Home etftrends.com Moat Stocks’ Reign Over the S&P 500 Continues

Moat Stocks’ Reign Over the S&P 500 Continues

U.S. equity markets ended 2023 on a high note in December with a year-end rally that led major U.S. stock indexes to their ninth positive week in a row. The S&P 500 gained 4.5% in December and closed out the year up 26.3%, just short of setting a new all-time high. The Federal Reserve helped fuel much of this upward move with a dovish policy pivot during their last meeting of the year. At the December 13th meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell communicated that the tightening cycle was complete and, furthermore, indicated that the start of a rate-cutting cycle would begin in 2024, sending stocks on a tear to end the year.

The Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index (the “Moat Index”) surged by 7.87% in December outpacing the S&P 500 by over 300 basis points during the month, and ended the 2023 calendar year up 32.41%, or 600 basis points above the S&P 500. The performance of the Moat Index is particularly notable this year, as it came amid a top-heavy market where the mega-cap Magnificent Seven was responsible for much of the market’s overall gains. Illustrating this is the S&P 500 Equal Weighted Index which only gained about 14% in 2023. The Moat Index outperformed despite this challenging environment for equal-weighted strategies, bearing testament to the moat investing philosophy and the rigorous Morningstar equity research that underpins the index.

Small- and mid-caps were beneficiaries of market breadth expansion in December, leading to a continuation of their rebound that began in November and outperformance relative to large-caps in the final month of the year. The Morningstar US Small-Mid Cap Moat Focus Index (the “SMID Moat Index”) returned 9.72% in December, outpacing the broad mid-cap benchmark but lagging pure small caps. However, for the full year, the SMID Moat Index gained 17.93%, outperforming both pure small- and mid-cap benchmarks by over 100 basis points.

U.S. Equities Finish the Year Strong | As of 12/31/2023

U.S. Large and SMID Cap Equities Finish the Year Strong

Source: Morningstar. As of 12/31/2023. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Index performance is not representative of fund performance. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Fund performance current to the most recent month end is available by visiting vaneck.com or by calling 800.826.2333.

Positioning Heading into 2024

Both the Moat and SMID Moat Indexes underwent quarterly reviews on December 15, 2023. Each quarter they systematically target the most attractively priced, high quality U.S. companies within their respective universes. Below are a few takeaways from the reviews and how the indexes are positioned to start the new year. Full results of the most recent quarterly reviews are available here: Moat Index and SMID Moat Index.

Additionally, make sure to join our moat investing webinar on January 9 for more information on current positioning, recent performance, and to hear directly from Morningstar’s equity research team for their perspective on market trends and the companies they cover. Register for and view the webinar here.

Moat Index Review Highlights

Growth and Technology Remain Underweights

The Moat Index saw its technology exposure increase to the largest overweight in quite some time at the beginning of 2023, following the extreme declines in valuations for the sector in 2022. However, throughout 2023, the Index migrated away from growthy tech and toward value stocks as shares prices of tech names rebounded. This trend continued at the December review with the index shifting further from tech and growth. Exposure to more defensive sectors such as health care, consumer staples and industrials all increased this quarter, while technology now sits at a 13% underweight relative to the S&P 500.

Opportunity Drives Smaller Cap Tilt

The equal weighting methodology of the Moat Index introduces a structural bias away from mega cap companies relative to the market-cap weighted benchmarks like the S&P 500. However, throughout 2023 the Moat Index has tilted more toward smaller sized moat companies then is typically the case. Attractive valuations of smaller companies that have lagged much of the year is a primary force behind this shift. The Index’s market-cap size profile is about as small as it has been in the last ten years now, however in aggregate it still remains within the large-cap segment.

Attractive Valuation

The weighted average price-to-fair value of the Moat Index fell from 0.85 to 0.83 following the December review, signaling a 17% discount to Morningstar’s fair value estimate. This is in contrast to the price/fair value ratio of the S&P 500 Index which currently sits at 1.0, implying that the companies in the S&P 500 are, overall, fairly valued according to Morningstar.

SMID Moat Index Highlights

Consumer Discretionary and Auto Industry Retain Overweight’s

This quarterly review the SMID Moat Index saw the removal of several specialty retailers, including Williams-Sonoma (WSM) and Burlington Stores (BURL). Despite these removals, the consumer discretionary sector remains the largest overweight within the index. Automobile dealers and suppliers, a top contributing industry in 2023, account for the largest portion of this discretionary exposure with a roughly 9% weighting. At the December review, additional auto industry names were added indicating that there is still opportunity within that segment of the market. Companies added include Lithia Motors (LAD), CarMax (KMX), AutoNation (AN), and Lear Corp (LEA).

Mid Cap Remains Largest Exposure; However Small Caps Saw an Increase

Companies with a moat are typically larger, more-established entities, leading to a general skew towards mid caps within the SMID Moat Index relative to broad SMID benchmarks like the Russell 2500 Index. However, the December quarterly review saw a slight shift, about 3% in weight, from mid caps to small caps. Small-cap exposure increased to roughly 1/3rd within the Index while mid-cap accounts for the remaining 2/3rds. Attractive valuations within the smallest cohort of the eligible universe are a primary factor for this shift.

Core and Value Remain Primary Style Exposures 

Style exposure within the SMID Moat Index moved slightly toward value this quarter with the shift coming entirely at the expense of core. Core and value both remain the primary style exposures, while the change in growth was negligible with the style representing a notable underweight relative to the Russel 2500 Index.

Value34.8%+3.3%+4.7%
Core51.4%-3.7%+9.7%
Growth13.8%+0.4%-14.4%

Source: Morningstar. As of 12/15/2023. Index performance is not representative of fund performance. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Valuation Opportunity within SMID Moats

The weighted average price-to-fair value of the SMID Moat Index fell to 0.81 following the December review, signaling a 19% discount to Morningstar’s fair value estimate. The broad-based Russell 2500 Index, featured a weighted average price-to-fair value ratio of 1.00 as of the same date.

Accessing Moat Stocks

VanEck Morningstar Wide ETF (MOAT) seeks to replicate as closely as possible, before fees and expenses the price and yield performance of the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index.

VanEck Morningstar SMID Moat ETF (SMOT) seeks to track as closely as possible, before fees and expenses, the price and yield performance of the Morningstar US Small-Mid Cap Moat Focus Index.

To receive more Moat Investing insights, sign up in our subscription center.

Originally published 5 January 2024. 

For more news, information, and analysis, visit the Beyond Basic Beta Channel. 

Important Disclosures

Source for all data unless otherwise noted: Morningstar.

Fair value estimate: the Morningstar analyst’s estimate of what a stock is worth. Price/Fair Value: ratio of a stock’s trading price to its fair value estimate.

This is not an offer to buy or sell, or a recommendation to buy or sell any of the securities, financial instruments or digital assets mentioned herein. The information presented does not involve the rendering of personalized investment, financial, legal, tax advice, or any call to action. Certain statements contained herein may constitute projections, forecasts and other forward-looking statements, which do not reflect actual results, are for illustrative purposes only, are valid as of the date of this communication, and are subject to change without notice. Actual future performance of any assets or industries mentioned are unknown. Information provided by third party sources are believed to be reliable and have not been independently verified for accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. VanEck does not guarantee the accuracy of third party data. The information herein represents the opinion of the author(s), but not necessarily those of VanEck or its other employees.

Holdings will vary for the MOAT ETF and its corresponding Index. For a complete list of holdings in the ETF, please click here: https://www.vaneck.com/etf/equity/moat/holdings/.

Holdings will vary for the SMOT ETF and its corresponding Index. For a complete list of holdings in the ETF, please click here: https://www.vaneck.com/etf/equity/smot/holdings/.

An investor cannot invest directly in an index. Returns reflect past performance and do not guarantee future results. Results reflect the reinvestment of dividends and capital gains, if any. Certain indices may take into account withholding taxes. Index returns do not represent Fund returns. The Index does not charge management fees or brokerage expenses, nor does the Index lend securities, and no revenues from securities lending were added to the performance shown.

The Morningstar® Wide Moat Focus IndexSM and Morningstar® US Small-Mid Cap Moat Focus IndexSM were created and are maintained by Morningstar, Inc. Morningstar, Inc. does not sponsor, endorse, issue, sell, or promote the VanEck Morningstar Wide Moat ETF or the VanEck Morningstar SMID Moat ETF and bears no liability with respect to the ETFs or any security. Morningstar® is a registered trademark of Morningstar, Inc. Morningstar® Wide Moat Focus IndexSM and Morningstar® US Small-Mid Cap Moat Focus IndexSM are service marks of Morningstar, Inc.

Effective June 20, 2016, Morningstar implemented several changes to the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index construction rules. Among other changes, the index increased its constituent count from 20 stocks to at least 40 stocks and modified its rebalance and reconstitution methodology. These changes may result in more diversified exposure, lower turnover, and longer holding periods for index constituents than under the rules in effect prior to this date. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The Morningstar moat-driven indexes represent various regional exposures and consist of companies identified as having sustainable, competitive advantages and whose stocks are attractively priced, according to Morningstar.

The Morningstar® Wide Moat Focus IndexSM Intended to track the overall performance of attractively priced companies with sustainable competitive advantages according to Morningstar’s equity research team.

The Morningstar® US Small-Mid Cap Moat Focus IndexSM is intended to track the overall performance of small- and mid-cap companies with sustainable competitive advantages and attractive valuations according to Morningstar’s equity research team.

The Morningstar® US Small-Mid Cap IndexSM is a broad based index intended to track the overall performance of U.S. small- and mid-cap companies according to Morningstar.

The S&P SmallCap 600 Index represents small-cap US companies. The S&P Midcap 400 Index provides investors with a benchmark for mid-sized US companies. The S&P 500 Index consists of 500 widely held common stocks covering industrial, utility, financial and transportation sector. The S&P 500 Equal Weighted Index which is an equally weighted version of the market-cap weighted S&P 500 Index. The Russell 2500 Index measures the performance of the small to mid cap segment of the US equity universe.

The S&P 500® Index is a product of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and/or its affiliates and has been licensed for use by Van Eck Associates Corporation. Copyright © 2023 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global, Inc., and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Redistribution or reproduction in whole or in part are prohibited without written permission of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC. For more information on any of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC’s indices please visit https://www.spglobal.com/spdji/en/. S&P® is a registered trademark of S&P Global and Dow Jones® is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. Neither S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC, their affiliates nor their third party licensors make any representation or warranty, express or implied, as to the ability of any index to accurately represent the asset class or market sector that it purports to represent and neither S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC, their affiliates nor their third party licensors shall have any liability for any errors, omissions, or interruptions of any index or the data included therein.

An investment in the VanEck Morningstar Wide Moat ETF (MOAT®) may be subject to risks which include, among others, risks related to investing in equity securities, consumer discretionary sector, health care sector, industrials sector, information technology sector, financials sector, medium-capitalization companies, market, operational, high portfolio turnover, index tracking, authorized participant concentration, no guarantee of active trading market, trading issues, passive management, fund shares trading, premium/discount risk and liquidity of fund shares, non-diversification and index-related concentration risks, all of which may adversely affect the Fund. Medium-capitalization companies may be subject to elevated risks.

An investment in the VanEck Morningstar SMID Moat ETF (SMOT®) may be subject to risks which include, among others, risks related to investing in equity securities, small- and medium-capitalization companies, consumer discretionary sector, financials sector, health care sector, industrials sector, information technology sector, market, operational, high portfolio turnover, index tracking, authorized participant concentration, new fund, no guarantee of active trading market, trading issues, passive management, fund shares trading, premium/discount and liquidity of fund shares, non-diversified, and index-related concentration risks, all of which may adversely affect the Fund. Small- and medium-capitalization companies may be subject to elevated risks.

Investing involves substantial risk and high volatility, including possible loss of principal. An investor should consider the investment objective, risks, charges and expenses of a Fund carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus and summary prospectus, which contain this and other information, call 800.826.2333 or visit vaneck.com. Please read the prospectus and summary prospectus carefully before investing.

© Van Eck Securities Corporation, Distributor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Van Eck Associates Corporation.

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