A growling bear recently has mauled stock investors and begun to threaten economies from Bloomington to Beijing.
The turbulent year in the stock market did not spare Minnesota’s public companies. The December swoon helped put more than half underwater for 2018.
In a note to investors, Brian Belski, the Twin Cities-based chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets, called 2018 “a humbling year.”
“From new price highs to recession and peak earnings prognostications to tariff tantrums … investors have had to digest … a lot, to say the least.”
The financial markets had signaled an economic slowdown since summer. But higher earnings projections for next year and the hum of Main Street business had placated investors who believed things would continue to be rosy. Now some forecasters predict, thanks partly to trade wars, rising interest rates and the somewhat-expected slowdown after a decade of economic recovery, that the U.S. actually may move to recession this year.
Among 72 major public companies only 32 Minnesota firms saw positive total returns last year.
U.S. Bancorp, one of the best-performing financial companies for a decade, fell 11 percent last year, although it was up 15 percent over the last three years.
Polaris Industries, maker of snowmobiles and ATVs, was down 37 percent last year and 4 percent since 2016. The company has been dogged by product-liability lawsuits and recalls.
Ameriprise Financial was down 37 percent amid fears that an economic slowdown will mean job losses and declining financial markets. Ameriprise was up 6 percent over the last three years.
There were winners, too.
SPS Commerce, the Minneapolis software firm that helps retailers plan inventory levels, was the best performing Minnesota stock last year with a 69.5 percent total return. It’s up 17 percent over the last three years.
Tactile Medical Systems, a fast-growing maker of economical outpatient therapies for those with certain cancers, was up 57 percent last year, and 46 percent since it went public in 2017.
Jim Paulsen, the veteran economist and market strategist at the Leuthold Group, said last week that the giddy investor mind-set of a year ago has flipped quickly. The controversial federal tax cuts for corporations goosed 2018 earnings. But businesses and investors increasingly are dissatisfied with President Donald Trump’s mercurial style and often-contradictory trade and other policies. That has led to volatility in what had been a rising market since 2009.
“The primary struggle for stocks last year, despite spectacular profit gains, was worsening overheat pressures in a fully employed economy,” Paulsen wrote in a note to investors on Thursday.
Inflation started rising, and commodity prices have been falling since October. The U.S. trade deficit and the federal budget deficit is ballooning. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve continued to raise long-depressed interest rates toward normal levels.
“Finally, as the year progressed, fallout from higher tariffs and a fading influence from Trump’s [$1.5 trillion] tax cut took its toll,” Paulsen said, adding that the market and economy could recover later this year if things start to go right.
While the majority of its large public companies languished, on the bright side, Minnesota added some bigger public companies via initial public stock offerings in 2018.
They include Bloomington-based Bridgewater Bancshares, Plymouth-based Inspire Medical Systems and Bloomington-based Ceridian HCM, which had one of the biggest IPOs in Minnesota history when it raised approximately $630 million from an April IPO and a related private equity offering.
Inspire and Ceridan were among the 32 gainers in 2018, albeit on partial-year results.
Craig Johnson, senior technical research analyst at Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray, looked at the roster of Minnesota’s publicly traded companies and how they fared in 2018 and noted the number of cyclical stocks driven into negative territory from a confluence of macroeconomic events.
Among them, otherwise solid-performing big names like Donaldson Co., down 9.9 percent in 2018; Toro Co. down 13.1; Pentair PLC, down 18.9; and MTS Systems and Tennant Co. each down more than 23 percent.
“It’s a combination of a strong dollar, concern over tariffs, and a flattening yield curve that has hurt the more cyclical companies in Minnesota,” Johnson said. After the sell-off in the fourth quarter Johnson feels the market has been oversold and started to put cash back to work.
“I think you have to start leaning the other way,” Johnson said.
Among Minnesota names that are appealing are utility companies like Otter Tail Corp. and Xcel Energy. Going forward into 2019 he sees value stocks outperforming growth stocks during the year.
“Style does and will matter in 2019,” Johnson said.
Belski has maintained for a decade that the U.S. stock market is in a long secular positive trend. He asserts the S&P 500 will finish near 3,000 in 2019, which it nearly reached last September, before falling to around 2,500 in recent days.