Omaha’s money managers and investing pros expect the Standard & Poor’s 500 to rise about 8 percent this year, boosted in part by tax and regulatory policies expected to be business-friendly.
A World-Herald survey of 10 metro-area portfolio managers and finance experts from academia found an average estimate of 2,425 for the 2017 year-end close of the broad S&P index. That would be about 8 percent higher than the 2016 close of 2,238.83, a year during which the index rose almost 9 percent.
Lower taxes and a lighter regulatory burden were almost universally cited as catalysts for the stock market in 2016; both were major points of emphasis for President-elect Donald Trump. Politics aside — several of the money managers said privately they liked neither Trump nor his opponent, Hillary Clinton — there was widespread agreement that investors will profit from what they described as an increasingly competitive U.S. business climate.
“When large corporations and small businesses alike can focus their resources on creating products and profits, not just complying with regulations designed to bring about social and environmental change, the American economic engine will shift into high gear.”
While most of the forecasters cited optimism about new pro-business policies, they also emphasized that a critical outlook remains an investor’s most important tool. And that applies even to new presidential administrations, regulatory frameworks and tax policies.
“While there is a perception that the incoming administration will be more business friendly and regulation unfriendly, the memories of the 2008 recession brought about largely by a poorly regulated banking industry still loom large,” said Jerry Pettit, head man at Pettit Funds.
“I personally don’t believe there will be many extreme changes in regulations,” he said. “Attempts to enforce ‘Made in America’ will in my opinion be mostly cosmetic.”
Still, some of it might stick and boost the economy, said Gerald Jensen, a business professor at Creighton University and faculty adviser to the $6 million student-run Creighton University Student Portfolio. He said “there is widespread belief that the regulatory environment will become much more business friendly” in the next year or so.
“This view is promoted by the administration’s choice of successful business professionals for key Cabinet positions,” Jensen said. “Excessive regulation is considered to be responsible for harming many industries, while decimating others, such as the coal industry and the for-profit education industry.”
When it comes to taxes, Jensen said, lower corporate ones will assist in the repatriation of almost $3 trillion that U.S. companies have stashed in overseas banks to avoid what they call a punitive domestic tax structure.
“Trump’s plan to greatly boost spending on infrastructure is derided by many because it will significantly expand the budget deficit,” Jensen said. “However, a significant portion of that capital could come from business investment in privatized operations financed with those overseas funds.”
Of course, none of it is a slam dunk. The Trump-Clinton election was tightly contested and full of bile. Not everyone is a fan of lessened business regulation and filling Cabinet posts with business tycoons such as labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, the head of a fast-food chain called CKE Restaurants.
“President-elect Donald Trump is famous for firing workers,” the AFL-CIO wrote in an article on its website last month. “It’s part of his brand. He has taken this to the next level in a pattern of attacking ordinary people for doing their jobs.”
And even with such contention aside, presidents even with a party majority in both houses of Congress rarely get everything they want in terms of economic policy. Plus, it takes time for serious policy reform to make its way into real life, said Mark Wynegar, portfolio manager of Tributary Capital Management.
“The end result may not be as immediate or significant as the most optimistic market participants are hoping,” Wynegar said. “The market could be a bit ahead of itself, and it will be difficult for valuations to expand significantly from here, even with improving fundamentals.”
Still, some investors seem to already anticipate a Trump effect, said Ted Bridges, principal at Bridges Investment Management, and opportunities might still be out there.
“If Trump has early success on his policy objectives of reducing the burden of federal regulation and tax code reform, corporate profits would likely be higher than currently reflected in consensus expectations, giving an upside to stock prices,” Bridges said. “The rise in the S&P 500 since the election indicates that investors are anticipating significant federal regulation and tax code reform.”
Dan Feltz of Feltz WealthPlan also said the economy is likely this year to see deregulation, corporate and personal tax cuts and increased spending on infrastructure and defense. He also said consequences follow such actions.
“These policies may boost economic growth and change the drivers of growth in 2017 and 2018,” Feltz said. “However, they may ultimately lead to some of the ‘overs’ that tend to emerge at the end of expansions — overconfidence, overborrowing, overspending — and lead to a recession down the road.”
The speed with which Wall Street commentators went from “Trump bearish to Trump bullish” was interesting to observe, said Brett Carson, research director of Carson Wealth.
“We are cautious heading into 2017,” Carson said. “This is primarily because we feel that the overall valuation of the market is rich, leaving very little room for error.”
Trump’s pro-business policies may have already been priced into the markets, Carson said. And some of Trump’s “more controversial policy agendas” such as renegotiating trade deals have been forgotten amid the hoopla.
“We remain concerned about China’s credit bubble, especially if Trump ignites a trade war with that country,” Carson said.
Jeffrey Sharp, head of SilverStone Asset Management, said the threat is real and affects Nebraska and Iowa directly.
“Don’t forget that China buys a lot of our grain,” Sharp said. “If the U.S. imposes tariffs on goods sold by China, for example, China may respond by decreasing materially their purchases of our corn and soybeans. This may directly affect farm income and land values.”
Sharp said rising interest rates will assist the fortunes of banks, insurers and other companies that earn from interest-rate spreads.
Still, 2017 is looking like “a subpar year for the market,” said Russ Kaplan, of Russ Kaplan Investments. Like all of the value investors in the survey, he works hard to discount the effect of one-time events, which include presidential elections.
“The markets are expecting nirvana from Trump,” Kaplan said, citing what he describes as impossible expectations from some investors. “The best place to be in 2017 are financially strong companies which are undervalued; 2017 will not be a year when you can just buy stocks indiscriminately.”
On the economy and investing
A primer on recent events from Rusty Vanneman, chief investment officer at Omaha’s CLS Investments.
On the prospects for a faster-growing economy:
It could, of course, but likely not as soon as some expect. There is still so much we don’t know about the new policies. And once we do, it will still take awhile for much of it to be implemented. Lastly, when it is implemented, the market doesn’t always do what people expect.
On investor reluctance to buy stocks with markets at or near all-time highs:
Remarkably, looking at market data going back to the 1990s, even if a long-term investor only invested at the absolute highest price in the stock market each year, they would still do far better than staying in cash. The best time to invest is when one has the money to invest.
On pessimism about the bond market:
The dangers of the bond market are, in general, far overrated. Expected returns remain low compared to historical averages, yes, but not the extreme danger that we often hear about. Even since the election, after which interest rates moved sharply higher, the overall bond market still has a positive return on the year. And even if rates continue to move higher, the bond market is still more likely than not to generate a positive return based off historical data, including past periods of rising rates.
On generating current income from investments amid low interest rates:
The best way is with a diversified portfolio, including exposure to higher yielding international securities. One should also still emphasize a total return approach to even an income portfolio, and be aware of the relatively higher risks in many income-oriented asset classes.