The Trump Ticker Tantrum

Investors are starting to doubt whether President Trump can deliver all the growth-oriented goodies he’s promised. And that means volatility could finally be returning.

The market’s ascent since Election Day has been largely driven by the anticipation of fiscal stimulus, particularly corporate tax cuts.

But now that the reality of governing is finally setting in, the market is coming to grips with the possibility that such pro-growth policies may not be implemented until sometime next year.

On Tuesday, for instance, the S&P 500 dropped 1.2%, which was the first decline of such magnitude since last October.

That prompted investors to pile into safe-haven assets such as 10-year U.S. Treasuries, which pushed yields down as much as 22 basis points from the previous week’s high. Two-tenths of a percentage point may not sound like all that much, but in the world of fixed income it’s a big move.

We’ve been cautioning investors that the effect of Trump’s pro-growth policies may not be felt until next year, at the earliest.

For its part, the market sees the move to repeal and replace Obamacare as the first big test of Trump’s ability to get things done. While the proposed healthcare plan originated with House Republicans, the president has put his own reputation on the line by personally lobbying for its passage.

A setback on this front would not only hurt Trump’s image as a dealmaker, but an internecine legislative battle over healthcare reform would likely force Congress to defer on tax cuts.

Consequently, the market’s action this week suggests that it may be souring on the so-called Trump Trade. Not helping matters is the fact that expectations for first-quarter earnings growth have declined by more than 3 percentage points since the beginning of the year, to 9.0%.

Although that would still be the strongest quarterly showing since 2011, the downward revision would seem to mirror the market’s own decline in sentiment.

The Case for Safety

In uncertain times, we like to turn to our Early-Warning System, which we use to monitor the financial health of our favorite dividend payers.

The system deconstructs a company’s return on equity (ROE) into its individual components, which allows for greater ease in analyzing what’s actually driving growth. In addition to identifying promising investments, the Early-Warning System also tells us when a company’s fundamentals are heading in the wrong direction.

ROE is still considered a key metric when comparing companies against their peers and is used by many of the world’s top investors, including Warren Buffett.

According to a study conducted by Charles Schwab, ROE also appears closely correlated with the safety and sustainability of a company’s payout. Schwab reviewed the characteristics of dividend payers among the top 3,200 stocks by market capitalization, over a nearly 20-year period, and found that companies with higher ROEs were less likely to have cut their dividend.

When we ran the Early-Warning System recently, we found that electric utility favorites such as NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE) and Eversource Energy (NYSE: ES) continue to offer exemplary performances, with more than 10 quarters of positive ROEs—the very picture of stability.

In the water utilities space, Aqua America Inc. (NYSE: WTR) and American Water Works Co. Inc. (NYSE: AWK) also exhibited similar records.

If volatility does come back to the market in a meaningful way, investors should focus on these fundamentally superior dividend payers until Trump proves he can deliver.