Investors had a lot to be thankful for in 2017, including strong stock market returns–the S&P 500 was up more than 20% last year. But something else happened that was even more remarkable than a ninth straight year of stock market gains.
Bryan Borzykowski is a Toronto-based business and investments writer. He’s contributed to the New York Times, CNBC, BBC Capital, CNNMoney and several other publications. Bryan’s also written three personal finance books and appears regularly on CTV News.
Synchronized global growth has been a long time coming. Since the recession, most developed nations have engaged in some sort of stimulus program, such as quantitative easing, interest-rate cuts, or both. Borrowing rates around the world eventually dropped to such low levels that consumers and some corporations started spending again and, as a result, helped boost economic growth.However, central banks didn’t act all at the same time–the United States started its QE program in 2009, while Japan began buying government bonds in 2011–so it took a while before all this easing worked its way through the global economy. And it’s not finished yet, says Fredericks. In Europe, for instance, consumers are taking a slow and steady approach to spending, and many companies haven’t yet taken advantage of still ultralow rates, he says. Some countries, like Sweden, continue to have negative interest rates.”There’s still a lot of easy money out there,” says Fredericks. “In some economies, there continues to be pent up demand. There hasn’t been a lot of investment or consumption, so we’re a long way from the former highs in some economies, like Europe. There’s a long way for them to grow and get back to where they were.”The U.S. economy may be in the later stages of the cycle than its overseas peers, but even it should continue experiencing strong growth in 2018. Whatever one thinks of the recent tax cuts, a 21% corporate tax rate is certainly good for business, says Tim Parton, manager of JPMorgan Growth Advantage , which earns a Bronze rating from Morningstar. “Small business confidence is off the charts and it had been so low for so long,” he says. “Large companies are also starting to have confidence and may start thinking about spending more.”He thinks we could see more mergers this year, while less regulation could be a boon for some sectors and help increase corporate spending. Pay Attention to Cyclicals
Those who think global economic growth will continue will want to keep an eye on the more cyclical sectors, such as industrials, consumer discretionary, some technology operations and other parts of the market that are more sensitive to capital expenditures and business spending, says Parton. Financials, which historically has been a defensive sector, is also highly sensitive to economic growth and interest rate movements; as a result, these stocks should do well as the economy expands and rates rise. “Financials had been out of favor for a long period of time, but they’re starting to do better and they have quite a lot of headroom,” says Parton. As much as continued economic expansion may benefit companies in these sectors, many stocks have already experienced big price gains. According to Morningstar, consumer cyclical stocks are about 9% overvalued as of this writing. Industrials are trading 17% above their fair value estimates, while the financial services sector is trading right around fair value.Still, there are opportunities, especially for investors who may not be put off by rich valuations. Paul Gordon, comanager of the Silver-rated MFS Growth , looks for companies that can grow faster than their industries–and he’s finding those companies in the industrials, financials, and consumer sectors, he says. Goldman Sachs and Intercontinental Exchange , a clearinghouse for financial and commodity markets, are two businesses he likes today. The latter has high margins, is in an oligopolistic business, and should see increasing activity and volatility on its exchanges in 2018–good things for this company–as a result of improving economic growth, he says. The company is currently trading in 3-star range according to Morningstar, suggesting it’s fairly valued. Sector director Michael Wong writes in his latest note that the company has a wide economic moat, and boasts scale-related advantages and a solid business model. Morningstar’s favorite undervalued ideas today in the consumer cyclical sector include Mattel , Hanesbrands , and Advance Auto Parts ; among industrials, top underpriced picks include General Electric and Stericycle . The key is to look for fundamentally sound companies that haven’t yet soared or have had a pullback, says Fredericks. That’s what he’s doing in the technology sector, which he includes in the more cyclical part of his portfolio. “We’ve been backing away from some of the highest-flying names in that sector and focusing more on stocks that haven’t participated as much in terms of price appreciation,” he says. “We still want double digit earnings growth, but with valuations that are roughly in line with the market.”Unless there’s some major unforeseen setback in 2018, global economies will likely continue to forge ahead. “The growth backdrop does look really supportive,” says Fredericks. “And that’s (good) for markets.”Bryan Borzykowski is a freelance columnist for Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Morningstar.com.