This stock market has been northbound for more than a decade.
A swoon in December suggested a possible recession or at least the end to what has become the longest post-World War II bull market. It began in March 2009, two months after President Barack Obama took office.
However the market and the economy were revived. The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low. The Trump-tariff strategy against China hasn’t yet led to an all-out trade war. And the U.S. economy has plowed ahead at a 3% growth clip this year.
Meanwhile, the S&P 500 index of America’s largest publicly traded companies rose 17% during the first half of the year, its best showing in two decades. The S&P 500 closed Friday at 2,941.76.
Brian Belski, chief investment strategist for BMO Capital Markets revised his 2019 target price for the S&P 500 downward from 3150 to 3000 earlier this year, amid economic crosscurrents and concern about corporate earnings.
The S&P 500, often used as a stock-market proxy, has risen 300% since the lows of 2009. The S&P 500 now trades at roughly 17.5 times projected 2019 aggregate earnings for the 500 stocks. That is considered fairly valued, but not as frothy as the 20-plus times earnings it has traded before past market reverses. And Belski doesn’t foresee an imminent recession.
Jim Paulsen, market strategist at Leuthold Group, was a bull amid the “wall of worry” about the slow economic recovery that began in 2009-2010. By 2014, the rising stock market had eclipsed its previous highs of 2007. It has doubled since then.
The market has moved toward 3,000 in recent weeks as the Fed put off additional rate increases. Yet, for the fifth time since 2013, the stock market has risen while bond yields have declined. The bond market is signaling an economic slowdown.
“Are the inverted yield curve and falling yields correctly warning of a pending recession, implying the stock market has significant downside risk?” Paulsen posed in a note to investors last week. “Or, will the stock market go ‘5 for 5,’ correctly suggesting the bond market’s anxieties are again overblown? Tough call. We continue to lean toward the view that what doesn’t kill you will likely make the stock market stronger.”
Andrew Adams, chief investment officer of Mairs and Power investments in St. Paul, said he has been “impressed” with the 2019 rally.
“The shift of the Fed to a more dovish stance is significant,” Adams said. “It has been the driving factor behind the strong first-half performance this year.
“Earlier this year, we had been hearing expectations [from corporate managements] for a second-half recovery in earnings after a first half that will likely see negative earnings growth. With the escalating trade tension with China, we would say companies, especially multinationals, are now less optimistic about a significant second-half recovery in earnings growth. That said, [price-earnings] valuations are only slightly above their long-term norm. An accommodative Fed can be a powerful driver for stock performance.”
This weekend, market watchers were expected to look on as the leaders of the U.S. and China worked to avert a full-blown trade war by mass taxation of each country’s exports. History shows trade wars lead to rising prices and economic slowdowns. And as time passes, the probability grows that trade tariffs, growing federal deficits and troubles around the globe will dampen investor appetites.
“Trade uncertainties have hurt [U.S. business capital investment] and negatively affected earnings in our most favored information technology and industrial sectors on a global basis this year,” Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors, told investors last week. “We expect a trade deal at some point. But not in the near term. Equity markets are near what we consider fair value.”
During the first half of the year the S&P 500’s 17% increase was driven by information technology and industrial companies. Each sector was up more than 20%. The economy is growing at a solid rate and unemployment is low.
Two-thirds of the 58 Minnesota companies with market valuations of $100 million rose during the first six months of the year. They include:
• ANI Pharmaceuticals of Baudette, Minn., is up about 76% and trading at five-year highs. The company, valued at about $950 million, makes branded and generic drugs. It posted a 26% increase in profit last year on a 14% hike in revenue to $201.6 million. The stock also ran in the first half thanks to more than a dozen hedge funds that bought in or increased their positions.
• Cardiovascular Systems, valued at about $1.5 billion, is up almost 50% this year and 150% over the last three years. The New Brighton company, which makes devices to clear blockages of plaque from arteries in the legs and around the heart, has posted strong results lately. Scott Ward, a Medtronic executive who took over as CEO at the smaller firm in 2017, recently attributed 14% sales growth during the first nine months of the fiscal year to “market-leading” growth in the United States and abroad.
•Ameriprise Financial, the asset manager, insurer and financial-planning complex, is the best-performing financial firm in Minnesota. It’s up about 40% this year and more than 80% over the last three years. Ameriprise, at about $145 per share, also is worth nine times what it was at the bottom of the Great Recession in early 2009.
• The best Minnesota performer of the last three years is Tactile Medical, up nearly 400%.
Fourteen-year CEO Jerry Mattys presides over one of the country’s best-performing initial public offerings among med-tech firms. Tactile went public in 2016, the same year as the FDA cleared Tactile to launch its at-home treatment for lymphedema.
Tactile revenue grew 31% last year to $144 million. It is valued at about $1 billion.
• Tile Shop Holdings is the poorest-performing Minnesota company this year, down more than 25% and nearly 80% over the last three years as it struggles with turnover at the top and execution issues.