During a broad COVID-19 equity market selloff in March and April, US small-cap stocks were hit particularly hard.1 At the time, investors seemed especially concerned about how these companies would fare in a US economic slowdown.
Since then, many small-cap stocks, as represented by the Russell 2000 Index, have rallied from April’s lows as the US government and Federal Reserve’s rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis helped lift markets. Given the index’s most recent performance, some investors have asked us for our views on a potential sustained rally in small-cap stocks.
Here, we outline five reasons we think small-cap stocks, particularly those with select value characteristics, are worth considering at this time.
Reason #1: Compelling Valuations
As the chart below shows, at the end of August 2020, small-cap value stocks in the Russell 2000 Value Index were trading near their lowest levels in 10 years, compared to the large-cap value stocks in the Russell 1000 Value Index, as measured by price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios.2
We see a few reasons for this difference in valuations, including the belief mentioned above that all small-cap stocks are more susceptible to a US economic downturn. While that’s true for many stocks in the Russell 2000 Value Index, it’s not true for all of them, particularly select small-cap value stocks with higher margins, lower leverage and decent earnings growth.3
Reason #2: Earnings Growth Potential
As value investors, we seek to avoid unprofitable and structurally challenged companies, and look for companies with positive earnings growth potential. If you exclude negative-earning companies, earnings per share for companies in the Russell 2000 Value Index grew at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 4.9% for the 10-year period ended August 30, 2020.4
In addition, our research shows that many of the small-cap value companies we follow performed better during the second-quarter earnings season than analysts expected. As of August 31, 2020, 1,140 companies of the 1,432 companies in the Russell 2000 Value Index reported earnings, with 759 of those 1,140 companies reporting positive earnings surprises for the quarter.5
Looking forward, analysts project higher 2021 earnings-per-share growth for companies in the Russell 2000 Index than for those in the S&P 500 Index and Nasdaq.6
Reason #3: Performance During Value Stock Rallies
According to our analysis of companies in the Russell 1000, 2000 and 3000 indexes, value stocks only outperformed growth stocks 40% of the trading days in the 12 months ended August 31, 2020.7 However, on those days when value stocks outperformed growth, small-cap value stocks outperformed large-cap value 68% of the time.8
Reason #4: Performance Over Past 20 Years
Although investors have favored large-cap stocks over the past decade, small-cap value stocks have outperformed large-cap stocks over the 20 years ended August 31, 2020.9
In addition, if you divide the 20-year period into two 10-year periods, our research indicates that $1 invested in small-cap value stocks would have risen in value during both periods, while $1 invested in the S&P 500 Index for the 10 years ending August 31, 2010, would have fallen in value.9
Reason #5: Potential Acquisition Targets
From 2010 to 2019, there were about 140 merger-and-acquisition (M&A) deals announced per year within Russell 2000 Index companies, with an average premium of around 30%, as the chart below shows. Although M&A activity has slowed in 2020 due to travel restrictions and other short-term business impairments related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect to see activity pick up and return to long-term levels.
In our experience, small-cap stocks can be attractive acquisition targets for a couple of reasons. Smaller companies tend to be more focused on specific end markets than larger companies. In addition, it can be easier for a larger company to buy a smaller company in a certain niche where they would like to grow than for the larger company to enter the business from scratch.
In our view, the market sentiment regarding small-cap value stocks is not as positive as we think it should be. Compared to large-cap stocks, small caps often have very little analyst coverage. This means we need to turn over rocks to find value among the thousands of companies in the small-cap universe, which includes myriad industries ranging from aerospace to semiconductor capital equipment.
Our approach as a group is to invest in businesses that have a track record of success, with shareholder-friendly governance and low leverage, which are trading at what we think are low prices relative to their long-term earnings potential for reasons that should dissipate over time. For example, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made several changes to our portfolio in recent months based on the “stay-at-home” theme. In addition, we have also reduced our positions in certain stocks due to ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China.
While we try to understand what’s going on in the world, we know it’s possible that things will not unfold the way we think they will. But we’re hopeful that we are getting closer to improving economic trends and our process helps us shepherd through the difficult times.
Important Legal Information
This material is intended to be of general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax advice.
The views expressed are those of the investment manager and the comments, opinions and analyses are rendered as of publication date and may change without notice. The information provided in this material is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any country, region or market.
Data from third party sources may have been used in the preparation of this material and Franklin Templeton (“FT”) has not independently verified, validated or audited such data. FT accepts no liability whatsoever for any loss arising from use of this information and reliance upon the comments, opinions and analyses in the material is at the sole discretion of the user.
Products, services and information may not be available in all jurisdictions and are offered outside the U.S. by other FT affiliates and/or their distributors as local laws and regulation permits. Please consult your own financial professional or Franklin Templeton institutional contact for further information on availability of products and services in your jurisdiction.
Issued in the U.S. by Franklin Templeton Distributors, Inc., One Franklin Parkway, San Mateo, California 94403-1906, (800) DIAL BEN/342-5236, franklintempleton.com—Franklin Templeton Distributors, Inc. is the principal distributor of Franklin Templeton Investments’ U.S. registered products, which are not FDIC insured; may lose value; and are not bank guaranteed and are available only in jurisdictions where an offer or solicitation of such products is permitted under applicable laws and regulation.
This information is intended for US residents only.
What Are the Risks?
Franklin Small Cap Value Fund
All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. The fund’s investments in smaller-company stocks carry special risks as such stocks have historically exhibited greater price volatility than larger-company stocks, particularly over the short term. Value securities may not increase in price as anticipated or may decline further in value. Additionally, smaller companies often have relatively small revenues, limited product lines and a small market share. In addition, the fund may invest up to 25% of its total assets in foreign securities, which involve special risks, including currency fluctuations and economic and political uncertainty. REITs may be affected by any change in the value of the properties owned and other factors, and their prices tend to go up and down. These and other risks are detailed in the fund’s prospectus.
Investors should carefully consider a fund’s investment goals, risks, sales charges and expenses before investing. Download a prospectus, which contains this and other information. Please carefully read a prospectus before you invest or send money.
1. We define small-cap companies as those with market caps not exceeding either: the highest market cap in the Russell 2000 Index; or the 12-month average of the highest market cap in the Russell 2000 Index.
2. The price-to-earnings ratio, or P/E ratio, is an equity valuation multiple defined as market price per share divided by annual earnings per share. For an index, the P/E ratio is the weighted average of the P/E ratios of all the stocks in the index. Indexes are unmanaged and one cannot directly invest in an index. They do not include fees, expenses or sales charges. Past performance is not an indicator or guarantee of future results.
3. Source: Russell Indices. Value stocks represented by the Russell 2000 Value Index. Indexes are unmanaged and one cannot directly invest in them. They do not include fees, expenses and sales charges. Past performance is not an indicator or guarantee of future performance. Additional data provider information available at www.franklintempletondatasources.com.
4. Past performance is not an indicator or guarantee of future results.
5. Source: FactSet, as of August 31, 2020.
6. Source: Bloomberg, “Small-Cap Stocks Have Stamina to Outperform Big Tech: Macro View,” August 17, 2020.
7. Source: Morningstar. 12 months, as of August 31, 2020, daily returns.
9. Sources: FactSet, Russell Investment Group. Russell Investment Group is the source and owner of the trademarks, service marks and copyrights related to the Russell Indexes. Russell® is a trademark of Russell Investment Group, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Important data provider notices and terms available at www.franklintempletondatasources.com. Past performance is not an indicator or guarantee of future performance.