Thursday, October 23, 2008

Remember the "E" in P/E

Some market cheerleaders are pointing to price-to-earnings multiples as an indicator that stocks are cheap. At the very least they should mention that earnings expectations are still higher than the reality will deliver. If you look at the guidance given in many of the earnings reports we've seen this season, especially in the tech sector, forward multiples are not low enough to overcome investor skepticism. That means we have not seen the final lows of this bear market.
The trick, of course, is to anticipate the inflection point. Right now, I don't see it. But what do I know, I'd have bet on the Germans in 1940 (based on a tip from Joe Kennedy). Here's FT Alphaville:

It Can Get Worse

Granted, this was written by UBS’s Jeffrey Palma on Oct. 21, and things have deteriorated since then.

Year to date, global equities are down 36.2%, on a total return basis, the worst year ever since MSCI World began in 1970. Before that, 1974 was the worst returning year, when equities fell 24.5%.

At today’s prices the MSCI World is back to its September 2003 levels, erasing 61 months of gains so far. This is more than the gains erased at any other time since the 1970s. In 1990 the index erased 24 months of gains, and then a further 15 months of gains in 1992. Between 2000-2003 the index erased its prior 53 months of gains....

On the plus side, that means equities are trading on an average price/earnings ratio of 11.1 — the cheapest PE since 1982, according to UBS. FT Alphaville notes, however, that might not be so good when you consider the stocks are at their lowest level since before 1970 (as above).

On the other hand, over 50 per cent of companies are now offering dividend yields above 3 per cent — greater than the long-term average of 2.8 per cent since 1974, UBS says.

Opportunity to buy then? Not quite.

There’s still the coming recession.

In previous earnings cycles, global earnings have fallen 30-40% from their peak. So far EPS is down around 15%, suggesting earnings weakness is likely to persist well in to next year.

What’s worse is that while analysts are just starting to revise their earnings estimates for 2008 (almost over anyway) downwards, 2009 and 2010 still have a long way to go.

… while 2008 numbers have come down significantly, 2009 and 2010 estimates still look too lofty. As a result, forecasts for growth in these years will need to fall sharply....MORE