Six years into one of the most unloved bull markets in U.S. equities, investors are still searching for signs that the positive run may be coming to an end. Looking at the price/earnings (P/E) ratio, the most commonly used relative value metric, current equity valuations look slightly expensive. However, adjusted for today's low interest rates, the S&P 500 P/E ratio of 19 – in comparison to its historical average of 16 – appears more in line with fair value.
A breakdown of how companies are creating the earnings component of the P/E ratio suggests a more cautious view for future equity market performance. Earnings per share (EPS) growth is increasingly dependent on financial engineering – the development of technical financial models to maximize profits – as opposed to organic sales growth or improved operating margins. The low interest rate environment and easy credit conditions have enabled companies to take advantage of debt financed share repurchase and mergers and acquisition activity to increase EPS.
The chart above highlights the growing impact financial engineering has had on EPS growth during the past four years. Without the benefit of financial engineering, EPS growth is projected to grow by less than 1% during 2015 according to Bridgewater Associates research.
Key takeaway: History suggests earnings growth and equity valuations can temporarily be supported by financial engineering but these benefits will inevitably subside as corporate borrowing costs increase. Investors should monitor the quality of corporate earnings to help assess the prospects for the sustainability of EPS growth as well as overall equity market performance.
The material provided here is for informational use only. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn Mutual Asset Management.
This material is for informational use only. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn Mutual Asset Management. This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and it is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy.
Opinions and statements of financial market trends that are based on current market conditions constitute judgment of the author and are subject to change without notice. The information and opinions contained in this material are derived from sources deemed to be reliable but should not be assumed to be accurate or complete. Statements that reflect projections or expectations of future financial or economic performance of the markets may be considered forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ significantly. Any forecasts contained in this material are based on various estimates and assumptions, and there can be no assurance that such estimates or assumptions will prove accurate.
Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information referenced in preparation of this material has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness are not guaranteed. There is no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information and Penn Mutual Asset Management shall have no liability for decisions based upon such information.
High-Yield bonds are subject to greater fluctuations in value and risk of loss of income and principal. Investing in higher yielding, lower rated corporate bonds have a greater risk of price fluctuations and loss of principal and income than U.S. Treasury bonds and bills. Government securities offer a higher degree of safety and are guaranteed as to the timely payment of principal and interest if held to maturity.
All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. This material may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission.