Why Buy at Record Highs? Ask the Fat Turkey
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (December 1, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
I’ve fulfilled my American Thanksgiving duty by gorging myself on multiple helpings of turkey, mash potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Now that I have loosened my belt a few notches, I have had time to reflect on the generous servings of stock returns this year (S&P 500 index up +11.9%), on top of the whopping +104.6% gains from previous 5 years (2009-2013).
Conventional wisdom believes the Federal Reserve has artificially inflated the stock market. Given the perceived sky-high record stock prices, many investors are biting their nails in anticipation of an impending crash. The evidence behind the nagging investor skepticism can be found in the near-record low stock ownership statistics; dismal domestic equity fund purchases; and apathetic investor survey data (see Market Champagne Sits on Ice).
Turkey-lovers are in a great position to understand the predicted stock crash expected by many of the naysayers. As you can see from the chart below, the size of turkeys over the last 50+ years has reached a record weight – and therefore record prices per turkey:
Does a record size in turkeys mean turkey meat prices are doomed for an imminent price collapse? Absolutely not. A key reason turkey prices have hit record levels is because Thanksgiving stomachs have been buying fatter and fatter turkeys every year. The same phenomenon is happening in the stock market. The reason stock prices have continued to move higher and higher is because profits have grown fatter and fatter every year (see chart below). Profits in corporate America have never been higher. CEOs are sitting on trillions of dollars of cash, and providing stock-investors with growing plump dividends (see also The Gift that Keeps on Giving), $100s of billions in shareholder friendly stock buybacks, while increasingly taking leftover profits to invest in growth initiatives (e.g., technology investments, international expansion, and job hiring).
Despite record turkey prices, I will make the bold prediction that hungry Americans will continue to buy turkey. More important than the overall price paid per turkey, the statistic that consumers should be paying more attention to is the turkey price paid per pound. Based on that more relevant metric, the data on turkey prices is less conclusive. In fact, turkey prices are estimated to be -13% cheaper this year on a per pound basis compared to last year ($1.58/lb vs. $1.82/lb).
The equivalent price per pound metric in the stock market is called the Price-Earnings (P/E) ratio, which is the price paid by a stock investor per $1 of profits (or earnings). Today that P/E ratio sits at approximately 17.5x. As you can see from the chart below, the current P/E ratio is reasonably near historical averages experienced over the last 50+ years. While, all else equal, anyone would prefer paying a lower price per pound (or price per $1 in earnings), any objective person looking at the current P/E ratio would have difficulty concluding recent stock prices are in “bubble” territory.
However, investor doubters who have missed the record bull run in stock market prices over the last five years (+210% since early 2009) have clung to a distorted, overpriced measurement called the CAPE or Shiller P/E ratio. Readers of my Investing Caffeine blog or newsletters know why this metric is misleading and inaccurate (see also Shiller CAPE Peaches Smell).
Don’t Be an Ostrich
While prices of stocks arguably remain reasonably priced for many Baby Boomers and retirees, the conclusion should not be to gorge 100% of investment portfolios into stocks. Quite the contrary. Everyone’s situation is unique, and every investor should customize a globally diversified portfolio beyond just stocks, including areas like fixed income, real estate, alternative investments, and commodities. But the exposures don’t stop there, because in order to truly have the diversified shock absorbers in your portfolio necessary for a bumpy long-term ride, investors need exposure to other areas. Such areas should include international and emerging market geographies; a diverse set of styles (e.g., Value, Growth, Blue Chip dividend-payers); and a healthy ownership across small, medium, and large equities. The same principles apply to your bond portfolio. Steps need to be taken to control credit risk and interest rate risk in a globally diversified fashion, while also providing adequate income (yield) in an environment of generationally low interest rates.
While I’ve spent a decent amount of time talking about eating fat turkeys, don’t let your investment portfolio become stuffed. The year-end time period is always a good time, after recovering from a food coma, to proactively review your investments. While most non-vegetarians love eating turkey, don’t be an investment ostrich with your head in the sand – now is the time to take actions into your own hands and make sure your investments are properly allocated.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in 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.