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The end of the Trump Rally has a silver lining

It has come to a situation where investors are easily discounting policy stumbles

Gulf News

After the presidential election in early November, the stock market acted like it had been shot from a cannon. Although plenty of commentators and investors were worried about calamity hitting the markets if Donald Trump took the White House, just the opposite happened.

People were quick to label this the Trump Rally and they had a point. Just look at the breakdown in performance of the various asset classes from Election Day through the end of 2016:

Gold was hit hard as many investors were forced to unwind a hedge intended to protect against the end-of-the-world scenario that never came to pass. Small caps led the way along with commodities, while foreign developed equities, emerging markets and bonds all lagged.

A further breakdown of the various sectors in the S&P 500 shows how things were changing beneath the surface, too:

If you followed the Trump Rally narrative these moves made complete sense. The idea was that the president was going to come in with a $1 trillion infrastructure program, health care reform, banking deregulation, a tax overhaul and the repatriation of overseas corporate profits. Many predicted that these moves would help banks, industrials and materials corporations and hurt health care and tech names. Many were also expecting rising rates and higher inflation from increased government spending, thus the bond losses in those first few months.

It appears, however, that the Trump Rally was short-lived. Markets have seemingly moved on from those trades as most of them have completely reversed from the early days after the election. Here are the returns for the same asset classes in 2017:

Asset class performance in 2017 shows no signs of the Trump trade. Foreign stocks are outpacing their US counterparts by a wide margin. US-based small caps are now lagging. Bonds have shown decent gains as interest rates have fallen and commodities have given back all their gains from the Trump rally. Even gold has seen positive returns in 2017 after getting shellacked following the election.

The S&P 500 is the one asset class that was in a relatively similar position in both periods but a closer look at the sector composition of performance, drastic changes are apparent there as well:

These results are night and day when compared to the performance at the tail end of 2016. Financials and energy stocks are now underperforming after showing strong gains after Trump was elected. Technology and health care stocks also have both experienced nice comebacks.

Financial stocks were some of the biggest winners when Trump became president, as investors were banking on higher interest rates — which would help loan margins for banks — and deregulation, which would make it easier for banks to profit under a less burdensome regulatory regime. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was up almost 32 per cent in the post-election period. Bank of America Corp. rose almost 30 per cent. This year, however, both stocks are struggling: Goldman is down more than 5 per cent and Bank of America is down slightly.

None of this was supposed to happen if the markets were still following the script from the Trump Rally. The positive is that many of the current investor worries could be overblown about what could happen if any of Trump’s initiatives on tax reform, infrastructure bills, financial deregulation or health care reform were to fail. With each failed attempt at getting any of these huge projects finished the markets seem to care less and less.

Hardly a day goes by without a multitude of headlines about the president. But the markets don’t care about headlines or narratives. Many investors may still be hung up on the Trump Rally, but it looks like the markets have already made their determination that it’s over and have moved on.

Ben Carlson is director of institutional asset management at Ritholtz Wealth Management. He is the author of “Organizational Alpha: How to Add Value in Institutional Asset Management.”

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