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.
Market momentum now seems to outweigh simple math in the minds of most investors, and we are not entirely immune. Today our tactical funds are positioned with net equity exposure of 50%, the midpoint of the normal 30-70% range. That’s a higher allocation than if we considered only business cycle dynamics and equity valuations.
December’s Of Special Interest provided a recap of our Asset Allocation team’s view of small cap equities, suggesting that small caps had underperformed and reached a valuation discount that made them an interesting contrarian value proposition. Several clients responded with follow-up questions, wondering if the discount valuation of small caps was offset by their typically weaker business models.
Corporate profits were outstanding last year, but even the benefit of a 40% cut in the top income-tax rate wasn’t enough to lift the net profit margin back to the all-time high of 10.6% established in early 2012. Still, the latest 10.0% figure is more than a percentage point above the 2007 cycle high and about two points better than any other cycle high.
A massive drop in corporate tax payments lifted the third quarter NIPA profit margin back to the 10% level for the first time four years. But while we try not to always view the glass as half empty, we find it troubling that margins remain well-below their 2012 highs (10.6%) in spite of this one-time windfall.
We revisit commentary we published in 2015 regarding the late-2014 oil price crash and review why, at that time, we believed oil prices could stay at depressed levels for a longer period than most expected. Additionally, we advise avoiding two Energy sector segments: companies with high balance-sheet risk, and Energy Royalty Trusts.
Government accounting on everything ranging from the CPI, to the budget deficit, to even the unemployment rate is constantly assailed as being too rosy. So when a government report occasionally paints a less optimistic picture than the consensus one, we’re inclined to sit up and take notice (especially when we agree with it).
The S&P 500 record median profit margin of 10.3% is now almost a full percentage point above the last cycle’s peak of 9.4% (second quarter of 2007). Trends across S&P sectors are not as uniform as one might expect, though, with only half of the ten sectors last quarter at profitability levels that exceeded their 2001-2007 expansion highs.
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?