Are growth or value stocks performing better in this market? The answer may surprise you

April 2, 2020, 10:30 AM UTC

The stock market may have just had its worst quarter in 33 years, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t pockets of the market where investors can insulate themselves from all the damage.

The age-old debate between growth stocks and value stocks, for instance, is one area in which investors may be able to find some solace. According to equity investment firm Alger Management, the disparity between the two categories has grown markedly since the beginning of this year—with growth stocks coming out on top.

As Alger notes, the Russell 1000 growth index has outperformed both the Russell 1000 value index and the S&P 500 since the end of last year, with that divergence becoming more pronounced since the stock market began its coronavirus-related swan dive in mid-February. While having still fallen steeply, the growth index has lost only 18% this year to date, compared to a 31% drop in the value index and a 24% decline for the S&P 500.

The investment manager—which focuses its investment strategy on growth equities—points to a few factors behind the dichotomy. Those include the impact of lower interest rates on financial sector stocks, which are usually categorized as value stocks and tracked by value indexes. Alger also notes how a slowdown in global trade has hindered the “free flow of goods” and hurt value stocks, which “tend to deal more in tangible items, such as autos and equipment.” By contrast, more tech-oriented growth stocks “tend to operate in more of a digital economy.”

Alger adds that growth stocks tend to have healthier balance sheets, which are “critical to surviving economic tumult” and make them safer bets in recessionary conditions. According to the firm, while value stock earnings declined 40% on average in the previous two U.S. economic recessions, growth stock earnings “were relatively flat.”

Of course, some observers believe it is reductive to delineate simply between “growth” and “value” stocks when making investment decisions—and particularly so when considering indexes tracking both types of stocks. 

As Charles Schwab chief investment strategist Liz Ann Sonders tells Fortune, it’s more about which sectors and industries have been outperforming the market as of late—with tech and health care stocks outstripping the likes of financials.

“I think the main reason growth stocks have been outperforming [value stocks] has had to do with which sectors have been outperforming,” Sonders says. “That’s tech and health care, and they happen to dominate the growth indexes—whereas the value indexes’ biggest weight is financials, and they’ve gotten crushed because of the environment.”

Sonders adds that in such volatile market conditions, it’s important for investors to be particular about the stocks they invest in, rather than fall back on the “labeling” ascribed to certain segments of the market that are deemed good bets.

“We’ve been telling investors that if you’re a stock picker, you want to look at stability and quality in earnings growth, but also have a value mindset,” she says. “This is an environment where being particular and taking an active, rather than passive, approach is important.”

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