Is the S&P500 Cheap?

I was somewhat surprised by a Bloomberg article discussing how cheap the S&P is (mentioned here this AM). Its not that Bloomie has suddenly become a cheerleader, but rather, this piece reflects the beliefs of a large chunk of classically trained value mutual fund managers.

Here’s a Bloomberg excerpt:

“At 1,176.80, the S&P 500 is trading at 10.8 times analysts’ forecast for profits in the next 12 months of $109.12 a share. For the P/E ratio to reach its five-decade average of 16.4 without shares appreciating, earnings would have to fall to about $71.76 a share, 22 percent below the last 12 months, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Should companies meet analysts’ profit estimates, the S&P 500 must advance to about 1,790 to trade at the average multiple of 16.4 since 1954, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s more than 50 percent above its last close. Futures on the S&P 500 expiring next month gained 1 percent to 1,185.9 at 7:48 a.m. in London today.” (emphasis added)

Of course, left unsaid is what if analysts estimates are too high; Historically, the fundie community has overestimated earnings growth by a factor of 2X.

Also unsaid was the impact of recession on earnings. A 22% drop during a recession is hardly a Great Depression collapse; its not even a Great Recession drop. Indeed, that line of thinking ignores the overhang of housing, the deleveraging consumer, and tight credit conditions — all of which could easily persist for years to come.

Bottom line: The Reagan Recession came at the end of a 16 year bear market, plus benefited from Volcker breaking the back of inflation. The threat today is a Japan like deflationary spiral, including falling asset prices and an unwillingness for investors to buy up for a dollar of earnings.

In other words, a falling P/E could be evidence of an ongoing deflationary phase, and not proof that markets are cheap.


S&P 500 Falls to Reagan Recession Values
Inyoung Hwang
Bloomberg Aug 29, 2011 2:49 AM

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