Posts tagged ‘Case Shiller’

Stock Market at Record Highs…April Fool’s?

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Article is an excerpt from previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary April 1, 2013 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.

April Fool’s Day has been around for centuries and has provided an opportunity for foolish pranks to be played on the masses around the world. Evidence of the global practice can be found from the bumper spaghetti harvest in Switzerland filmed by the BBC in 1957. The video footage (click here) was so convincing, viewers called and asked how they could grow their own spaghetti.

A cruel prank has also been played on investing skeptics as they have watched the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrials indexes catapult to new record highs over the last five quarters (up +25% & +19%, respectively). How can the stock market be setting new records when we have recently experienced a fiscal cliff, sequestration, a deepening European recession, slowing corporate profit growth, anemic GDP (Gross Domestic Product) expansion (0.4% last quarter), and a $13 billion Cyprus bailout?

The short answer is the economy continues to improve at a steady pace; stock prices are attractive; and gloomy headlines sell more advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on television. Is this wealth explosion a practical joke, or how can we help better explain this surprising phenomenon?

1) Record Corporate Profits

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

Corporate profits are at record levels. After the worst financial crisis in a generation, companies have become mean and lean. They are hiring cautiously to maintain healthy profit margins, but also investing into productivity-improving technology and equipment.

2) Record Dividends and Share Buybacks Galore

Source: WSJ

Source: WSJ

Annual dividend payments have reached a record level of more than $300 billion for S&P 500 companies, and there are no signs of this trend slowing down. This is occurring just as interest rates on bonds have been continuing to decline. Tack on a few hundred billion dollars in share buybacks to boost stock prices, and you get a recipe investors are enjoying.

3) Housing on the Comeback Trail

Source: Calculated Risk

Source: Calculated Risk

Housing accounts for a significant portion of our economy. After several years of depression-like activity, this sector is on the comeback trail. In fact, the S&P/Case-Shiller index, that measures home prices in 20 major metropolitan cities, rose by +8.1% in the most recent reported figure. This increase was the largest gain in six-and-a-half years. This is important because the improvement in housing filters through to other major sectors of the economy, such as retail (e.g., furniture), banking (e.g., mortgages), and government (e.g., property taxes).

4) Consumer Spending Can’t be Killed

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

Like a cockroach, the consumer is tough to exterminate. Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of the economy’s goods and services, and as you can see from the chart above, people are still shopping – despite domestic and international challenges.

The net result of all these trends is that the economic picture continues to improve and consumers and investors alike are beginning to feel better about themselves. And how could they not? As evidenced by the chart below, household net worth has reached a record level of about $66 trillion dollars, thanks to rallies in the stock market and home process, combined with a renewed conviction of keeping debt in check.

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Scott Grannis

Cyprus Side Notes

April 2013 Cyprus

Over the last month, an avalanche of headlines, relating to the dire financial condition of Cyprus and Cypriot banks, has cascaded across the major media outlets. In analyzing the situation, there were two major questions I wanted answered:

Question #1: What is going on in Cyprus?

As it relates to this tiny island, approximately the size of Puerto Rico (east of Greece and south of Turkey), the first thing I learned is that the Cyprus situation is another example of a country’s financial sector gone wild. By some estimates the size of Cypriot bank deposits were more than 4x’s the size of its GDP. A key driving force behind the oversized banking industry is Russian depositors, who make up about 1/3 of overall Cypriot banking deposits. Cyprus acted as a sort of Cayman Islands in the Mediterranean for these wealthy Russians, who moved billions of dollars to the island after the Soviet Union broke apart in the early 1990s. The main attraction for the Russians were the lax banking laws and generous tax advantages.

In order to clean up this financial mess, the so-called adults or Troika, made up of the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and European Commission (EU legislative body), approved a $13 billion bailout for Cyprus on the condition they restructured their main banks (Laiki Bank to be merged into Bank of Cyprus). The end result is that Cyprus (like Greece) chose to take the harsh medicine and stay in the eurozone by combining/closing banks and instituting significant losses on those depositors with more than $130,000 in their accounts (with some depositors expected to lose -60% of their money).

Question #2: Should I care?

The short answer is “No”. With a population of about 850,000 people, Cyprus is home to about the same number of folks who live in Birmingham, Alabama. Moreover, the size of Cyprus’ economy is barely 0.2% of euro-land GDP. Many pessimistic bears acknowledge the infinitesimal size of the Cypriot economy, but position the country as the domino about to topple the rest of Europe, including the much more important countries of Spain and Italy. The fact that private depositors are feeling a larger brunt of the pain rather than public taxpayers is actually a healthy long-term trend that will force more responsible behavior by other European financial institutions outside Cyprus.

In the face of the noisy Cyprus sideshow and endless economic/political worries, our corporate profit machine continues to churn out escalating profits,
as our stock markets set new record highs and our economy gains momentum. Today may be April Fool’s Day, but don’t become bamboozled by silly diversions, this stock market is no joke.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any 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.

April 1, 2013 at 9:50 am Leave a comment

P/E Binoculars, Not Foggy Rearview Mirror

Robert Shiller is best known for his correctly bearish forecasts on the housing market, which we are continually reminded of through the ubiquitous Case-Shiller housing index, and his aptly timed 2000 book entitled Irrational Exuberance. Shiller is also well known for his cyclically adjusted 10-year price-earnings tool, also known as P/E-10. This tool chooses to take a rearview mirror look at the 10-year rolling average of the S&P composite stock index to determine whether the equity market is currently a good or bad buy. Below average multiples are considered to be predictive of higher future returns, and higher than average multiples are considered to produce lower future returns (see scatterplot chart). 

Source: http://www.mebanefaber.com (June 2010)

Foggy Mirror

If you were purchasing a home, would the price 10 years ago be a major factor in your purchase decision? Probably not. Call me crazy, but I would be more interested in today’s price and even more interested in the price of the home 10 years into the future. The financial markets factor in forward looking data (not backward looking data). Conventional valuation techniques applied to various assets, take for example a bond, involve the discounting of future cash flow values back to the present – in order to determine the relative attractiveness of today’s asset price. The previous 10-years of data are irrelevant in this calculation.

Although I believe current and future expectations are much more important than stale historical data, I can appreciate the insights that can be drawn by comparing current information with historical averages. In other words, if I was purchasing a house, I would be interested in comparing today’s price to the historical 10-year average price. Currently, the P/E-10 ratio stands at a level around 22x – 38% more expensive than the 16x average value for the previous decade. That same 22x current P/E-10 ratio compares to a current forward P/E ratio of 13x. A big problem is the 22x P/E-10 is not adequately taking into account the dramatic growth in earnings that is taking place (estimated 2010 operating earnings are expected to register in at a whopping +45% growth).

Mean P/E 10 Value is 16.4x Source: http://www.multpl.com

Additional problems with P/E-10:

1)      The future 10 years might not be representative of the extreme technology and credit bubble we experienced over the last 10 years. Perhaps excluding the outlier years of 2000 and 2009 would make the ratio more relevant.

2)      The current P/E-10 ratio is being anchored down by extreme prices from a narrow sector of technology a decade ago. Value stocks significantly outperformed technology over the last 10 years, much like small cap stocks outperformed in the 1970s when the Nifty Fifty stocks dominated the index and then unraveled.

3)      Earnings are rising faster than prices are increasing, so investors waiting for the P/E-10 to come down could be missing out on the opportunity cost of price appreciation. The distorted P/E ratios earlier in the decade virtually guarantee the P/E-10 to drop, absent a current market melt-up, because P/E ratios were so high back then.

4)      The tool has been a horrible predictor over very long periods of time. For example, had you followed the tool, the red light would have caused you to miss the massive appreciation in the 1990s, and the green light in the early 1970s would have led to little to no appreciation for close to 10 years.

Shiller himself understands the shortcomings of P/E-10:

“It is also dangerous to assume that historical relations are necessarily applicable to the future. There could be fundamental structural changes occurring now that mean that the past of the stock market is no longer a guide to the future.”

 

How good an indicator was P/E-10 for the proponent himself at the bottom of the market in February 2009? Shiller said he would get back in the market after another 30% drop in the ratio (click here for video). As we know, shortly thereafter, the market went on a near +70% upwards rampage. I guess Shiller just needs another -55% drop in the ratio from here to invest in the market?

Incidentally, Shiller did not invent the cyclically adjusted P/E tool, as famed value investor Benjamin Graham also used a similar tool. The average investor loves simplicity, but what P/E-10 offers with ease-of-use, it lacks in usefulness. I agree with the P/E-10 intent of smoothing out volatile cycle data (artificially inflated in booms and falsely depressed in recessions), but I recommend investors pull out a pair of binoculars (current and forward P/Es) rather than rely on a foggy rearview mirror.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, 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.

November 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm 11 comments


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