By Bryan Rich
February 11, 7:00 pm EST
Two weeks ago there were signals that a correction was underway. First we had a swing back into positive yield territory for the German 5-year government bond. That was a significant marker for the end of the negative interest rate era and the end of global QE.
And with the outlook for rate normalization formalizing in the market, we should expect stock market growth to be driven from that point by earnings and dividends, and therefore economic growth. And then we had a perfect trigger lining up to set off the correction: earnings from the big tech giants. On script, Google missed. Apple disappointed on guidance, and the broad market sell-off began.
With that, when stocks broke down on February 2nd, we remembered that the stock market has had about a 10% decline on average, about once a year, over the past 70 years.
Then on Monday, the sell-off accelerated, and for a target in the S&P 500 we looked at this chart, which projected a reasonable spot to think we might find a bottom–around 2,560. We hit that on Friday and traded through to the 200-day moving average (2,539)–and we got an aggressive bounce.
Now, I’ve said a decline like this would make stocks cheap–“maybe something closer to 15 times forward earnings.” That sounded crazy two weeks ago. But guess what? We’re pretty darn close. At the lows on Friday, the P/E on earnings forecasted over the next four quarters was 16.2!
But as we know, Wall Street has a long history of underestimating earnings. That’s why about 70% of companies beat on earnings every quarter. And in this case, we’re talking about a huge earnings bump coming in the first quarter from the tax cuts. And Wall Street has barely bumped earnings expectations to incorporate that.
As said earlier this week, when the tax cut was in proposal stages, Citigroup estimated it would add $2 to S&P 500 earnings for every 1 percentage point cut in the tax rate. We’ve gone from 35% to 21%. With that, the forward four-quarter estimate for S&P 500 earnings, before the tax bill (in late November) was around $142.
If we add $28 in tax savings, we get $170. At the lows today in the S&P 500 that puts the P/E on a $170 in S&P 500 forward earnings at 14.8! That’s cheap relative to the long run historical P/E on stocks. And it’s extremely cheap in a world of low rates. And rates are still very low relative to history. And the low-rate environment will continue to motivate investors to seek higher returns in stocks–and pay higher valuations as stocks rebound. With hotter earnings and multiple expansion from here, we could reasonably see a 20%-30% rebound in stocks by year end.
Remember, the psychology always changes when stocks go down. People search for stories to fit the price–for trouble to fit the price. Rather than one of these stories leading to another major fallout, it’s a much higher probability that we are in the early innings of an economic boom, and stocks will be much higher than here in a year’s time. It’s time to be greedy while others are getting fearful.
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