Since the start of the year, equity markets have been supported by positive economic developments. Earnings are growing again: on aggregate, earnings per share (EPS) are expected to rise 13% this year as opposed to 2% in 2016. This positive environment is particularly beneficial for small- and mid-cap (“SMID-cap”) companies, although returns have varied between stocks in the US, Europe and Switzerland.
Fundamental strengths amplified by a supportive environment
In particular, SMID-caps currently have stronger balance sheets than large-cap stocks, with average net debt/EBITDA ratios of 1.1x and 3.9x respectively. These low debt levels, combined with the global economic upturn, mean that SMID-caps still have substantial growth potential, justifying valuations that may appear high in some cases. That growth potential is also underpinned on a long-term view by their impressive capacity for innovation and their ability to adjust to economic developments, which should deliver additional returns in the absence of any systemic risk.
SMID-caps also have other fundamental advantages. For example, many of them are family-owned companies, managed according to a philosophy that ensures the sustainability of their business. In addition, small companies are often driven by a highly entrepreneurial spirit, the effects of which can be seen most clearly when economic growth is accelerating.
Performance drivers that vary between countries
In Europe in particular, SMID-caps are still offering good investment opportunities because they are attractively valued. European SMID-caps slightly underperformed large-caps in 2016, even though their earnings growth remained positive.
Their valuation ratios are currently lower than those of the rest of the market, and lower than their historic averages.
Swiss SMID-caps have had to contend with a strong currency for more than two years now. They have managed to do so by focusing on their competitive advantages and on innovation, while keeping costs tightly under control, which has enabled them to improve profitability. They have also continued to expand successfully in emerging markets over the last few years. For investors, therefore, they offer the stability of a developed market together with indirect exposure to emerging-market growth.
In the USA, the renaissance of the manufacturing sector and the upturn in consumer spending should benefit domestic companies for a long time to come. Unlike Switzerland’s internationally oriented companies, US small-caps are mainly focusing on organic growth on their local market.
US corporate tax reforms should be particularly beneficial to SMID-caps, which tend to pay higher tax rates than large corporations. As a result, US small-caps should continue to fulfil their potential, particularly in more cyclical sectors and finance.
Although these stocks have already made significant gains in 2017, they are still attractive investments, particularly for those wanting to put together a balanced portfolio for the long term. On both sides of the Atlantic, the global economic recovery should both support and boost the earnings growth of these dynamic, entrepreneurial companies.
Co-CEO Asset Management – Head of Institutional Clients