Small Caps: Still Undervalued
Written by: Global Thought Leadership
10 January, 2020
Chart courtesy of Royce Investment Partners. Source: FactSet, as of 11/30/19. RMicro = Russell Microcap Index; R1K = Russell 1000 Index. *Enterprise Value/Earnings Before Interest and Taxes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indexes are unmanaged, and not available for direct investment. Index returns do not include fees or sales charges. This information is provided for illustrative purposes only and does not reflect the performance of an actual investment.
The chart compares, on a monthly basis from 12/31/ 2001 through 11/31/2019, the last twelve months enterprise value (EV) divided by earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of the Russell Microcap Index with the Russell 1000 Index.
The Bottom Line
- Large-cap stocks have enjoyed a wide performance advantage over the past five years relative to micro-caps—the smallest investable companies.1
- That's led to a valuation gap between them that's the biggest in nearly 20 years—based on median EV/EBIT, excluding non-earning companies, the preferred valuation measure of Royce Investment Partners.
- As of the end of November 2019, that EV/EBIT was 17.5x for the Russell Microcap Index compared with 20.0x for the Russell 1000 Index.
- That’s a ratio of 87%, far below the 111% average since 2001 -- as shown in the chart above.2
- Strong performance late in the year for micro-caps3 made only a small dent in the magnitude of that discount—as illustrated by the minor upswing at the lower right of in the chart.
- While absolute returns for both micro- and small-cap stocks were solid in 20194, Royce believes that 2020 could be another promising year both in absolute terms and relative to large caps—based on the current environment of attractive valuations, low inflation, moderate growth, and abundant capital.
- As Royce notes, it’s not uncommon for small-caps to advance by double digits for two consecutive years—pointing out that this occurred in 1988-89, 1991-92, 1995-6, 2003-04, 2009-10, 2012-13, and 2016-17.
1 Source: Bloomberg. For the 5-year period ending 12/31/2019, the Russell Microcap Index generated an annualized total return of 6.58% compared with 11.47% for the Russell 1000 Index.
2 Source: FactSet, as of 11/30/19.
3 Source: Bloomberg. For the 4Q19, the Russell Microcap Index generated a cumulative total return of 13.43% compared with 9.03% for the Russell 1000 Index.
4 Source: Bloomberg. For calendar year 2019, the Russell Microcap Index generated a total return of 22.43% and the Russsell 2000 generated a total return of 25.49%
EV / EBITDA equals a company's enterprise value divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization. It measures the price (in the form of enterprise value) an investor pays for the benefit of the company's cash flow (in the form of EBITDA).
Enterprise value (EV) refers to the entire value of a company after taking into account both holders of debt and equity.
The Russell 1000 Index measures the performance of the 1,000 largest companies in the Russell 3000 Index, which represents approximately 92% of the total market capitalization of the Russell 3000 Index.
The Russell 2000 Index is an unmanaged list of common stocks that is frequently used as a general performance measure of U.S. stocks of small and/or midsize companies.
The Russell Microcap Index measures the performance of the microcap segment of the U.S. equity market. Microcap stocks make up less than 3% of the U.S. equity market (by market cap) and consist of the smallest 1,000 securities in the small-cap Russell 2000 Index, plus the next smallest eligible securities by market cap.
Yields and dividends represent past performance and there is no guarantee they will continue to be paid.
Forecasts are inherently limited and should not be relied upon as indicators of actual or future performance.
All investments involve risk, including possible loss of principal.
The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amounts originally invested, and can be affected by changes in interest rates, in exchange rates, general market conditions, political, social and economic developments and other variable factors. Investment involves risks including but not limited to, possible delays in payments and loss of income or capital. Neither Legg Mason nor any of its affiliates guarantees any rate of return or the return of capital invested.
Equity securities are subject to price fluctuation and possible loss of principal. Fixed-income securities involve interest rate, credit, inflation and reinvestment risks; and possible loss of principal. As interest rates rise, the value of fixed income securities falls.
International investments are subject to special risks including currency fluctuations, social, economic and political uncertainties, which could increase volatility. These risks are magnified in emerging markets.
Commodities and currencies contain heightened risk that include market, political, regulatory, and natural conditions and may not be suitable for all investors.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Please note that an investor cannot invest directly in an index. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect any fees, expenses or sales charges.
The opinions and views expressed herein are not intended to be relied upon as a prediction or forecast of actual future events or performance, guarantee of future results, recommendations or advice. Statements made in this material are not intended as buy or sell recommendations of any securities. Forward-looking statements are subject to uncertainties that could cause actual developments and results to differ materially from the expectations expressed. This information has been prepared from sources believed reliable but the accuracy and completeness of the information cannot be guaranteed. Information and opinions expressed by either Legg Mason or its affiliates are current as at the date indicated, are subject to change without notice, and do not take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situation or needs of individual investors.
The information in this material is confidential and proprietary and may not be used other than by the intended user. Neither Legg Mason or its affiliates or any of their officer or employee of Legg Mason accepts any liability whatsoever for any loss arising from any use of this material or its contents. This material may not be reproduced, distributed or published without prior written permission from Legg Mason. Distribution of this material may be restricted in certain jurisdictions. Any persons coming into possession of this material should seek advice for details of, and observe such restrictions (if any).
This material may have been prepared by an advisor or entity affiliated with an entity mentioned below through common control and ownership by Legg Mason, Inc. Unless otherwise noted the "$" (dollar sign) represents U.S. Dollars.
This material is only for distribution in those countries and to those recipients listed.
All investors and eligible counterparties in EU and EEA countries:
In Europe (excluding UK and Switzerland), this financial promotion is issued by Legg Mason Investments (Ireland) Limited, registered office Floor 6, Building Three, Number One, Ballsbridge, 126 Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. D04 EP27, Ireland. Registered in Ireland, Company No. 271887. Authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.
In the UK, this financial promotion is issued by Legg Mason Investments (Europe) Limited, registered office 201 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3AB. Registered in England and Wales, Company No. 1732037. Authorized and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority.
In Switzerland, this financial promotion is issued by Legg Mason Investments (Switzerland) GmbH, authorised by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA.
Investors in Switzerland: The representative in Switzerland is FIRST INDEPENDENT FUND SERVICES LTD., Klausstrasse 33, 8008 Zurich, Switzerland and the paying agent in Switzerland is NPB Neue Privat Bank AG, Limmatquai 1, 8024 Zurich, Switzerland. Copies of the Articles of Association, the Prospectus, the Key Investor Information documents and the annual and semi-annual reports of the Company may be obtained free of charge from the representative in Switzerland.
All Investors in Hong Kong and Singapore:
This material is provided by Legg Mason Asset Management Hong Kong Limited in Hong Kong and Legg Mason Asset Management Singapore Pte. Limited (Registration Number (UEN): 200007942R) in Singapore.
This material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in Hong Kong or Singapore.
All Investors in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”):
This material is provided by Legg Mason Asset Management Hong Kong Limited to intended recipients in the PRC. The content of this document is only for Press or the PRC investors investing in the QDII Product offered by PRC’s commercial bank in accordance with the regulation of China Banking Regulatory Commission. Investors should read the offering document prior to any subscription. Please seek advice from PRC’s commercial banks and/or other professional advisors, if necessary. Please note that Legg Mason and its affiliates are the Managers of the offshore funds invested by QDII Products only. Legg Mason and its affiliates are not authorized by any regulatory authority to conduct business or investment activities in China.
This material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in the PRC.
Distributors and existing investors in Korea and Distributors in Taiwan:
This material is provided by Legg Mason Asset Management Hong Kong Limited to eligible recipients in Korea and by Legg Mason Investments (Taiwan) Limited (Registration Number: (98) Jin Guan Tou Gu Xin Zi Di 001; Address: Suite E, 55F, Taipei 101 Tower, 7, Xin Yi Road, Section 5, Taipei 110, Taiwan, R.O.C.; Tel: (886) 2-8722 1666) in Taiwan. Legg Mason Investments (Taiwan) Limited operates and manages its business independently.
This material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in Korea or Taiwan.
All Investors in the Americas:
This material is provided by Legg Mason Investor Services LLC, a U.S. registered Broker-Dealer, which includes Legg Mason Americas International. Legg Mason Investor Services, LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC, and all entities mentioned are subsidiaries of Legg Mason, Inc.
All Investors in Australia and New Zealand:
This document is issued by Legg Mason Asset Management Australia Limited (ABN 76 004 835 839, AFSL 204827). The information in this document is of a general nature only and is not intended to be, and is not, a complete or definitive statement of matters described in it. It has not been prepared to take into account the investment objectives, financial objectives or particular needs of any particular person.