The recipe for outperformance in 2018 has been freakishly simple: overweight the sectors that outperformed in 2017. For example:
Large Cap Technology:
- The Tech portion of the S&P 500 is up 7.1% YTD
- The S&P 500 itself is up 5.6%
- Last year, the group was up 32.2%, versus the S&P 500’s 21.6% return
- Large cap banks/brokers/insurance companies are +7.6% on the year, also beating the S&P 500
- Look back at their performance last year, and you’ll see they squeaked out a small gain versus the index – 58 basis points on a price basis
- Even with concerns over the Amazon/JP Morgan/Berkshire deal, the group is still +6.6% on the year
- Last year, large cap Health Care beat the S&P 500 as well, by 108 basis points
In contrast, consider the many sectors that are underperforming in 2018:
- Down 4.6% on the year, the worst of any S&P 500 sector
- Price change last year: only up 7.7%
- Down 3.7% in 2018, the second worst performing group
- Only up 8.5% on a price basis last year
- Large cap Energy names are only up 4.1% for 2018 YTD
- They also lagged last year, rising only 4.5%
- YTD return here is only 1.2%
- Last year the group had a 9.5% price return
- Up 0.4% in 2018
- Down 16.0% last year on a price basis
Now, there are two sectors that performed well last year (coming close to matching the S&P 500 or slightly beating it) that are underperforming in 2018:
- Materials: +2.6%
- Industrials: +5.2%
And one sector – Consumer Discretionary – needs an asterisk.
- The group worked well last year, matching the S&P 500.
- And year to date that strength continues, up another 8.0%.
- The troublesome bit is that Amazon is 19% of this group by market cap weight and that stock is up 19% in 2018. That makes the company’s gains in 2018 some 45% of the sector’s overall advance. Without Amazon, the group would be underperforming the S&P 500 by a wide margin in 2018.
In terms of actionable investment thoughts with this data, consider the following three points:
- US stocks are still a momentum driven market as we move through Q1 2018. The first shall be first and the last shall be last, to borrow and twist a phrase from the Good Book.
- Of the leadership groups at the top of this note, we still like Technology and Financials. Of the serious laggards, we would only look at Energy because we believe a growing global economy can support oil prices at current levels.
- Of the in-betweens (groups that worked in 2017 but are stuck in purgatory this year), we like Industrials. Their mix of exposure to a weaker dollar and the chance for infrastructure spending hit two themes we think will work in 2018.
Now, if you are a contrarian and want to bet against the crowd, we would advise extreme caution just now. It generally takes a big shift in market psychology to redirect money flows and investor attention once they get set in their ways. That’s why 2018 sector returns look the way they do.