The day after President Barack Obama won re-election, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 300 points as investors fretted about the prospect of Congress and the President failing to reach a compromise and allowing the country to fall off the so-called "fiscal cliff" and into a recession.
But, many investment strategists suspect there will be an 11th-hour deal to avert the fiscal cliff, or at least postpone it long enough to give a new Congress time to hammer out a compromise.
Alternatively, some think a deal to cut spending and raise tax revenue could be worked out early next year. That delay could slow down the fragile recovery. Richard Hoey, chief economist of BNY Mellon, points to that possibility as the fiscal "bungee jump" scenario.
Jim Swanson, chief investment strategist at MFS Investments, sees the likely delay as a "bump, with some drag on the economy because of taxes," but says "the U.S. economy is doing much better and corporations are making a great deal of money." He and other strategists see value in the U.S. stock markets.
"If investors had missed the rally this year and there's a significant correction in the equity markets, this could be a great buying opportunity," says Jeff Zhang, chief investment officer for active strategies at Mellon Capital. He expects volatility in riskier asset classes like stocks in the short term early next year as investors watch policymakers' move away from the fiscal cliff. That could provide the correction opening for advisors.
Zhang believes equities still offer good value, and said the easy monetary policies of the central banks all over the world, including the U.S., Europe, Japan and China "buys a lot of downside support for equity markets." He says these policies mean the developed world currencies will likely decrease against the currencies of emerging markets and commodity-rich countries like Australia and Canada.
Meanwhile, Swanson says one of the big stories of 2013 will be the recovery in the housing market. "This industry hit bottom and is just starting to come back, which is reason to be optimistic on stocks and the economy in general," he says.
In 2006, at its peak, construction of single-family homes accounted for 6.5% of gross domestic product. Today that figure is 2.5%, which Swanson says is so low it is comparable only to the Great Depression. He notes that 400,000 single-family homes get destroyed in the U.S. every year on average, which means the sector has only been replacing what got destroyed. But, there's been a big jump in the demographic group that is of home-buying age. That means pent-up demand, especially among potential first-time buyers who are seeing historically low interest rates.
Swanson says housing stocks came back six months ago, but those gains haven't yet extended to the peripheral industries including earth movers and landscapers, as well as makers of home furnishings. That latter group includes everything from appliances to upholstery to carpets and curtains, even chemical companies that make paint. He notes that as new home starts increase month by month, these industries will rise with the tide. And, besides consumer durables and raw materials, Swanson also favors sectors with good earnings growth, including technology and energy producers.
But advisors' biggest job in the New Year may not be picking the winning sectors and stocks, but stopping clients from selling what they have. Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, says: "Now's the time to earn your keep by holding your client's hand and telling them: 'Don't compound a negative situation by turning a paper loss into an actual loss, by selling out of those investments that were likely selected based on your investment goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. If anything, an astute advisor will be preparing the client to be adding positions should prices weaken further." He suggests scrutinizing dividend-paying stocks for income-hungry clients.
Heading into the end of the year, Stovall favors cyclical industries in sectors such as consumer discretionary and tech. He says that the six-month period from November through April historically favors high-beta stocks within the S&P 500. Although the current cycle has gotten off to a rocky start, S&P 500 stocks have averaged gains of almost 7% during the six-month period in the years since World War II. That compares to an average gain of 1.2% in the months from May to October since the war.
Stovall is also optimistic for 2013 earnings (assuming the fiscal cliff is resolved swiftly). What's more, he foresees corporate America finally putting its hefty cash cushion to work.
"Now there will be more reasons for corporations to add to hiring, invest in plants and equipment and basically to put this money to work because now they know how it will be taxed," Stovall says.