Five reasons to invest in US small and mid-caps

Sam Slator 03/07/2023 in Equities, US

US smaller companies had started a trend of outperforming their larger peers in 2022 after many years of underperformance. However, the banking sector wobble – which started in March with Silicon Valley bank’s problems – caused the market to question the risk of smaller companies. Concurrently, the AI narrative gave a boost to the return expectations of the mega tech firms, causing large cap leadership to reascend, albeit driven by a very small number of companies.

Here, the team behind the Schroder US Mid Cap fund, tell us why it may still be a good idea to gain exposure to small and mid-cap companies in the cycle ahead.


A good starting point to support US smaller companies is that today’s valuations are already pricing in a lot of bad news. Smaller companies have not been so cheap relative to large caps since the technology bubble in 1999-2001. Indeed, US smaller companies trade at similar valuations to markets outside the US for the first time in years, meaning you can still invest in the US economy without paying a premium.

Past cycles

The last time relative valuations were this cheap, and sentiment so poor, was followed by an outstanding period of absolute and relative returns for small and mid-cap. In the seven-year period following the market peak in March 2000, small caps were up by more than 70% whereas large caps were up by less than 10%.

Both in the 1970s and after the bursting of the technology bubble in 2000, US smaller companies performed much better than larger companies for a number of years.

This outperformance from smaller companies occurred when the Federal Reserve (Fed) funds rates and economic growth were both rising and falling. This consistent outperformance through a variety of different economic environments occurred from a similar starting point. Past performance is no guide to the future, of course, but we see many similarities with the current environment.

Large Cap concentration risk

The S&P 500 has become increasingly concentrated in a very few mega cap tech companies. US smaller companies offer a much more diversified exposure to the US economy.

Small caps better positioned to benefit from changing consumer trends

Smaller, more domestically oriented companies in the US are better positioned to benefit from changing trends in the US economy. Although the US consumer remains resilient, consumer spending is changing from goods to services. The goods economy remained robust during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the services economy remained closed. Smaller company earnings are much more geared to services, which should further fuel favorable relative earnings growth.

Another trend that was evident before the Covid-19 crisis, but has since accelerated, is the rise in capital spending in the U.S. There is a major initiative underway to reshore supply chains as globalisation starts to retreat. The US government is also providing major incentives to promote more domestic manufacturing enshrined in legislation through policy such as the Chips and Science Act and Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022. The Infrastructure Bill of 2021 provides additional tailwinds.

Other factors supporting capex are efforts to reduce emissions and the need to spend on automation to mitigate labour shortages. Sales growth of smaller companies is highly correlated to US capex growth. This reflects the largely domestic focus of small cap businesses compared to large caps. This domestic exposure also insulates companies from translating non-US returns into US dollars.

Time to broaden out portfolio allocations

Retaining exposure to US equities remains an important allocation in a diversified investment portfolio but there are reasons to reconsider allocations across the asset class. Over much of the last decade, investing exclusively in the S&P 500 would have been the best decision. However, change is now underway. There are now good reasons for investors to broaden their allocations into small and mid-cap US companies that are more attractively valued and better positioned for a changing market environment.

It’s also important to remember, given the size of the US economy, even “small” US-focused companies are large by international standards. This is important at a time when investors are re-discovering risk, as liquidity tightens due to rising interest rates, triggering a range of stresses. With market valuations ranging up to $20 billion, however, US small and mid-caps are a well-traded and liquid asset class full of opportunities.

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