Is your bracket already busted? This year's March Madness tournament opened up with very few upsets until this past weekend. Much like the stock market, we see a similar trend happening right now. What follows is how we see things panning out but first, here's a little background on how one of the most famous sporting events in the United States correlates to the investing landscape.
Seven years ago we became the first Registered Investment Advisor to use the NCAA basketball tournament as a way to show our readers a forward-looking view on the stock market! We break down and assign each of the four "regions" with an asset class and then pick teams (companies) that we think have the best chance at doing well relative to others.
Click the link to view our Final Four Investing Bracket Picks 2017
Last year started off much differently than 2017 and as we wrap up the first quarter some trends are emerging while others continue. If you eyeball the overall theme of this year's bracket it will become clear that we're picking some stocks that should continue to do well under the Trump administration. Whether you love him or hate him, ever since Donald Trump assumed office, the stock market has risen. The proverbial "Trump bump" is real and while we personally believe he needs to stay away from Twitter, there is no question that the stock market and certain economic sectors are primed to perform.
In particular, we focused on sectors that should benefit from his proposed vision; stocks in finance, defense, industrials, materials and energy could benefit from additional tailwinds the rest of the year.
In the earlier rounds of the Large Cap region we see some interesting match-ups that follow the theme of sectors and companies potentially benefiting from a Trump administration. United States Steel (NYSE:X) is in the Basic Materials sector and should continue to do well but has already had a tremendous 12 months with a return of 121%! Conversely, AECOM (NYSE:ACM) has lagged the broad market (+9% relative to the S&P 500 at +14%) but it's a leader in the Industrials sector and could become a value play. Some aerospace and defense companies like Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC), or our overall winner from last year, Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), will continue to be solid but eventually lose out to two companies affected in different ways by another factor - interest rates!
We believe that both Ford and Visa will enjoy tremendous years in 2017. Even though some speculate Ford could be adversely impacted due to increased interest rates, we believe this stock is an absolute steal at these levels. Ford trades at only around 10 times earnings and currently has an incredibly attractive dividend yield of 5.09%. This is a very well-managed company trading under $12 per share and we realistically believe it could finish the year at our $14 price target.
Visa is a stock that will almost certainly benefit from higher interest rates. Some may argue that Visa is a bit rich in its valuations after running higher almost 14% year to date. This may be true but the company is managed extremely well, has a tremendous business model and a market share that absolutely trounces all of its competitors.
Small and Mid-Cap
The Small and Mid-Cap region could be thought of as the area where an investor hopes to find a "Cinderella" team. If the way the NCAA tournament opened up is an indication of how the stock market may play out…tread carefully!
We actually are quite bullish on Small & Mid-Caps in general but see some risks in trying to pick one stock over another. This is one of those years when playing the entire field is likely much more lucrative than trying to find the one stock that upsets all the favorites. In similar fashion, midnight came early for Cinderella in the tournament. For the third year in a row, no mid-major colleges (in prior years it was George Mason, VCU, Davidson) survived to see the Sweet 16.
To follow up on our analogy as it relates to picking stocks in this asset class, go with the field and take advantage of good odds that smaller sized companies should perform quite well in this business environment. From Election Day to the end of 2016 small caps jumped 14.6% relative to their larger peers (S&P 500) at 4.6%. With the hopes of corporate tax cuts and a focus on infrastructure spending, we still believe that small and mid-sized companies will outperform. All that being said, you can expect a bit of a slowdown as the group enters a consolidation phase and we see what policies Trump and the administration can actually implement.
As we noted earlier some companies could flourish with increased interest rates. In the first round we purposely match up #8 Zions Bancorporation (NASDAQ:ZION) versus #10 PacWest Bancorp (NASDAQ:PACW) to showcase two smaller regional banks that were each recently dinged by about -6% but have had huge run-ups since the election. You can assure yourself that when interest rates rise, banks won't necessarily increase the rates they give consumers. Banks will earn more on the loans they make and the interest they pay on deposits will increase at a slower rate which all leads to a net positive for profitability.
What stock might surprise them all in this region, though? How about our #3 seeded Masco Corporation which we actually have going right to the final. Granted, here's a company that has trailed the broad market but we believe it's in the right sector and positioned to benefit at the right time. Masco markets and distributes home improvement and building products and will do well with increased spending, new-home construction, and a stronger housing market. We see this company as having strong management and with some recent cost reduction initiatives, profitability will continue to improve.
We will never claim to have a crystal ball or break an arm patting ourselves on the back, but our winner in the International bracket should come as no surprise to our regular readers. In last year's investing bracket we had Emerging Markets (NYSEARCA:VWO) seeded low as a #10 but they clawed their way to the Final Four. The premise there was a common theme for us in that everyone was sour on Emerging Markets and we saw an opportunity to pick up an investment that was cheap, out of favor, and one that could benefit from a reversion to the mean. What happened?
Although Emerging Markets was the worst performer in 2015 (-18%) it came back to gain over +9% in 2016 and currently leads all equity asset classes with a +12% YTD return!
#4 China Fund (NYSE:CHN) vs. #1 Vanguard Emerging Markets Index
Last year the Vanguard Emerging Markets Index was the Cinderella of our investment bracket. It was the lowest seed in the Final Four and made us look like we could pick a winner! This year VWO comes in as the #1 seed and we see them going all the way to win the whole tournament. Are we attempting to ride this winning horse too long?
Before we touch on emerging markets, let's not ignore some other companies that could surprise people this year. For example, a fantastic way to insulate a portfolio from potential worries in Europe is to buy Japan. On an absolute basis, Japan may not be appealing but #2 seeded Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE) could truly benefit from a strong dollar. Also, look to buy European equities on weakness once the French elections are past us. We not only include a French exchange traded fund with iShares MSCI France ETF (NYSEARCA:EWQ) but some French companies playing in the right space. Total SA (NYSE:TOT) is a France-based oil and gas leader that sports a huge 5.33% dividend. Prepare yourself for some shocks, like a potential "Frexit" and even though the French economy is beaten up, there are some tremendous multinational companies based there which could prove to be immense bargains.
Even though there are some interesting countries to watch, and a couple that are receiving plenty of press with Trump as President (Russia and Mexico), we believe it will be China and its emerging market peers that drive markets in the International region of our bracket.
China initially looks to be a loser under a Trump agenda. He has not been shy about taking an "America First" stance on everything and has blamed unfair trade practices and gained considerable support from people who believe we've lost too many U.S. jobs to them. Fixing everything overnight with our connection to China and its immense economy won't be as easy as waving a magic wand.
Ironically enough, emerging markets were rattled more than any other asset class after Trump won the election. There was quite a bit of initial doom and gloom amplified with worries over protectionism. Even if emerging markets cool down we see this area attracting more inflows from investors who have sat out some of the rally. Lastly, even though emerging markets come with more volatility and some very real unknowns with Trump's trade stances, they are still cheap relative to other equity asset classes.
Bonds and Alternatives
We view this area of the bracket much like basketball analysts may have looked at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). For those not in the know, the ACC has traditionally been the best conference in basketball and this year looked like it would be no different with nine bids in the field of 68.
After another positive year in the stock market, there are plenty of experts who constantly expect the worst. With no shortage of worrisome news, it's natural to wait for the other shoe to drop and go to areas that are historically safer than stocks. Bonds in 2017, however, will most likely perform much like the ACC after the first week of the tournament. The ACC only has one team left with North Carolina still alive and we simply see a similar result potentially panning out within the Bonds & Alternative asset class.
While it's wrong to completely negate any asset class, even if it's predicted to be a loser, we couldn't be more clear with our advice on being cautious with traditional bond weightings. This is not a "stay away" warning but what we're driving at is that even if bonds have an outstanding year, it's highly unlikely that it will be anything north of 3% returns. Over a rolling-12-month period bonds have basically lost -2% and are flat year to date.
All that said, we suggest keeping your bond exposure at the lower end of your recommended allocation but do not abandon the entire asset class. For example: If your portfolio model dictates a 40% weighting towards bonds, our suggestion would be to tap the brakes down towards about 30%. You may now likely ask where should the proceeds get allocated to?
Our answer for this is towards solid dividend producing blue chips in the sectors we covered earlier and towards the one asset class almost every investor needs but has minimal exposure or idea on how to implement. We are still huge proponents of increasing exposure to Alternatives. We've touched on this numerous times and most recently in the last edition of our free newsletter, "the Guide."
Commodities in particular have huge promise in 2017. After a terrible 2015, commodities just enjoyed their best year since 2010 and it shouldn't surprise you that most of the "weak hands" (including professional advisors) were not able to enjoy those returns. We see gains extending into 2017 and would keep a particular eye on industrial metals and energy commodities outside of oil. Natural gas was the top performing commodity in this space last year and still looks to be one of the leaders.
Final Four Summary:
The fun part of producing this article each year is that it allows us to share some of our thoughts, strategies, and the investment themes we believe will likely play out in the months ahead. It's all done with the caveat that we may only own a handful of the 48 investments listed on our bracket. Truth be told…most experts who pick stocks are no more successful than you would be doing the same job! The real winners are the ones who are able to pick enough stocks in the right areas and maintain the proper asset allocation relative to their investment goals.
Obviously, every tournament (in the case of March Madness) only has one final winner. With this exercise, however, we are able to build an intelligent portfolio that will have a number of "winners" along with some stinkers. As an investor you actually have the opportunity every year to own multiple "teams" in different "regions" (asset classes).
Long story short, don't fixate on the one stock that wins it all; take a look at the whole picture. Looking back at our bracket from last year we had the following in the 2016 Final Four:
(1) Lockheed Martin +21.96%
(2) Merck Absolute Return Currency Fund (MUTF:MABFX) +2.71%
(3) United States Cellular (NYSE:USM) -13.61%
(4) Vanguard Emerging Markets Index +16.51%
This is a small sample size but it serves our point perfectly; you end up with two winners, one loser, and one that was fairly flat.
Granted, investing intelligently is a bit more complex than this but the majority of people make it far more stressful and confusing than it ever needs to be. 2017 will bring you so many worrisome headlines that you will always be on edge. We inevitably will see at least one correction where the market dips more than -10% from its peak but by the time the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve, 2017 will most likely end up positive again.
Always expect the unexpected but don't be surprised if we end up with over +9% returns on the S&P 500 this year. Lastly, to be fair to our loyal clients and assure them that we don't give away the "secret sauce" to all readers of "Dear Mr. Market," there is one stock that didn't make it to the Final Four but almost every one of our portfolios will own it in the next few weeks. There are never any guarantees on an investment but this is one where we're putting our money where our mouth is!
If you're curious to know which one it is and if it's a fit for your portfolio, feel free to reach out to us! Otherwise…good luck in your own brackets and enjoy the rest of the Big Dance!
Disclosure: I am/we are long IVV, VO, VB, VNQ, BND, VWO, VEU, F, LMT, MABFX, LQD, JNK, BSIIX, DBC, DBV , DXMIX , FTGC.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.