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Three Neglected Parts of the Stock Market That Could Win in 2020

With the S&P 500 up 31% in 2019, it is hard to believe some corners of the market have been left for dead. But investors looking to score with unloved and overlooked assets have plenty of choices, from the oil patch to property, to companies in the developing world.

Energy shares, mall landlords, and emerging-market companies have all lagged behind the S&P 500 as it logged a rip-roaring annualized return of about 13.4%, including dividends, over the past decade. Barron’s took a look at ways to play all three sectors.

The S&P 1500 Energy Index has risen at an annualized rate of 2.5% for the decade. That makes some sense considering the price of oil started the decade at around $80 per barrel, peaked at $112 in 2011, crashed into the high $20 range in 2016, and now sits at around $60. Renewables like solar and wind—a competitive threat for most energy companies—are making progress, but it isn’t likely that the world will give up oil soon

One fund to consider is the $11 billion Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (ticker: XLE). Be aware that this is a concentrated bet on the biggest U.S. oil companies, Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX), which account for nearly 45% of assets. Smaller holdings are EOG Resources (EOG), a producer with acreage in several U.S. shale areas, ConocoPhillips (COP), and Schlumberger (SLB), the energy-services company.

Those who want more global exposure and to put fewer eggs in Exxon’s and Chevron’s baskets can consider the $850 million iShares Global Energy ETF (IXC). That fund has 23% of its assets in Exxon and Chevron, with another 22% in Total (FP.FR), BP (BP), and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA and RDSB). Last, the $95 million iShares U.S. Oil Equipment & Services ETF (IEZ) focuses on companies like Schlumberger and Halliburton (HAL) that assist the producers with services and equipment.

The retail apocalypse is a second source of potential opportunities. Three real-estate investment trusts focused on retail property— Macerich (MAC), Taubman Centers (TCO), and Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (SKT) have all returned less than 3% annualized for the past decade, included losses of 20% or more for this year.

Regardless of the rising tide of online commerce, all have solid balance sheets and continue to make money. Taubman owns fancy malls around the country. Macerich also owns many upscale malls, but has some midlevel ones too. Tanger is an outlet-center specialist whose revenues have been declining on a same-property basis as some tenants have sought bankruptcy protection.

The third place investors should consider is foreign stocks, especially those in emerging markets. The MSCI EAFE Index, the main index for developed markets outside the U.S., has gained 5.5% annualized for the past decade. That’s much less than the 13.5% return for U.S. stocks. Emerging-markets stocks have done even worse, with the MSCI Emerging Markets Index up only 3.8% annualized for the decade.

Many respected investors think emerging-markets stocks will outpace U.S. stocks over the next decade because of the former’s lower valuations. People who have made the case include Jeremy Grantham of Boston’s Grantham, Mayo, van Otterloo, and Robert Arnott, founder of Research Affiliates in Newport Beach, Calif.,

Obvious fund candidates for investors are the $65 billion iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA) and the $30 billion iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM). Investors who want more of a value tilt can opt for the $6 billion iShares MSCI EAFE Value ETF (EFV).

There is no emerging-markets value ETF, though there are some that emphasize dividends. The $1.5 billion Invesco FTSE RAFI Emerging Markets ETF (PXH), which tracks an index of companies ranked on book value, sales, cash flow, and dividends, could be a good alternative. Research has shown that this method of index construction, developed by Arnott and Research Affiliates, captures some of the value factor, which normally focuses on stocks trading at low price/book value or price/earnings ratios, when applied to U.S. markets.