Investors are paying historically high prices for corporate profits. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:
This chart shows “multiple compression” is coming.
How long can this surge in stocks go on? That’s what everyone wants to know. Projections range from “forever” – these projections have become increasingly common – to “it’s already finished.” That’s a fairly wide range.
Everyone has their own reasons for their boundless optimism or their doom-and-gloom outlooks. But there are some factors – boundless optimists should push them aside assiduously – that, from a historical point of view, would trigger tsunami sirens. Because in the end, it’s not different this time. And the cycle of “multiple expansion” and “multiple compression” is one of those factors.
For example, a stock trades at a price that gives it a P/E ratio of 20 (stock price is 20 times earnings per share). When earnings per share remain flat over time, but the stock price rises, then the P/E ratio (the multiple) expands. When this spreads across the market, even when aggregate earnings remain flat, it means “rally.”
And earnings have been flat since 2011! The other day, I posted a chart that showed that earnings of the S&P 500 companies in Q4 2016 were back where they’d been in Q4 2011. So five years of earnings stagnation. Yet, during those five years, the S&P 500 index soared 87% [read… S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since].
The thing that changed during those five years was the P/E ratio. This combination of flat earnings and soaring stock prices, and thus soaring P/E ratios, is, historically speaking, not a good thing when it drags on for too long. This chart shows the S&P 500 P/E ratios on every January 1 of the year. This aggregate P/E ratio has nearly doubled from 14.9 on January 1, 2012, to 26.7 on March 3, 2017:
To continue reading: This is Worse than Before the Last Three Crashes