2020 has been unprecedented – not to mention unsettling – on lots of fronts. But in other ways, it’s following a well-worn playbook, and that could mean some upside left for stocks this year.
“All crises are alike when it comes to stock prices,” wrote Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, in his most recent update of an analysis he’s been updating since the March market crash . “They start with markets falling off a cliff, bottom when it is clear that fiscal/monetary stimulus is coming/up to the task, and then track similar paths higher as investors grow comfortable that a real recovery is at hand.”
Throughout the year, Colas’ comparison has demonstrated, tick by tick, how closely 2020’s seemingly unprecedented market moves actually hew to the same moves in 2008-2009.
The sell-off of the past few weeks has marked this year’s biggest deviation from 2009, Colas notes, with the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.24% this year lagging the levels for the index in 2009 by as much as 9.2 points. But that came after several months in which stocks were running hotter than they did during the recovery a decade ago.
As of this week, the S&P 500 is precisely 0.2% off its comparable period in 2009 (143 trading days from the March 2020 low, which equates to September 29, 2009.)
If stocks continue to follow the 2009 pattern, the S&P 500 has roughly another 5% upside through late December. “This will not come without volatility, however: there were 3 days in late 2009 with more than 2 percent one-day drawdowns ,” Colas warned.
It’s also important to note that small-cap companies aren’t following the 2009 playbook as closely. While they have outperformed large caps since March – the Russell 2000 index /zigman2/quotes/210598147/delayed RUT +0.56% is up 63.3% since March, to the S&P 500’s 57.3% – by this point in 2009, it was up 77.8% from its lows.
Can the Russell index make up those 14 points? Unlikely, Colas thinks.
“There’s still room for small caps to perform through year end as long as high yield (bond) spreads continue to contract,” he wrote. “We may not get all of 2009’s performance, but even closing the gap somewhat still promises another 5-10 points of absolute performance by year end.”
It’s important to point out that small-capitalization stock have been on a tear in recent weeks. Over the past three months, the Russell 2000 has performed roughly the same as the Nasdaq – up approximately 12%. But so far in October, it’s up 8.7%, compared to 5.6% for the Nasdaq /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +0.92% , and more than double the 4.1% return for the S&P 500.