We are now about halfway through 2019, and stocks are broadly having their best year in over two decades. Year-to-date, the S&P 500 is up about 18%, marking the biggest first-half return for the index since 1997.
After such a record rally through the first half of 2019, investors should naturally have a few questions. Namely, which sectors of the market are driving the market higher? Why? Will these first half 2019 winners turn into second half 2019 winners, too, or will they flop into the end of the year?
Let’s answer those questions and more by taking a deep look into the market’s top 10 sectors of 2019 so far, seeing why those sectors have been so hot and analyzing whether they can stay that way into the end of the year.
Top Market Sectors of 2019: PHLX Housing Index (HGX)
YTD Gain: 30.86%
Housing stocks have been the hottest stocks in the record 2019 market rally, with a year-to-date gain of 30%.
The rationale here is pretty simple. In late 2018, housing stocks were killed on a double headwind of slowing economic expansion and rising rates, which simultaneously meant consumers were less willing and able to buy a home. But, in 2019, the U.S. economy has broadly stabilized, and rates have dropped substantially, meaning consumers are both more willing and able to buy a home now than they were back in late 2018.
The result? Consumers are buying homes again, and housing stocks — which were priced for death in late 2018 — have come roaring back. Homebuilders D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI), PulteGroup (NYSE:PHM) and Lennar Group (NYSE:LEN) are all up more than 20% year-to-date, while peer homebuilder LGI Homes (NYSE:LGIH) is up more than 50% year-to-date.
Can the big rally in housing stocks continue? Probably. The Federal Reserve is now seriously considering cutting rates, which means mortgage rates will remain lower for longer. The U.S. consumer economy is simultaneously stabilizing, while the labor market remains healthy. That combination ultimately implies healthy housing market conditions going forward, which should support further strength in housing stocks.
S&P 500 Information Technology (SRIT)
YTD Gain: 27.7%
The second best-performing market sector in 2019 has been the S&P 500 information technology sector, with a year-to-date rally in excess of 25%.
The story here is pretty simple. Information technology stocks have been all the craze for several years now. Because of that, info tech stocks had run up to sky high valuations in 2018. But, when rates started aggressively rising in late 2018 and economic expansion started fading, that created a double headwind for richly valued info tech stocks. Consequently, while the market dropped 20% in late 2018, info tech stocks dropped further (25%).
But, as the economy has stabilized in 2019 and the Fed has stepped to the sidelines, the double headwind which killed info tech stocks in late 2018, has turned into a double tailwind in 2019. Consequently, info tech stocks have rallied in a big way. Year-to-date, some of the biggest winners in this sector have been Xerox (NYSE:XRX), Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD), and Cadence Design Systems (NASDAQ:CDNS), all of whom have registered 60%-plus year-to-date gains.
Can the red hot rally continue? Probably. Low rates are favorable for longer duration assets, and many of the stocks in the info tech sector are longer duration assets. As such, so long as rates remain low and growth remains good, the info tech sector should push higher.
PHLX Semiconductor Index (SOX)
YTD Gain: 26.9%
Semiconductor stocks are narrowly behind information technology stocks in terms of 2019 performance, which are also up more than 25% year-to-date.
The story in the semiconductor world is all about the trade war. In late 2018, semiconductor stocks plunged big as trade tensions escalated and threatened to accelerate an already naturally slowing global semiconductor market.
The PHLX Semiconductor Index dropped 25% off its highs in late 2018. Then, in 2019, trade tensions cooled, global growth stabilized, and the outlook for semiconductor demand to improve over the next several quarters gained visibility. As all that happened, semiconductor stocks bounced back in a big way. Some of the headline gainers include Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Micron (NASDAQ:MU), NXP Semiconductors (NASDAQ:NXPI) and Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN), all of whom are up more than 20% year-to-date.
This rally should persist, but at a more tempered pace. It seems increasingly likely that a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached in the foreseeable future. If so, that will further assist a demand recovery in the semiconductor market, which should help propel semiconductor stocks higher. But, demand headwinds remain – the smartphone and PC markets are drying up – and inventories remain elevated.
Thus, going forward, you have a mix of headwinds and tailwinds here. Ultimately, that means semi stocks should head higher. But, at a more moderate pace.
Nasdaq 100 (IUXX)
YTD Gain: 23.9%
Large cap tech stocks have led the stock market rally for the past decade. It should be no surprise, then, that large cap tech stocks have similarly been among the hottest stocks in 2019 as the market has rallied to new highs.
Year-to-date, the Nasdaq 100 – comprised mostly of large cap tech stocks – is up nearly 21%. AMD and Cadence Design Systems have been among the top gainers in this group. The other top gainers from the Nasdaq 100 include MercadoLibre (NASDAQ:MELI), Synopsys (NASDAQ:SNPS), IDEXX Laboratories (NASDAQ:IDXX), Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU), and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). All of those stocks are up more than 45% year-to-date.
Much like info tech stocks, large cap tech stocks are long duration assets boosted by a low rate environment. Thus, so long as rates remain low and economic growth globally remains healthy, large cap tech stocks should continue to outperform.
S&P 500 Consumer Discretionary (SRCD)
YTD Gain: 22.6%
The fifth hottest market sector of 2019 has been the consumer discretionary sector, which is up more than 20% year-to-date on the back of reinvigorated consumer confidence.
Consumer confidence and sentiment took a big hit in 2018 as everyone and their best friend were hearing that a big recession was coming. In 2019, though, the U.S. labor market has remained healthy, global economic conditions have improved, and the Fed has stepped in and said they are willing to do what it takes to keep this economic expansion alive. As such, all that recession chatter from late 2018, has died in early 2019, and consumers have once again opened their wallets.
The result? A big rally in consumer discretionary stocks. Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) tops the list of hot 2019 consumer discretionary stocks, with a near 70% year-to-date gain. But, it’s not alone. Under Armour (NYSE:UAA), Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ:ULTA), and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) are all up more than 40% year-to-date.
Can the rally continue? Most likely, yes. In the big picture, pretty much everyone who wants a job, has one, wages are going up, borrowing costs are moving lower, the household savings rate is relatively high, and consumer households aren’t that levered. Overall, then, the U.S. consumer looks strong. So long as that remains the case, consumer discretionary stocks should head higher.
Nasdaq Composite (NASX)
YTD Gain: 22.5%
It’s not just large cap tech stocks which are in on the 2019 stock market rally. All tech stocks were invited to this party, and the Nasdaq Composite index is up more than 20% year-to-date.
The story here is nearly identical to the large cap story. Slowing economic growth and rising rates created a double headwind for these growth-centric, long duration assets in late 2018. But, as growth has stabilized in 2019 and rates have gone lower, that double headwind has turned into a double tailwind. Tech stocks have jumped in response. Among the big gainers are ArQule (NASDAQ:ARQL), Array Biopharma (NASDAQ:ARRY), Ziopharm Oncology (NASDAQ:ZIOP), and Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU), all of whom are up more than 200% year-to-date.
Similar to the rally in large cap tech stocks, the rally in all tech stocks should persist so long as growth conditions remain favorable, the secular pivot into technology consumption remains in play, and rates remain low.
S&P 500 Industrials (SRIN)
YTD Gain: 20.3%
As the economy and market have rebounded in 2019, it should be no surprise that the economically-sensitive industrials sector has similarly rebounded to the tune of a 19% year-to-date gain.
As goes the U.S. economy, so go U.S. industrial stocks. That’s just how it works when you sell the sort of stuff that big corporations and consumers buy a lot of when the music is playing, and don’t buy a lot of when the music stops playing. In late 2018, there was a serious concern that the music of the U.S. economy was going to stop playing soon. Industrial stocks got hit hard. But, in early 2019, the music has picked back up, and as it has, industrial stocks have rebound. The biggest year-to-date gainers in this sector include Copart (NASDAQ:CPRT), Arconic (NYSE:ARNC), Fortune Brands Home & Security (NYSE:FBHS), and Jacobs Engineering (NYSE:JEC).
The rally in industrials will likely be more muted going forward. Improving conditions converged on depressed sentiment in the first half of 2019 to spark a big near 20% rally across the sector. But, those conditions will likely stabilize now, not improve, while sentiment is no longer depressed. Thus, going forward, you have stable growth and normal sentiment. That combination should work. But, not as well as the combination of depressed sentiment and improving growth.
S&P 500 Growth (IGX)
YTD Gain: 22.2%
The growth trade has come back to life in 2019 thanks to lower rates and stabilizing global economic conditions, and this dynamic has powered a near 19% year-to-date gain in the S&P 500 growth sector.
Leading the charge are the big name tech stocks, like Facebook, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Visa (NYSE:V), and Mastercard (NYSE:MA). All of those stocks have recorded big year-to-date gains because low rates have supported their rich valuations, while stabilizing economic trends have supported their secular growth trajectories.
This dynamic will persist for the foreseeable future. Big name growth stocks will continue to outperform so long as rates remain low and growth remains good. Right now, the outlook is for the Fed to cut rates, and for global GDP growth to run in the 2-3% range for the next several years. That combination will ultimately produce strong returns in growth stocks.
S&P 500 Real Estate (SRRE)
YTD Gain: 18.2%
Similar to the housing sector, the real estate sector has been on a tear in 2019 thanks to falling interest rates supporting more favorable buying conditions across the entire housing market.
The only difference here is that the real estate sector is broader than the housing sector. The housing sector focuses more on homebuilders, whereas the real estate sector is broader and comprises any and all stocks that have a connection to the real estate world. Naturally, the broader constituency base has diluted the real estate sector’s return profile relative to the housing sector’s return profile in 2019.
Still, the S&P 500 real estate sector is up more than 18% year-to-date. That’s a big gain. Can it continue? Yes. Much like housing stocks, there are two things at play here: the U.S. economy, and rates. Both of those factors are moving in a favorable direction for the real estate market. So long as they continue to do so, real estate stocks should continue to move higher.
S&P 500 Communication Services (SRTS)
YTD Gain: 19.9%
Last on this list of the market’s top 10 sectors of 2019 is the S&P 500 communication services sector, with a year-to-date gain narrowly above 17%.
Communication services stocks are essentially just tech stocks, with a communication angle. For example, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Disney (NYSE:DIS), and Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) are all in the communication services space, and those are basically just tech stocks with a communication angle. These stocks have been in rally mode in 2019 mostly because low interest rates have supported their rich valuations, while steady economic growth has supported their robust growth trajectories.
Broadly, so long as interest rates remain low, the global economy remains stable, and consumers continue to pivot towards internet-based consumption, communication services stocks like Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, Twitter, and Electronic Arts should stay in rally mode.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long LGIH, QCOM, LULU, FB, EBAY, ROKU, AMZN, GOOG, NFLX, V, TWTR, DIS and EA.