significantly reduce, or eliminate, the potential for a federally funded infrastructure spending program, while the availability of large and profitable projects the private sector would take up is limited.”
White also thinks that getting a significant spending bill through Congress will likely be very difficult, given the Republicans’ inability to get an Affordable Care Act replacement to the House floor for a vote on March 24.
While recent headlines have suggested a possible pairing of corporate tax reform and infrastructure spending, White thinks this path is unlikely.
“Such a deal would likely require adding to the deficit (a problem for the Freedom Caucus in the House) or support from moderate Democrats, which is tough to see even though Democrats are generally pro-infrastructure,” White writes.
Instead, White sees infrastructure getting pushed out to 2018.
Although White expects a pickup in capital spending, partly due to expected policy support, it has been lackluster in the U.S. in recent years. The sector’s valuations are above average and the risks to the sector from trade protectionism, lower oil prices and a strong U.S. dollar are concerning.
“Industrials’ relatively small post-election rally leaves less to give back should investors become more skeptical in the Trump agenda,” White says. “However, we believe the sector may need help from stronger global growth, the long-awaited pickup in capital spending, and higher oil prices to produce strong performance in 2017.”
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