Value stocks will continue to rally into 2021-but overall S&P 500 returns will be tepid, says BofA

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Traders work during the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 13, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City.

  • A recent rotation into value stocks was just the beginning of a rally that will continue into 2021, said a team of Bank of America analysts led by Savita Subramanian. 
  • But a prospective value stock rally is not necessarily bullish for the broader S&P 500, said the analysts, as the benchmark index is already at extreme levels of valuation and value stocks won’t be able to lift the entire index higher. 
  • “Our value call underpins our tepid outlook for the S&P 500,” said BofA. “But the S&P 500 is very different from the US economy. Here we believe the recovery is intact and recommend value exposure via financials and energy and small over large.”
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The recent rotation into value stocks was just the beginning of a rally that will continue into 2021, said a team of Bank of America analysts led by Savita Subramanian.

In a Wednesday note to clients, the analysts highlighted that the Russell 1000 Value index has outperformed growth in the last three months, but the bargain-stock rally isn’t over.

“Despite the recent rotation, extreme valuations and entrenched positioning suggest we are in the early innings of a Value cycle. The relative discount for Value stocks remains nearly two standard deviations below average…” said BofA.

The financials sector is BofA’s top pick for value stocks. They also see opportunities in value-oriented cyclical industries like autos and multiline retail. The tech sector fell to the bottom of BofA’s list. 

But any rally in value stocks is not necessarily bullish for the broader S&P 500, said the analysts. In fact,Savita Subramanian sees the S&P 500 finishing 2021 at 3,800-only a 3% gain from current levels.

Read more:Morgan Stanley is warning that the stock market’s economic recovery trade may soon be over. Here are 4 strategies they recommend for finding the returns that still exist.

The analysts explained that the broader market is already richly valued and may not be able to climb much higher.  A value stock rally won’t be able to lift the entire market.

“Our value call underpins our tepid outlook for the S&P 500,” said BofA.” But the S&P 500 is very different from the US economy. Here we believe the recovery is intact and recommend value exposure via financials and energy and small over large.”

The bank remains cautious on stocks in the near-term, as valuations are rich and levels of optimism are at highs not seen since the Great Financial Crisis. The S&P 500 had the best November since 1928, soaring 11%, the analysts said.

“A lot of optimism is baked into stocks, along with rich valuations…and we remain cautious in the near-term. The medium-to-long-term bull case for stocks over bonds remains, although equity returns are likely to be sub-average (~5%),” added BofA.

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