Wider valuation and performance dispersion, elevated market concentration and potentially higher-for-longer interest rates underscore the importance of an active approach to engage opportunities and manage risks in the US stock market.

Looking beyond valuations

A common refrain about investing in US stocks is valuations. As illustrated in the chart below, the valuation of the S&P 500 index appears relatively extended versus its own history and other regional markets. 

As of 31.03.2024, the S&P 500 index is trading at around 21x forward price-to-earnings (P/E), meaningfully above its past 15-year average1. This compares unfavourably to other regional equity markets such as Europe, Asia Pacific ex-Japan, Japan, and Emerging Markets where P/E valuations are closer to their respective past 15-year averages.

Yet this belies the fact that there is wide dispersion in valuations within the S&P 500 index itself. As the chart below illustrates, there is a wide divergence between the valuations of the top 10 largest constituents of the index and its remaining members1

Indeed, the higher valuation of the overall index can be explained by rising market concentration of the 10 largest stocks by market capitalisation. Accounting for over 33% of the overall index2, the ebb and flow of these 10 stock names could affect headline numbers, potentially masking interesting opportunities under the hood. 

The collective influence of the 10 largest stocks is not insignificant. Case-in-point, while the S&P 500 index climbed 24% in 2023, it was a narrow-breadth rally with the top 10 stocks accounting for about 86% of the annual price return3.

Looking under the hood to differentiate opportunities

Yet in the first quarter of this year, we’ve observed a dispersion in the performance of the 10 largest US stocks, with some names scaling new heights while others seemingly struggle to break through4. Coupled with the wide dispersion of intra-sector valuations, an active approach could be useful to seek out mispriced opportunities.

Moreover, a changing macroeconomic environment marked by higher-for-longer interest rates, higher cost of capital and elevated geopolitical risks could present challenges for various sectors and companies – some more so than others – and invariably create potential winners and losers. This underscores the importance of a robust investment process to help manage risks and differentiate opportunities from the bottom-up. 

Differentiated solutions to seek out opportunities in US equities

To that end, the JPMorgan Equity Premium Income Active ETF and JPMorgan US 100Q Equity Premium Income Active ETF are differentiated US-focused solutions that can help manage volatility, seek income opportunities and participate in the market upside. These solutions combine actively managed, US-focused equity portfolios with a disciplined options strategy that broadly consists of selling out-of-the-money index-level call options. In addition, they seek to provide exposure to capital growth and income opportunities in the US market with lower volatility relative to their respective benchmarks, namely the NASDAQ-100 Total Return Index (in AUD) for the JPMorgan US 100Q Equity Premium Income Active ETF and S&P 500 Net Return Index (in AUD) for the JPMorgan Equity Premium Income Active ETF.

Active management for active markets

Index concentration, valuation and performance dispersion, and fast changing macro-economic conditions describe a market environment that requires an active approach, in our view. It underscores the importance of staying active to manage risks and seek out quality opportunities. An active approach supported by a robust bottom-up fundamental research process, can be useful to uncover lesser known, higher quality names that could present enduring opportunities for consistent returns.