Investors are reassessing which types of companies will thrive in the next stage of the recovery amid the recent rebound of value stocks. But we think the distinguishing performance factor will be a company’s ability to generate sustainable earnings, regardless of its style classification.

Value stocks have rebounded recently, driven by hopes that an exit from the pandemic will buoy the global economy. The gap between value and growth was especially pronounced in US markets. Sectors such as financials and energy, which are more cyclically sensitive, tend to do well in economic recoveries and are more heavily represented in value benchmarks. Growth stocks, meanwhile, may face pressure from rising interest rates, which tend to affect their multiples more than those of their value peers.

The growth-value debate will rage on. But we think there’s a more important question that transcends traditional style definitions, considering how different post-COVID-19 normalization may look from past recoveries. In fact, we believe investors should widen the lens beyond a growth-versus-value assessment to determine a company’s true potential.

Three Signs of Strong Recovery Potential

In our view, the key question is whether the quality a company offers comes at a reasonable cost. And in the aftermath of an unprecedented economic crisis, determining quality will now come down to how fast a company can recover its earnings as conditions improve. To identify such companies, we believe investors should look for three key growth drivers that are very specific to today’s conditions:

1. The reopening trade: Companies that are most likely to benefit from economies opening back up will be the most obvious growth driver in 2021. But the recovery path won’t be the usual slog. Strong pent-up business and consumer demand for goods will accelerate the turnaround once lockdowns are fully removed, which will play out in the markets rather swiftly. On one hand, many companies will find it easy to post strong earnings growth against last year’s depressed levels, especially in retail and travel, which suffered the most in 2020. On the other hand, it will be easy to identify companies that are struggling to keep up the growth momentum they may have inherited from the pandemic’s demand spike for certain services.