The first is that many investors have underestimated the impact of low rates on valuations. In short, what should the stock market yield? Not its dividend yield, but its earnings yield: the ratio of earnings to price (that is, p/e inverted). Simplistically, when Treasurys yield less than 1% and you add in the traditional equity premium, perhaps the earnings yield should be 4%. That yield of 4/100 suggests a p/e ratio (the inverse) of 100/4, or 25. Thus the S&P 500 shouldn’t trade at its traditional 16 times earnings, but roughly 50% higher.
Even that, it’s said, understates the case, because it ignores the fact that companies’ earnings grow, while bond interest doesn’t. Thus the demanded return on stocks shouldn’t be (bond yield + equity premium) as suggested above, but rather (bond yield + equity premium - growth). If the earnings on the S&P 500 will grow to eternity at 2% per year, for example, the right earnings yield isn’t 4%, but 2% (for a p/e ratio of 50). And, mathematically, for a company whose growth rate exceeds the sum of the bond yield and the equity premium, the right p/e ratio is infinity. On that basis, stocks may have a long way to go.
The removal of the discount rate, as a basis for valuing cashflows has an outsized effect on all income producing assets. That implies the persistent threat of deflation which allowed long-bond yields to compress to historically low levels globally will persist indefinitely.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top