Written by: David Lebovitz
The S&P 500 has had an impressive start to the year, rising over 4% year-to-date with only three days of negative performance.
However, as the equity market has moved higher, investors have become increasingly concerned about valuation. While it is difficult to ignore the fact that the S&P 500 forward P/E ratio currently sits at 18.5x, well above its 25-year average of 16.0x, we believe elevated valuations may be justified for three reasons. First, 2018 earnings growth is expected to come in around 15%, suggesting investors will be compensated for paying a higher price, and second, inflation and interest rates are both below their long-term averages. In an environment of low rates, low inflation, and healthy earnings, perhaps it is appropriate for stock market valuations to be above average?
Finally, valuation is not a great predictor of short-term returns. As we show on page 6 of the Guide to the Markets , valuation tells you very little about what will happen over the next year, but a decent amount about what to expect over the next five years. For those who are still skeptical about equities given current valuations, it is important to remember that bull markets tend to go out with a bang, rising by an average of 26% during their final 12 months. This makes sitting on the sidelines expensive, particularly in a world of low interest rates.
So are valuations concerning? They have our attention, but we remain cautiously optimistic that equities can continue to push higher. However, late cycle markets require a more nuanced approach to investing, meaning active management will be essential. As such, we continue to see opportunity in the more value-oriented sectors of the market, with energy and financials being two of our favorite ideas.
Low inflation and yields can support higher multiples
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Opinions and statements of market trends that are based on current market conditions constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice. These views described may not be suitable for all investors. References to specific securities, asset classes and financial markets are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to be, and should not be interpreted as, recommendations. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investment returns and principal value of an investment will fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when sold or redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. ETF shares are bought and sold throughout the day on an exchange at market price (not NAV) through a brokerage account, and are not individually redeemed from the fund. Shares may only be sold or redeemed directly from a fund by Authorized Participants, in very large creation/redemption units. For all products, brokerage commissions will reduce returns.
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