In our mid-month Of Special Interest, “Valuation Extremes: Here Be Dragons,” we examined valuation outliers as a measure of market sentiment. The hypothesis was that exuberance is reflected in investors’ willingness to hold stocks priced on an aggressive “vision” of the future; companies that are either habitually unprofitable or trade at a Price/Sales ratio above 15x.
Top decile valuations are often the result of unduly positive investor sentiment that leads to inflated multiples. Bullishness comes in varying strengths: optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, and, at the extreme, the mania of crowds. Because bullishness manifests itself in aggressive valuations for speculative companies, we believe the prices being applied to such companies - for which intrinsic value is dependent on a future that looks significantly different than today - are an excellent measure of investor sentiment. In that spirit, we examined past cycles of extreme valuations with the goal of understanding how they relate to investor sentiment and what they might tell us about market conditions and relative returns.
Top decile valuations, such as those in place today, are usually the result of excessively positive investor sentiment that leads to inflated multiples. Bullishness comes in varying strengths: optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, and, at the extreme, the mania of crowds. Leuthold research typically tracks valuation sentiment by examining median P/E ratios, but in this study, we are taking the opposite tack. Rather than looking at medians, we are focusing on the outliers in each tail of the valuation distribution.
It’s been one of the worst years on record for diversification, with our hypothetical All Asset No Authority (AANA) portfolio down 7.2% YTD through yesterday. That’s the second-worst year for AANA since 1972, and there’s probably not enough time left for performance to undercut 2008 (-24.9%) for the bottom spot.
The recent move by the S&P 100 Index (OEX) above its historic March 2000 high prompted us to take a closer look at the turnaround potential of this perennially underperforming Mega Cap index. Remember, a Large Cap leadership cycle has been in force since April 2011—with the trend strengthening the last few months. What are the prospects for the biggest of the Big Caps?
BACK TO THE MEDIANS (1957 To Date): S&P 500 13% Downside
The S&P 500 gained 4.3% (price only) in February. Based on the 1957-to-date valuation metrics presented below, the S&P 500 has 13% downside to its historical average. The S&P Industrials (which excludes Utilities and Financials) now has 26% downside to reach mean valuation.