Doubling Down

I am short on time this weekend, so I am doubling down on the story I told last week, with two more charts and some additional comments. The first chart updates picture of the startling spread between price change in S&P 500 and its multiple. As of last week, the U.S. large cap equity index was down 0.2% on the year, but trailing earnings were rising just under 22%. The only way to square these two headlines is to note that the P/E multiple has crashed, from a high of nearly 23 in January to 18 today. The silver lining is easy to spot. The market is now about 20% cheaper than it was at the start of the year, a significant re-rating. 

The flip side is that paying 18 times earnings for the S&P 500 is not egregiously cheap. If growth in earnings roll over, a further decline in multiples would, at best, lead to stagnation; at worst, it would drive prices much lower. That’s certainly a significant risk if you consider that this year’s impressive jump in earnings, at least in part, have been driven by tax cuts, which won’t be repeated next year. It gets even worse if we start to change the assumptions around share buybacks, another important support for earnings growth via its denominator-reducing effect on the share count in the EPS calculation. 

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