Despite this year’s massive underperformance by the Equal Weighted S&P 500, the median stock doesn’t appear substantially more attractive than the cap-weighted index. Three of five valuation measures are now back in the top decile of readings, which we’d consider pricey in any monetary or economic backdrop.
We don’t know enough about banking-system mechanics to conclude if the Fed’s balance-sheet increase associated with March’s bank bailout constitutes a new round of QE. But if it is, we’re skeptical equity investors should celebrate it. In fact, those running Small-Cap portfolios should probably fear it!
If the October S&P 500 low holds, the normalized P/E ratio of 22.7x on that date will signify the priciest bear market bottom in history; in fact, it is exactly the same level reached as at the August-1987 bull market high. Since October, the normalized P/E multiple has grown to 25.5x—higher than all but three previous bull market peaks.
The bear was a mere cub back in March when we examined the historical record of buying S&P 500 dips in the -10% to -12% range. “Blindly” buying them turned out to have mediocre returns, but we illustrated that the positions of various business-cycle indicators could help one determine whether or not catching the proverbial “falling knife” was warranted.
In early 2018, we thought the market was expensive, but certainly not a bubble. Today, the trouble is not just high P/E multiples, but the sustainability of the “E” itself—with profit margins nearly 20% higher than ever before. Whether one believes U.S. Large Caps are engulfed in a bubble or not, we have a P/E ratio for you.
The environment where massively above-trend federal outlays have generated massively above-trend readings in both current and projected S&P 500 EPS, the idea of normalizing EPS over a period as long as five years might seem hopelessly out of touch. But it’s during times of extraordinary conditions—both good and bad—that render this work especially valuable.
At some point during the June/July streak of seven-consecutive S&P 500 daily-closing highs, an album from 1980 popped into our heads: Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did—released when John Mellencamp was still known as John Cougar. It brought to mind some “nothin’s” that seem not to matter.
Our trusted civil servants must have found a list of our old Economic/Interest Rates/Inflation components and began to “discontinue” those once invaluable to us and other Fed watchers. It’s a hindrance, but we still have the one that is most correlated to stock prices and it’s free: The ever-expanding balance sheet.
Stocks (and more specifically, U.S. blue chips) did not fully (nor even approximately) discount the economic calamity. The result is that, in just over two months, the “baby bull”—if that’s what it is—has achieved what took his legendary predecessor more than eight years to accomplish: Top 25x on our Normalized P/E.
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.
An occasional critique of our valuation work is that we consider “too much” market history to form a judgment as to what constitutes “high” or “low.” This type of feedback declined during and after the financial crisis (when historic valuation thresholds were temporarily revisited), but it has become more pointed as the U.S. market has soared to new highs.
One never appreciates what he or she has until it’s gone. In our case, during the many years it was freely available, we failed to appreciate the zero interest rate. Now that it’s gone, we already feel pressured to join a game where we (and very few others) have any edge: Fed-watching. Our real edge is that we recognize this.
We examine Emerging Markets from both the top-down and bottom-up perspectives as we try to identify where to move and what to expect. We check in on two successful EM thematic group ideas as well.