Monday, July 3, 2017

Stock Valuations Worse Than They Appear

The US stock market (S&P 500) is trading at a price to earning ratio of 23 based on trailing 12 month "as-reported" earnings.  Historical average is 16.7, so it doesn't it seem so over-valued. See the chart below.  It's only about 30 to 35% above "average."

But it's corporate earnings themselves that are very elevated compared to historical averages-- almost 100% above average.  The problem is that corporate profits reliably reverse or "mean-revert" to the low end of historical averages.

In fact, it is said that corporate profits are the "most mean-reverting" series in all finance. Refer to the chart above. You can see that corporate profits collapsed to the bottom of the historical range (+/- 1 Standard Deviation) in both 2000 and in 2009, so it does mean-revert very significantly! By this measure, you could expect stocks to drop 60% during the next recession.

My point is that that stock market PEs are much more elevated than it seems because the "Earnings" part of the equation is extremely high relative to history -- which reduces reported PE to something that appears less obscene (earnings are in the denominator of P/E). In reality, stocks are very overvalued and in the 95% percentile of historic valuations, when looking at a variety of valuation measures.

That is why GMO is calling for negative stock and bond returns for the next 7 years. The way that these things work out is that stock prices decline by 50 or 60% at some point in that 7 year time period, then recover somewhat. You might have to wait a long time for the full price recovery. Are you ready for that?

GMO's Estimate of Market Returns for Various Assets Q2 2017

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