Small-capitalization stocks are standing tall.
For fund investors who are seeking exposure to the sector,
the question now is which mutual fund or exchange-traded fund might make the
First, some background: The Russell 2000 index of small-cap
stocks has climbed 10.3% since the start of this year, compared with 3.2% for
the S&P 500 index of large-cap stocks (excluding dividends), as small
stocks have benefited disproportionately from the tax cut passed last year,
stronger growth in the U.S. than overseas, a rising dollar since mid-April and
And some experts say the trend will continue. “With
economic data still solid, small-cap stocks probably have more runway in the
months ahead,” says Michael Sheldon, chief investment officer at RDM Financial
Group-HighTower Advisors in Westport, Conn.
Lower taxes tend to help small companies more than bigger
ones, because effective tax rates generally are higher for small companies,
given the wealth of tools that large companies have to reduce their tax burden.
Domestic economic growth, meanwhile, can boost small-cap
stocks more than large-caps, because bigger companies are more dependent on
foreign markets. Companies in the S&P 500 receive about 30% of their
revenue from abroad on average, compared with 21% for Russell 2000 companies,
according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
On the currency front, a rising dollar hurts U.S. companies
that export by making their goods more expensive in foreign currencies, and it
hurts the profitability of U.S. companies with sales overseas by making that
revenue worth less when translated into dollars. So again, small-cap companies
benefit from having a smaller exposure overseas than their large-cap brethren.
“The dollar trend is likely to continue, and if so,
small-caps should continue to benefit,” says Jack Ablin, chief investment
officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors in Chicago. The Federal Reserve’s continuing
interest-rate increases combined with the reluctance of foreign central banks
to raise rates should boost the dollar, he and others say.
Worsening trade disputes, too, would hurt large-cap stocks
more than small-caps, because large-caps are more dependent on trade than
small-caps, experts say. “Investors are now showing more interest in small-caps
to hedge exposure to trade skirmishes,” says Karim Ahamed, an investment
adviser at HPM Partners in Chicago.
Even the recent acceleration of inflation has helped
small-cap stocks, says James Paulsen, chief investment strategist of Leuthold
Group in Minneapolis. Inflation tends to benefit small companies more than
large, because small companies generally have narrower profit margins than
large companies. So, higher prices for their products represent a larger
portion of small-company profit margins and thus boost earnings more for small
companies than for large ones.
In addition, valuations of small-cap stocks are attractive,
some analysts say. By one measure of value—the ratio of enterprise value (which
takes into account a company’s market capitalization and debt, among other
factors) to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or
Ebitda—the Russell 2000 was at a 12% premium to the Russell 1000 index of
large-cap stocks as of May 31, Mr. Sheldon says, citing data fromBarclays . That compares with a
median premium of 14.1% for the period from Dec. 31, 2003 through May 31, 2018.
“For a while it looked like small-caps were overvalued, but
that has narrowed dramatically,” Mr. Ahamed says. “On a relative valuation
basis, now is a better time to invest in small-caps.”
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into small-cap
stocks, what mutual funds might you consider? Russel Kinnel, director of
manager research at investment information firmMorningstar , lists three
possibilities: a small-cap value fund, a small-cap growth fund and a small-cap
blended (growth and value) fund.
US Small Cap Value Portfolio (DFSVX)
“Because their expertise is small-cap and value, this seems
like a good expression of what DFA does well,” Mr. Kinnel says, referring to
Dimensional Fund Advisors, the fund’s sponsor. This fund finds inexpensive
stocks based on price-to-book valuations, and it holds more than 1,000 names.
“Because holdings are cheap and small, you get more volatility
than you’d expect from a diversified portfolio, but it’s a consistent
performer,” Mr. Kinnel says. The fund had a five-year annualized return of
10.8% through the end of June.
GROWTH: T. Rowe Price QM U.S. Small-Cap
Growth Equity Fund (PRDSX)
The fund is managed based on so-called quantitative
analysis, which relies on mathematical equations to analyze various data for a
company and its shares. The fund managers look at valuation, profitability,
capital allocation, earnings quality and stock-price momentum. “It seems to be
a good process,” Mr. Kinnel says. “It’s very diversified with 300 stocks.”
The fund produced a five-year annualized return of 14.6%
through the end of June.
BLENDED: Harbor Small Cap Value Fund (HISVX)
Despite the name, Morningstar classifies this fund as
blended. “They have growth-like qualities to their portfolio construction,” Mr.
Kinnel says. It’s an unusual strategy based on pattern recognition, looking for
characteristics to identify stocks that are likely to outperform.
With about 60 holdings, this portfolio is more concentrated
than the average small-cap fund. “But it’s not like you will live and die on
two names,” Mr. Kinnel says.
The fund generated a five-year annualized return of 13%
through the end of June.
here for the original article from The Wall Street Journal.