Quality stocks haven’t been this cheap in more than 20 years

Quality is on sale in the stock market. 

Higher quality stocks are trading at their largest valuation discount to the broad market since the dot com bubble of the early 2000s (see chart below), BlackRock CIO of U.S. fundamental equities Tony DeSpirito said in a new research note. 

DeSpirito defines high quality stocks as those of companies that generate profits and sport pricing power (so obviously, this excludes Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs). The companies manage their balance sheets and cash flows effectively, demonstrate strong accounting credibility and return capital to shareholders in a disciplined manner (most likely through dividends). 

Interestingly, despite the impressive fundamental features of high quality companies the stocks themselves have sucked wind going on nine months. 

Quality stocks look to be on sale, BlackRock contends.

Quality stocks look to be on sale, BlackRock contends.

DeSpirito’s research shows that quality stocks have underperformed since COVID-19 vaccine announcements came to fore back in November 2020, sending their valuations lower. Instead of paying up to own quality companies amidst a global economic recovery (ones that could lift their dividends and share repurchase plans because of the macro rebound), investors have largely avoided or sold these stocks in favor of riskier bets that produced strong gains early in the recovery. 

A great example of this dynamic could be seen in the relative performance of the Invesco S&P 500 High Beta ETF. Some of the ETF’s top holdings include super risky economic recovery plays such as Carnival Corp. and United Airlines. The ETF has gained a very solid 31% year-to-date, outperforming the 13% increase in the S&P 500. Meanwhile, the Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity ETF (which includes high quality dividend growers like Home Depot) is only up 17% on the year. 

Now, DeSpirito said the tide is about to swing back to quality. 

“We see potential for quality to rerate higher. As the cycle evolves, the market will look ahead to more normalized growth rates, and investors are likely to grow more cautious amid concerns around taxes, inflation and the timing of a Fed policy shift,” DeSpirito explained. 

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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