Small Cap stocks are a long-time favorite of many individual investors and portfolio manager. The asset class jumped 38% since the last election. Will Small Caps continue to rally under Trump Presidency? Can they maintain their momentum?
The new president Trump started with promises for domestic business growth, lower taxes, and deregulation. While details are still unclear, if implemented correctly, these policies can bring significant benefits to small size companies.
The recent growth comes after five years of sluggish performance. Before the 2016 election, the Russell 2000 had underperformed S&P 500 500 by almost 2% annually, 11.59% versus 13.44%. Small cap stocks have been very volatile and fragmented. As a result, many active managers have underperformed passive index strategies.
Low tax rates
The average US corporate tax rate is 39.1% which includes 35% federal tax and 4.1% average state tax. USA has the highest corporate tax among OECD countries, which have an average of 29% tax rate. While large multinationals with their corporate lawyers can take advantage of cross-border tax loopholes, the same is not possible for smaller businesses. Dropping the tax rate to the suggested 20% will give small caps a breath of fresh air. It will allow them to have more available cash, which they can use for hiring more talent, R&D or dividends.
Regulations are typically set to protect the consumer and the environment from businesses which prioritize profit margins over safety. Therefore, lifting regulations will be a tricky game. If streamlining rules leads to more competition, better customer experience, less bureaucracy, and faster processing of business requests to governing bodies, then deregulation will help smaller business thrive further and be more competitive.
I drive a lot around the San Francisco Bay Area and can ensure you that every highway with “80” in the name is in dire need of major TLC. The same story is probably true for many major cities and industrial centers. If the executed correctly, the infrastructure policy can boost small business growth. Local companies can bid for infrastructure projects or participate as subcontractors. Improved infrastructure can also help goods and produce to arrive faster and safer and ultimately drive down cost.
Domestic production incentives
With the current strong dollar and liberal trading policy, the small business has struggled to compete against imports, which rely heavily on cheap labor and often on local government subsidies. Certain industries like textile and electronics are almost non-existent in the US.
Nevertheless, I think setting embargos and trade wars with other countries will be a step in the wrong direction. Alternatively, The US government should support industries that offer innovative, high quality, customized and niche products, which can dominate the global markets.
While the markets are currently optimistic about the success of the new economic policies, things can still go wrong. The markets had a long rally since the end of the bear market in March 2009. At the current level, both large and small-cap companies have reached rich valuations, and stock prices are factoring the proposed economic policies. The stock market may react abruptly if the new administration fails to deliver their promises.
Some of the side effects of the new policies need to be in consideration as well.
Rising interest rates
The 10-year Treasury jumped from 1.5% in July 2016 to 2.47% today. While high-interest rates have been welcomed by many market players, they can hurt the small business’ ability to get new loans. Many companies rely on external financing to fund their daily business activities, R&D, and expansions. Higher interest rates will increase the cost and affect the bottom line of those companies that traditionally use loans as part of their business and have less access to internal resources.
Another caveat in this topic is the proposed change to eliminate the interest as a tax deduction. While still up-in-the-air, this proposal will further affect those companies that depend on external loans for financing.
Inflation is healthy for the economy when it’s a result of organic economic growth, innovation, productivity, and consumer demand. However, if let out of control, inflation will undermine the purchasing power of the dollar, push down consumer demand and increase the cost of domestic goods and services.
Small cap companies are traditionally focused on the local US market. However, a strong dollar can make imports more price competitive against local products. The strong dollar also affects negatively business relying on exports. It makes US exports more expensive in local currencies.
It’s a known fact that US firms tap into a foreign talent to fill out jobs that are not in high supply by domestic job seekers. Usually, the biggest portion of visa workers goes to larger companies. However, stricter immigration laws can still hurt the ability of small firms to hire foreign talent and compete against their larger rivals. Many tech start-ups, financial and biotech companies rely on foreign visa workers to fill out certain roles whenever they cannot find qualified US candidates. Agriculture and tourism businesses also depend on foreign workers to fill in seasonal positions. Tighter immigration rules will force these companies to increase salaries to remain competitive. Higher salaries will drive higher cost and lower profit margins.
While we are in a stand-by mode, the market continues to be nervous in anticipation of the direction of the new policies. For those interested in small-cap stocks, I would suggest looking for companies with an innovative business model, solid R&D and high-quality metrics like ROA and ROE. Those companies are likely to be more resilient in the long run, and less depended on policy changes.
About the Author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.