Value investing—buying stocks that are cheap on measures such as earnings or book value—is having a renaissance. Up to last Thursday, large value stocks beat more expensive “growth” stocks by the most of any 50-day period since the technology bubble burst in 2000-01, with the exception of the post-vaccine rebound early last year.
The big question for investors: Does this mark the rebirth of what was a dying strategy? Or was this just another spasm, already fading as technology stocks rebound?
One interpretation is that the leap in yields was the pin that pricked the bubble in growth stocks, shocking investors out of their lazy assumption that Big Tech just always went up. For hard-core value investors (and after years of underperformance, they have to be hard-core), this marks the moment when the purchase of cheap stocks can return to its rightful place as a leading strategy.
Larger stocks can, of course, be dominated by sentiment too, as shown by the involvement of huge telecom, media and technology stocks in the dot-com bubble of 2000. But most of the time there is a tighter focus on the outlook for earnings and the discount rate.
It is that discount rate that provides the alternative interpretation for why growth stocks sold off as bond yields rose: mathematics. The valuation even of highly profitable companies such as Microsoft is high because they are expected to keep growing earnings at a high rate for a long time, and those far-in-the-future earnings are worth more today when the discount rate, based on bond yields, is lower. As that discount rate rises, those future earnings should be worth less to an investor.
Because growth stocks have the highest duration (the lowest dividends), and value stocks the lowest (the highest dividends), value had a wonderful time. As bond yields have pulled back a bit, or at least their upward climb has been interrupted, growth stocks rebounded.
The trouble with this explanation is that the link between bond yields and bigger gains for value stocks isn’t super strong, and changes over time. Even in the past year, long-dated bond yields and a pure measure of value stocks only moved together about 30% of the time, and that relationship has been weaker recently.
Partly that is because other things matter too; most important, the market’s assessment of the economy’s strength has a big effect on value stocks.