Stocks…Bonds on Steroids
With all the spooky headlines in the news today, it’s no wonder everyone is piling into bonds. The Investment Company Institute (ICI), which tracks mutual fund data, showed -88% of the $14 billion in weekly outflows came from equity funds relative to bonds and hybrid securities. With the masses flocking to bonds, it’s no wonder yields are hovering near multi-decade historical lows. Stocks on the other hand are the Rodney Dangerfield (see Doug Kass’s Triple Lindy attempt) of the investment world – they get “no respect.” By flipping stock metrics upside down, we will explore how hated stocks can become the beloved on steroids, if viewed in the proper context.
Davis on Debt Discomfort
Chris Davis, head of the $65 billion in assets at the Davis Funds, believes like I do that navigating the “bubblicious” bond market will be a treacherous task in the coming years. Davis directly states, “The only real bubble in the world is bonds. When you look out over a 10-year period, people are going to get killed.” In the short-run, inflation is not a real worry, but it if you consider the exploding deficits coupled with the exceedingly low interest rates, bond investors are faced with a potential recipe for disaster. Propping up the value of the dollar due to sovereign debt concerns in Greece (and greater Europe) has contributed to lower Treasury rates too. There’s only one direction for interest rates to go, and that’s up. Since the direction of bond prices moves the opposite way of interest rates, mean reversion does not bode well for long-term bond holders.
Earnings Yield: The Winning Formula
Average investors are freaked out about the equity markets and are unknowingly underestimating the risk of bonds. Investors would be in a better frame of mind if they listened to Chris Davis. In comparing stocks and bonds, Davis says, “If people got their statement and looked at the dividend yield and earnings yield, they might do things differently right now. But you have to be able to numb yourself to changes in stock prices, and most people can’t do that.” Humans are emotional creatures and can find this a difficult chore.
What us finance nerds learn through instruction is that a price of a bond can be derived by discounting future interest payments and principle back to today. The same concept applies for dividend paying stocks – the value of a stock can be determined by discounting future dividends back to today.
A favorite metric for stock jocks is the P/E (Price-Earnings) ratio, but what many investors fail to realize is that if this common ratio is flipped over (E/P) then one can arrive at an earnings yield, which is directly comparable to dividend yields (annual dividend per share/price per share) and bond yields (annual interest/bond price).
Earnings are the fuel for future dividends, and dividend yields are a way of comparing stocks with the fixed income yields of bonds. Unlike virtually all bonds, stocks have the ability to increase dividends (the payout) over time – an extremely attractive aspect of stocks. For example, Procter & Gamble (PG) has increased its dividend for 54 consecutive years and Wal-Mart (WMT) 37 years – that assertion cannot be made for bonds.
As stock prices drop, the dividend yields rise – the bond dynamics have been developing in reverse (prices up, yields down). With S&P 500 earnings catapulting upwards +84% in Q1 and the index trading at a very reasonable 13x’s 2010 operating earnings estimates, stocks should be able to outmuscle bonds in the medium to long-term (with or without steroids). There certainly is a spot for bonds in a portfolio, and there are ways to manage interest rate sensitivity (duration), but bonds will have difficulty flexing their biceps in the coming quarters.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in PG, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.