If uncertainty is the bane of investors everywhere, then the fear of large losses in a bear market is the boogeyman hiding in the closet. The threat of an agonizing downturn often leads investors to carry lower equity weights in their balanced portfolios than might be advisable, and even drives them to hold excess cash to avoid the risk of sizable declines.
ETF families have responded to this anxiety with a fund design that takes some downside risk off the table and may enable investors to tiptoe into equities even when they suspect a selloff might be around the corner. Known as “buffer”, “defined outcome”, or “target outcome” funds, these ETFs utilize an options collar overlay to trim the upside and downside tails of the underlying asset’s return distribution, thereby giving nervous investors a more comfortable way to pick up some equity exposure during riskier times.
How far might the S&P 500 fall in a recessionary bear market? The 2002 and 2020 stock market lows were both produced by “recessionary” bears; based on history back to the 1920s, those two lows stand out as the priciest bear market bottoms on record—and it’s not even close.
The 2022 economic backdrop is nothing like the near-Goldilocks environment accompanying the first few innings of the Y2K Tech bust. However, the action to-date in the former Growth stock leaders has followed the 2000-2002 path very closely—and almost on a point-for-point basis, when it comes to some indexes. With the stock market “weight of the evidence” still negative, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Y2K analog holds for a while longer.
The concept of “mean reversion” used to help build massive fortunes. Of late, a better mantra has been “maximum attraction,” as valuations and bullish psychology have matched or surpassed excesses of the Y2K Tech bubble. Meanwhile, corporate profit margins, once dubbed “the most mean-reverting series in finance” by Jeremy Grantham, have now topped those seen near the Y2K top by more than 50%.
How does one value a stock market in which 12-month forward EPS estimates show their widest dispersion in history? A good start might be with methods we use when forward estimates show practically no dispersion (like three months ago). In either case, we place little weight on such estimates; each revision usually has only marginal impact on our 5-Year Normalized EPS.
While the consensus view remains that October’s stock market rout was “healthy” and “overdue,” we think it was more likely the first leg down of much larger decline. But it’s still worth reviewing the improvement in valuations that market losses and this year’s excellent fundamentals have combined to produce.
BACK TO THE MEDIANS (1957 To Date): S&P 500 18% Downside
The S&P 500 gained 8.3% (price only) in October. Based on the 1957-to-date valuation metrics presented below, downside to its historical average increased by about 6% from last month’s –12% reading. The S&P Industrials’ downside to mean valuation (excludes Utilities and Financials) is 30%, about 3% greater than last month’s reading.
The S&P 500 lost 3.1% (price only) in August. Based on the valuation metrics presented in the table below, the S&P 500 is 8% above its historical average. The S&P Industrials (excludes Utilities and Financials) now has 20% downside to reach mean valuation.
The S&P 500 gained 4.9% (price only) in July. Based on the valuation metrics presented in the table below, the S&P 500 is 12% above its historical average. S&P Industrials (excludes Utilities and Financials) now have 21% downside to reach mean valuation.