November 30, 2017, 4:00 pm EST
The Dow is now up 23% on the year. The index that measures the broader market, the S&P 500, is up 18%. This is more than double the performance of the long run compounded average growth rate for the stock market.
People continue to be surprised that policy execution is improving, and that tax cuts are actually coming. And they speculate on whether or not the stock market already has it all priced in. I think the steady rise in stocks is telling them it’s not.
As I’ve said, we remain in an ultra-low interest rate world, where incentives continue to push money into stocks (as the best alternative). And in ultra-low rate environments, historically, the multiple on stocks (the P/E) runs north of 20. It’s 18 right now, on the consensus estimate on next year’s earnings. So on a valuation basis, there’s room. This doesn’t take into account a corporate tax cut that will take the rate from 35% to 20%. That goes right to the bottom line for companies (earnings go UP). When earnings go up, the multiple stocks trade for goes down (stocks get cheaper).
Citibank thinks each 1% cut in corporate taxes will add roughly $2 in S&P 500 earnings. And Citibank says the effective tax rate across the S&P 500 is more like 27%. So a cut to 20% would mean a seven percentage point reduction. This would put next year’s S&P 500 earnings in the mid-$150s, which would put the multiple at 16 to 17 times next year’s earnings.
And don’t forget, we’re getting fiscal stimulus for a reason: to pop economic growth, which has been in a rut (post-crisis), running well south of the 3% long run average growth rate for the economy. The prospects for better growth, means prospects for better earnings. The outlook for better earnings, on a better economy, should also put downward pressure on valuations, making stocks more attractively valued.
In my January 2 note, I said: “there will be profound differences in the world this year, with the inauguration of a new, pro-growth U.S. president, at a time where the world desperately needs growth.” I think it’s safe to say that is playing out—albeit maybe slower and messier than expected.
I also said: “The element that economists and analysts can’t predict, and can’t quantify, is the return of ‘animal spirits.’ This is what has been destroyed over the past decade, driven primarily by the fear of indebtedness (which is typical of a debt crisis) and mistrust of the system. All along the way, throughout the recovery period, and throughout a tripling of the stock market off of the bottom, people have continually been waiting for another shoe to drop. The breaking of this emotional mindset appears to finally be underway. And that gives way to a return of animal spirits, which haven’t been calibrated in all of the forecasts for 2017 and beyond.”