A year and a half after they first began to falter, growth stocks are suffering through a slump that seems to be getting steadily worse.
The trouble began in early 1992 for these traditional Wall Street favorites, when investors started showing a preference for neglected "value" stocks instead. The situation has only intensified since then.In the first half of 1993, an index of growth stocks compiled by Frank Russell Co. of Tacoma, Wash., dropped 3.15 percent, while a comparable index of value stocks was rising 10.79 percent.
Russell does those calculations by separating the components of its Russell 1000 index of large companies into groups with the highest (growth) and lowest (value) ratios of stock price to book value, or theoretical worth if they were liquidated.
Traditionally, growth stocks are esteemed for strong, reliable upward trends in earnings that allow them to command higher-than-average market prices. "Value" fans, by contrast, look for stocks that can be bought cheaply because of past problems or simple neglect.
In the second quarter, "our portfolio of growth stocks under-per-formed the Standard & Poor's industrial index by 7 percentage points to record the worst quarterly performance from the high-growth portfolio since 1982," said Robert Gay, an analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc.
"The recent performance has impaired the record of the growth investing style, and there are no signs the problem is over."
All this comes at a time when money managers are identified more and more specifically by the philosophy they employ.
"Although the terms growth and value have been around for years, they have taken on greater significance over the past two years," observe analysts at the Morningstar Mutual Funds advisory service.
"During 1991, growth funds racked up superior returns for the third year in a row, and many on Wall Street went so far as to pronounce value dead.
"Yet value funds stormed back in 1992, easily outdistancing rival growth offerings, and they have continued to outperform so far this year."
If there is a single personification of the growth set's woes, it has been the stock of Philip Morris, battered by anti-tobacco sentiment and price competition in the U.S. cigarette market. The shares reached the halfway point of 1993 at 481/2, down from as high as 865/8 less than 12 months earlier.
"Big consumer products companies like Philip Morris were hit hard," observed Paul Greenwood, an analyst at Frank Russell Co. "This sector suffered as investors questioned consumer product companies' ability to grow earnings through price increases."
To some extent, many analysts say, growth stocks are simply enduring their turn in the doghouse and can be expected to regain some of their lost favor sooner or later.