Insurance companies, as a group, have also been winners at the times of rising yields, with MetLife (MET), Prudential Financial (PRU), and Marsh & McLennan (MMC) among those that have outperformed in both periods:
|STOCK||Ticker||Return, 4/30-8/31||Return, 10/31-11/21|
|Marsh & McLennan||MMC||9.1%||4.3%|
On the other side of the ledger, real-estate investment trusts have lagged considerably. The iShares U.S. Real Estate ETF (IYR) took it on the chin in the May-August period, falling 14.5%, and again in November, with a loss of 3.8%. Investment managers, which typically do well when the stock market is rising, have underperformed the broader financial sector by a wide margin while rates have been backing up:
|Stock||Ticker||Return, 4/30-8/31||Return, 10/31-11/21|
|T. Rowe Price Group||TROW||-2.8%||3.9%|
This performance data helps provide investors with a playbook for any tapering scenario that may occur in 2014. While opinions vary widely on this issue, the consensus (for now) is that the Fed will indeed begin to cut back on its asset purchases in the coming year. Assuming that rates will continue to rise on the news, financials in general — and banks and insurance companies in particular — look poised for continued outperformance as long as their fundamentals remain intact.
These groups also provide investors with a way to make a play on the long-anticipated bond bear market. While the option always exists to buy an inverse ETF or trade options on funds such as iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT), a long position in financials also represents a bet against bonds — but with extra beta and the added benefit of the generally positive outlook for financials.
According to Factset, S&P 500 financial companies are trading at 12.6 times forward earnings — the lowest of any sector and a deep discount to the 15.1x forward price-to-earnings ratio for the index as a whole. Despite this year’s 32% rally in financials, this 16.6% discount to the broader market is larger than the 15% average discount at which financials have traded in the past ten years.
At the same time, financials are expected to generate 11.5% earnings growth in 2014, better than the 10.9% of the broader market. Estimates have actually risen from 9.3% on September 30 even as overall S&P 500 estimates have fallen slightly. Of the ten major sectors, only energy has seen its estimates rise in the past seven weeks — all others are down.
The Bottom Line
Financial have rewarded investors with big year-to-date returns, but the sector remains a hedge against rising bond yields and the re-emergence of tapering-related volatility. Look for continued upside for financials in 2014.
As of this writing, Daniel Putnam did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.